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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Editorials

Hoe Brown should resign from port board

Published:

Those friends and colleagues defending Tampa Port Authority Chairman and influential Republican activist William "Hoe" Brown should think about how they would feel if he had located his makeshift slum in their neighborhood.

His actions are indefensible, and he should resign from the authority.

Brown, a real-estate investor, illegally established a trailer park about a year ago on his property on Florida Avenue and Stanley Street in north Seminole Heights, a working-class neighborhood near Sulphur Springs.

As the Tribune's Kevin Wiatrowski reports, Brown moved five small trailers like those used as offices at construction projects onto his land and then divided each trailer into two apartments.

He rented them out at more than $500 a month to people his spokeswoman describes as being a "difficult population," many with substance abuse problems and arrests.

Despite his real estate experience, he never bothered with the required city permits or inspections. The site was not approved as a mobile home park.

The trailers were allowed to deteriorate to the point that residents complained about the living conditions. At least one was infested with roaches.

Code Enforcement Director Jake Slater, who inspected Brown's property this week, said the stench was "overwhelming."

There have been dozens of calls for police service to Brown's property in the past year.

He says he was unaware of the problems until recently, but his office is on the same land as the trailers.

Brown, who also is a GOP state committeeman, looks to have been more interested in collecting rent than attending his obligations to his neighbors and his tenants.

Such behavior is inexcusable, particularly for someone entrusted to oversee Tampa's port, which has a $15 billion economic impact.

It doesn't matter that Brown has performed ably on the authority, where he was appointed in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott.

His disregard for the law, his neighbors and his tenants has shredded his credibility. How can he speak on the public's behalf with such a business record? This is not some distant offense. It occurred while Brown was serving on the public agency.

Brown at least has not made excuses. He issued a statement saying, "I apologize for my lapse in judgment, take full responsibility and am doing all I can to ensure that I correct this situation right away."

He reimbursed tenants $1,500 each for the past three months rent and helped them find new quarters. He's removed the trailers from the property. But all this, although appropriate, cannot wash away the taint of the episode that reveals such a stunning indifference to the law and the public.

The episode also reveals, as Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick points out, the need to bolster the city's code enforcement efforts. Mayor Bob Buckhorn should pursue more aggressive code enforcement, which guards against blight and protects homeowners' property values and quality of life.

And Hoe Brown needs to show he realizes the gravity of this offense and resign from the port authority. If he doesn't, Gov. Scott should remove him.

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