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Politics

'Hoe' Brown quits Port Authority amid trailer park revelations

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Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 06:57 PM

TAMPA - William "Hoe" Brown, a Republican fund-raiser and Hillsborough County's representative to the state party, resigned Friday from the Tampa Port Authority following revelations this week that he owned and collected rent at a trailer park where residents lived in squalor.

"After much thought about recent events associated with my business as well as in consideration of my wife who I love dearly and this community, I have decided to resign from my appointed and publicly-held positions, including the Tampa Port Authority's board of governors," said Brown, who was board chairman, in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott.

"I am keenly aware of my lapse in judgment and I feel strongly that I must focus on taking full responsibility and making amends to the best of my ability," Brown wrote. "Simply said, this is the right thing to do."

Scott's office released the following statement from the governor Friday afternoon: "We appreciate Mr. Brown's service to the state of Florida and for his work on the Tampa Port Authority Board of Governors. We continue to wish the very best for him and his family."

Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Brown to the seven-member port authority board in 2008 and Scott reappointed him to a second term in 2012.

Brown was not available for comment Friday.

Beth Leytham, owner of The Leytham Group and a spokesperson for Brown, had no further comment beyond the letter: "This should suffice."

Brown this week shut down the trailer park in Old Seminole Heights. He had installed five small trailers on his property at 102 and 106 W. Stanley Street of a type commonly used as offices on construction sites.

Each trailer was subdivided into two studio apartments with plumbing, electrical service and air conditioning, Leytham said earlier this week.

Brown's real estate investment company, J.B. Carrie Properties Inc., is headquartered at in a house at the site, although Brown lives in south Tampa.

Brown's tenants paid more than $500 a month for rent and utilities.

Residents last weekend began complaining about living conditions on the property, including roach infestation.

A city code enforcement officer on Monday who visited the site said the stench in one of the rentals was "overwhelming,"

The inspector found a tenant who slept on a soiled, bare mattress.

On Tuesday, workers hauled the trailers away and Brown reimbursed the tenants $1,500 each for the past three month's rent.

On Thursday, Brown issued a statement saying he planned to get all the permits he needed to continue to operate the five-unit apartment building on the site.

With the removal of the trailers, the city's primary issue with Brown's property was resolved, inspectors said.

But regulatory issues have not been closed out, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

"We're going to continue to pursue everything we need to pursue and leave no stone unturned," Buckhorn said.

Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin was the only public figure to call for Brown's resignation this week. She said she was satisfied with his decision Friday.

"It was only appropriate," Capin said. "I'm sure he saw the errors of his ways and that it was not going to go away."

Capin said Brown's actions as a landlord have damaged his credibility for the foreseeable future.

"It would take a long time. He would have to redeem himself," Capin said. "Right now, I can't see him in any position of public policy."

She added, "I think he did the right thing for himself, his family and for his community."

The Tampa Tribune, in an editorial Friday, also called for Brown to step down, saying his able performance on the port authority cannot outweigh a "stunning indifference to the law and the public."

Buckhorn, when asked whether Brown can recover politically, said, "In the short term, yes. In the long term, the public can be forgiving if you man up and admit your mistakes."

"I think he did the right thing for himself, his family and for his community," Buckhorn said.

State Sen. Tom Lee, who's also chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, said, "In light of the continued negative publicity, Hoe probably did the right thing by the governor and the Republican Executive Committee. I thought he was a good member of both and a good leader and he'll be missed. I wish him well."

Asked whether the scandal raises larger questions about Scott's donors and and appointees, Lee said, "Major donors of both political parties are involved in a lot of business activity, and if you're involved in a lot of business activity you're often involved in litigation and controversial issues.

"I think we have to be very careful about connecting elected officials to the professional and personal lives of their donors."

He added, with a reference to the state's last Democratic governor, "Political patronage goes back to George Washington - nobody appoints their enemies to boards. Lawton Chiles didn't appoint people I was recommending, because he wanted to appoint major Democrats. I don't think political contributions and appointments are a new issue."

Lee said he's unsure how the vacancy on the state Republican Party executive will be filled, or whether there will be an interim appointee. Members of the state party's governing board are normally elected by voters of the party on a state primary ballot.

Port authority policy provides that Vice Chairman Steve Swindal, who is chairman of Marine Towing of Tampa, becomes chairman. It was not clear when Scott will appoint a successor to Brown on the seven-person board.

"Over past several years, Hoe Brown has served the Port, City, County and the State with all the dignity of a devoted Florida citizen," port authority board member Larry Shipp said. "His business acumen will be missed on the board.

Tribune reporter William March contributed to this report.

tjackovics@tampatrib.com

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