Hagan literature drop in South Tampa elicits concern of wrongdoing listen06/22/09 Seán Kinane
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Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan represents the northwestern section of the county. So, why did Hagan and his staff pass out county literature with his photograph outside of his district? Some critics claim that it’s a way for Hagan, who is running for a countywide seat, to skirt campaign finance requirements while gaining name recognition, but Hagan refutes that suggestion.
Ken Hagan has filed to run for the county-wide District 5 seat being vacated next year by Jim Norman. Last Friday, Creative Loafing reported on its website about literature that Hagan has hung on doors in South Tampa.
Community activist Mariella Smith criticized Hagan’s action on the website Sticks of Fire. “The problem is that it’s clearly a campaign piece, masquerading as a public service announcement.”
But Hagan insists that the literature is not related to his campaign, but rather to his duties as a County Commissioner.
“Constituent service has always been an extremely high priority for me and this is an extension of that. And we started, I guess about two weeks ago waking door-to-door throughout the county from Carrolwood, Temple Terrace, New Tampa, Forest Hills, Seminole Heights, South Tampa, East Tampa, Brandon, and just going door to door, and dropping off door hangers that have a return card asking our residents for their input.”
Last fall, former Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson was criticized for spending public money on voting information that included his photograph when he was running for reelection. Now the FBI is investigating those expenditures. Mariella Smith sees parallels between the actions of Johnson and Ken Hagan.
Hagan says his county staff was among the volunteers who are going door-to-door placing the literature.
“My staff and my father and others -- as far as my staff is concerned, they’re either walking during lunchtime or after work. And, no, they’re not getting paid for it.”
The door hangers declare they are “Not produced at taxpayer’s expense,” and Hagan says he paid for them through his personal funds.
“We are in extremely difficult budget times, just like the private sector, and really didn’t think it would be appropriate in this economic crisis that we’re facing, to use taxpayer dollars to do constituent service. So I paid for it myself.”
Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee says that Hagan has not done anything wrong by using the county’s logo on these door hangers.
“It was my impression that it was [Hillsborough] County literature – that he was producing this information to the public as a sitting County Commissioner. … It’s not a concern to me because as a Commissioner he certainly represents everyone in Hillsborough County and I think the issue that he’s addressing in that document reaches outside of his district – it going to impact the entire community. So it does not concern me that he is sending that literature out to people who are outside of his district.”
Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who represents South Tampa, was not available for comment on Monday.
The fact that the county did not pay for the flyers even though Hagan is using them as official Hillsborough County literature is not a concern to County Attorney Renee Lee.
“We receive all kinds of gifts from the public from time to time. You know, I’m not familiar with who may have paid for the production of that material. But it is not unusual that people give us in-kind services, or their time, or they that they will pay for something: a study or any other event. They may sponsor an event for the county. So, it’s not unusual that that document was not produced at taxpayers’ expense.”
Lee says she does “not have any concerns about the piece going out” even though Hagan did not have it approved by the county.
“It was not approved by anyone to my knowledge, and it’s not required to be approved by anyone. A commissioner certainly has the right and the authority to communicate with his constituents in any way that he deems fit. Because it is, of course, [Hillsborough] County literature, it’s open to public record. It will certainly meet those standards. If someone requests to see the responses that he’s received back or to receive the document itself, it would be produced as a public record.”
But Mariella Smith wonders how far a sitting Commissioner can go with using the Hillsborough County logo.
“Where would they draw the line? … If [Hagan] loses his dog and hands out flyers, can he put the county logo on that? No. This is not county business, handing out numbers that anyone can find in the phone book.”
Smith went a step further and asked whether Hagan is violating campaign finance laws because the literature is not paid for through his campaign’s account where the money can be traced.
T. Wayne Bailey, a professor of political science at Stetson University in DeLand, says it appears that no violation has occurred, unless county staff time was used on campaign activism.
According to election finance reports filed by Hagan with the county’s Supervisor of Elections, Hagan has raised more than 87,000 dollars for next year’s campaign. He insists that if the literature had anything to do with his campaign, he would have been able to draw on those funds.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that an elected official would be criticized for performing constituent service. And it has nothing to do with campaign literature. So far, I’ve raised over $100,000 for my next campaign and if or when I decide to spend money on the campaign, there’s plenty of money to do so. So, there’s no reason to do that. So, really, I’m blown away by that.”