TAMPA Several Hillsborough County commissioners are steamed about the process a national diversity organization used in disqualifying local conservative activist Terry Kemple from a diversity advisory council.
The move could set up a lively debate Wednesday when commissioners are scheduled to approve members for the new council. The discussion is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
Commissioners voted in January to enlist the services of the National Diversity Council to vet applicants for the county’s new advisory council. The national organization agreed to do the work free and last month sent the county 18 names from among 91 applicants.
The diversity council earlier recommended Kemple be disqualified because of an e-mail he sent to his supporters in September disparaging the new diversity council as a vehicle to promote homosexuality.
Kemple also used the e-mail to attack Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who is gay and who proposed creating a local diversity council in the first place.
Beckner responded by having County Administrator Mike Merrill send the inflammatory e-mail, minus Kemple’s name and personal information, to the National Diversity Council. That led to Kemple’s exclusion.
“Whether you like Kemple or not, they had no criteria for excluding him,” said Commissioner Al Higginbotham. “I have great trouble with that.”
Commission Chairman Ken Hagan also was bothered by Kemple’s blackballing. Hagan had his legislative aide e-mail the national organization Monday for information about the process used to vet applicants.
Though the inquiry did not mention Kemple’s name, it asked the national council to “furnish the criteria used to disqualify an applicant from the selection process.”
Neither Hagan nor Beckner could be reached for comment today.
Commissioner Victor Crist said it was not unreasonable for Hagan to ask how the applicants were evaluated and what policies are in place to disqualify someone.
“If they disqualify somebody, what is the process?” Crist said. “We as a client at least need and deserve an answer to that question, whether it’s Kemple or anybody else.”
Based on Hagan’s inquiry, and an interview request from The Tampa Tribune, the National Diversity Council cut its ties with the county on Monday.
In a tersely worded e-mail, Sofia Reed, Florida regional manager for the diversity council, said the group would no longer review applicants for the county’s panel.
“The National Diversity Council is very disappointed with what has become of the request that Hillsborough County made in relation to the diversity advisory council,” Reed wrote in the e-mail to the county’s chief administrative officer, Helene Marks.
Reed’s message to Marks included the interview request from The Tampa Tribune.
In her reply to Hagan’s office, Reed denied that Kemple’s September e-mail played any part in the selection process for the county board. She cited the redaction of vital information – Kemple’s name and other personal information – as the reason the information was not used.
Her denial, however, contradicts an e-mail Reed sent Marks on April 9, in which she said her boss had recommended that the author of the inflammatory e-mail – Kemple – be disqualified from the local diversity panel.
Kemple claims he had been approved for the diversity board before Merrill forwarded the e-mail to the national group. Kemple said he submitted a detailed application and an essay stating why he should be on the council.
Because he was disqualified, the diversity council slot Kemple applied for – northern and southern European – is short a second member.