County Commission Lets White Abstain from Lawsuit Vote

02/03/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Nearly two weeks ago, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted six to one to sue Commissioner Kevin White for $425,000 in legal fees associated with a sexual harassment suit filed against White by former aide Alyssa Ogden in 2008. White cast the sole “no” vote.

Republican Chris Ingram then filed an ethics complaint against the democratic commissioner, citing state law requiring public officials to abstain from voting on matters that concern them financially. Today, the board rescinded their vote to give White a chance to recuse himself. But before that happened, the public had their say.

Diane Hart, President of the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus, referred to the lawsuit’s estimated cost of $25,000. That adds to the $425,000 the county spent on the initial suit. Hart added that the money should instead go to programs that have been cut, and that her community agrees.

Fred Hayes said that he has spoken to a diverse range of Hillsborough residents who believe that an additional lawsuit against White would be a waste.

Robin Locket told the commission that the attorneys have spoken, and that additional litigation would do the county no good, and suggested that politics may afoot.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita brushed off the accusation that the proposed action against White had more to do with this being an election year than with recovering for taxpayers the $425,000 White says he doesn’t have.

She added that the $25,000 is small change when compared with the entire sum of the suit against the county.

The commissioners, including White, voted unanimously to allow a second vote, before voting unanimously – minus White – to sue him to recover the legal fees associated with the sexual harassment suit.

The board must approve any additional use of taxpayer dollars if the cost of the lawsuit exceeds $25,000.

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