CRITICS TARGET ZONING VOTE BY STORMS - Mitch Perry

08/26/04

In Eastern Hillsborough County, more than a dozen residents have now filed complaints with the State 's Ethics Commission against County Commisioner Ronda Storms.

The issue that led to the complaints regards a vote back in June that saw the Commission CHANGE the County Land Development Code, legalizing operations in agricultural zones that used to be confined to commercial areas. The hybrid businesses not only grow plants and trees, but landscape, mow lawns and install irrigation.

Storms was the deciding vote on that matter, but residents who live near some of these nurseries insist that the County Attorneys should have ruled that Storms had a Conflict of Interest on the matter, and Should NOT have been allowed to cast a vote.

Rich Dugger lives near Hughes Tree Farm in Keystone. He says living near these facilities affects local residents quality of life roll tape#1 o.q."next to it")

Dugger and several other residents in Eastern Hillsborough have filed complaints with the State Ethics Commission- insisting that County

Commissioner Ronda Storms had a clear conflict of interest in voting for this law.

The complaints allege that the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office made

A mistake when they ruled that Storms Landscaping Nursery was just a small part of the industry and wouldn't benefit unnecessarily from the new rules. Complaints say she has a much bigger stake because there are only a small number of landscape nurseries.

Again, Rich Dugger (roll tape#2 o.q."can and cannot do on our lands")

And Dugger says he's shocked that nobody else in County Government is willing to do anything about this (roll tape#3 o.q."like it's not happening")

For her part, Commissioner Storms says there would NOT be any complaints against her, if she had voted with the residents, and against the code changes.

Also upsetting to those filing complaints is that they say the code changes were essentially written by Sean Hughes, who owns Sunrise Landscaping and Landcare, and is the son of conservative Hillsborough power broker Ralph Hughes, who has contributed financially to Storms and the other commissioners who supported the new legislation.

WMNF spoke with Helen Jones from the State Ethics Commission in Tallahasee. She refused to be quoted on tape, but informed WMNF about the procedures that would necessitate the Commission taking any type of action on a complaint.

After completion of a preliminary investigation, copies of the complaints will be forwarded to the Commission Advocate - an Assistant Attorney General.

Complaint procedures dictate that as long as a complaint remains in a confidential stage-which these complaints are right now - Neither Commission Members, nor staff are permitted to speak to the press or public about it.

Keystone resident Rich Dugger says the issue simply needs to be looked at in this way

(roll tape#4 o.q."there's no interest")

Thonotosassa residents always complain that the code changes do not comply with the Thonotosassa Community Plan, which rural residents and county officials worked for three years to develop. The plan is a blueprint for future growth in the area.

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