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Editorials

Virtual disaster at appraiser office

TBO.com Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:16 PM

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Even if you believe every word of Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner's account of sending pornographic emails to an employee, it's impossible to maintain confidence in his judgment or credibility.

Turner betrayed voters' trust.

Such reckless behavior would cost executives at most private companies their jobs. Voters have cause to feel Turner, who has been in office 16 years, should be treated similarly.

That is unfortunate because the former banker brought efficiency and professionalism to what had been a dysfunctional agency.

If this was a one-time lapse, voters might have cause to quickly forgive, but the misbehavior is difficult to overlook.

The chastened Turner admits his actions were "stupid," but he emphasizes the emails and texts to Human Resource Director Carolyn Filippone were made during personal time on his personal email or cellphone.

Many of the messages included sexual images or links to pornographic websites. She says he sent a picture of his genitals, which he vehemently denies.

Turner points to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's dismissal of Filippone's charges that Turner harassed her and created a hostile work environment as proof he did not abuse his office.

He fired her this week from her $98,000-a-year job, saying the "false allegations" made it impossible for her to stay.

From our view, the issue is larger than whether Turner violated EEOC workplace rules.

The elected official engaged in inappropriate contact with a high-ranking employee, conduct he should have known would embarrass the office and raise questions about his personnel decisions.

By his own admission, he sent — and received — many messages that included graphic material.

The two knew each other well. Filippone had worked with Turner at NationsBank and joined him at the appraiser's office.

He acknowledges dating Filippone in the early 2000s, even though it was a violation of the office's nepotism rule. He was divorced at the time. He insists there was no relationship — beyond the transmissions — after that. He remarried in 2007.

Much of the risque messaging took place from November 2007 until February 2009. Turner says he put an end to it after his wife found one on his phone in 2009.

Filippone filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2010, accusing him of transferring her to the Brandon office and banishing her from office events because of the relationship.

Turner vigorously denies any retribution. He says the Brandon transfer was necessary because office documents needed to be kept in the hurricane-hardened facility. A downtown office was kept for Filippone so she also could conduct human resource business there.

The accusations likely will be scrutinized again if a civil lawsuit is filed, as is expected. The property appraiser's office will be subject to more turmoil, if not ridicule.

But regardless of what comes from any legal battles, Turner's own version of events reveals a boss carrying on an improper — if virtual — personal relationship with one of his top employees. Such actions could easily cloud one's judgment and jeopardize the integrity of a public office.

Turner may deserve the forgiveness he seeks from his family and the public. But re-election is another matter.

Citizens should demand more decorum and judgment from a constitutional officer. This episode raises serious questions about Turner's ability to serve.

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