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National Politics

Turner will seek re-election despite porn scandal

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:01 PM
TAMPA -

Rob Turner is seeking a fifth term as Hillsborough County property appraiser, ignoring political blowback from his recent admission that he sent pornographic texts and emails to an employee.

Turner officially qualified for the race June 7, setting up a contentious Republican primary contest with state Sen. Ronda Storms. The popular but polarizing Storms said she decided to challenge Turner after she read he had sent sexually themed texts and emails to his human resources manager, Carolyn Filippone.

In written answers to questions submitted by The Tampa Tribune, Turner said Storms' candidacy would not change how he approaches the election. He said he never considered resigning and has received words of support from Democrats and Republicans. In addition, he said, contributions are still flowing to his campaign.

"I will run on my record of the last 15 years of strong professional assessment work and not a reported personal misstep," Turner said. "After almost 16 years of running an outstanding operation, my supporters are standing by me."

That may be true, but Republican office-holders and high-level operatives have been saying publicly and privately that Turner is finished and should have bowed out.

What's more, Filippone is exploring legal action over Turner's decision to fire her for filing a complaint against him with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In her complaint, Filippone claimed Turner cut back on her duties because she refused to have sex with him after they broke up.

The commission dismissed the case, but some experts say that didn't vindicate Turner.

"In a regular court if you hear or see that a judge dismissed a case, that means that there was a determination that there was no merit to the case," said employment lawyer Ron Fraley. "The EEOC dismissal does not mean that. It just means they are no longer going to investigate, and they're just notifying the person who filed the charge that they have 90 days to file a lawsuit."

For her part, Storms said she thinks more embarrassing revelations about Turner will surface during the campaign.

"I don't think this is going to be his only problem," Storms said. "My experience is when people go over the line, they go over the line in a variety of areas. I just think the voters have to hang tight and just watch."

Storms said one issue she will raise during the campaign is Turner's treatment of Sara Cucchi, a stay-at-home mom who has been fighting the property appraiser for years over the assessment of her Odessa home.

In 2008, Cucchi (pronounced "cookie") challenged a property appraisal conducted in 1996. Turner's office told her the appraisal was too old to challenge. The state Department of Revenue disagreed and told the county Value Adjustment Board to hear Cucchi's case. The board reduced her valuation.

Later, Cucchi was appointed to the Value Adjustment Board but Turner tried to get county commissioners to kick her off. Turner said Cucchi had a conflict of interest because she had intervened in a legal action brought by the property appraiser against the Department of Revenue.

County commissioners disagreed and left Cucchi on the board.

For Storms, the Turner-Cucchi dispute represents a tyrannical government agency bullying a regular citizen.

"The property appraiser is using the weight of the government to weigh someone down and meanwhile the property appraiser is off doing this other thing," Storms said. "I just think the two are juxtaposed pretty incredibly."

Turner, who has acquired a number of professional certifications and credentials, signaled he will try to contrast his education and experience as an appraiser with Storms' career as a lawyer and a politician.

"This office requires specific education, experience and skills," Turner said. "It is not a position for on-the-job training for individuals who are not qualified."

Storms replied that her time as a Hillsborough County commissioner and state lawmaker have given her ample opportunity to study how properties are appraised.

"I've said for years the property appraiser (Turner) acts like he gets a commission off the taxes he gets from people," she said.

Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez also qualified to run for property appraiser, as did another Democrat, James DeMio. No-party candidate Rob Townsend has filed to run for the office but did not officially qualify.


msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303

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