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Editorials

Latimer in Democratic primary for Hillsborough elections chief

Tampa Tribune Editorial Board
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 08:21 PM

The most interesting partisan race in the Aug. 14 primary for Hillsborough County Democrats is for supervisor of elections. Well-known Tom Scott is challenging the competent chief of staff of the elections office, Craig Latimer.

The winner will face Republican state Rep. Rich Glorioso in November.

Current Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard is not running. He was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to replace Phyllis Busansky, who died in 2009 in her first year in office. Busansky had recruited Latimer from the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, and Lennard wisely kept him on board.

Under Busansky, Lennard and Latimer, the elections office has been run with efficiency and a high level of public trust.

The Rev. Scott is a former Hillsborough commissioner and more recently a member of the Tampa City Council. He was elected chairman of each three times. He promises to rev up voter outreach and try harder to improve turnout. His promise to protect the integrity of the voting process is credible.

Significantly, voting in Hillsborough under Latimer's watch has been entirely squared away and distanced from the confusion that reigned under former elections boss Buddy Johnson.

By the election of 2008, the office had sunk into what Latimer calls "a shambles." Busansky won and, with his help, cleaned house.

They had met while working together on issues of juvenile justice. Latimer had spent 35 years at the sheriff's office in various positions of leadership, including investigating major crimes. It is notable that when the sheriff's office took over child abuse investigations for the state, Sheriff David Gee assigned the difficult task to Latimer, who established a child protection program with impressive care and efficiency.

Latimer, now 59, explains his transition to the elections office: "I was retiring, and Phyllis said, 'I need help.' " He agreed to work for her and helped untangle an accounting mess, budget shortfalls and generally lax conditions that had plagued the office under Johnson.

Among other surprises, he found a box of uncounted ballots from the previous election. Now the office is efficient and transparent.

Scott does not disagree, but says the credit goes to bosses Busansky and Lennard, not to their top assistant. Scott, longtime minister of the 34th Street Church of God, stresses that he would treat everyone with respect and keep the nonpartisan attitude that is essential in all constitutional offices, especially this one.

For the past three years, we have been in frequent communication with Latimer. He is not a polished politician, but his command of elections law and his attitude toward public service are outstanding.

Clearly, he has been in charge of the day-to-day operation of the elections office.

Under his leadership, Hillsborough voters could expect well-run elections in which every vote is counted, and counted on time. This is an elected office where efficiency, not politics, should be the priority.

"I know what needs to be done," Latimer says, and he does.

For supervisor of elections, The Tribune endorses Craig Latimer in the Democratic primary.

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