PALM BEACH, FL, October 3, 2018 — Today the Tampa Bay Times ran a baffling column entitled “Daniel Ruth: For pot-using commission candidate, campaign funds are going up in smoke.”
“Thanks to recently defrocked [sic] public servant Kim O’Connor, this may be the first (and last) time you will ever read anything about the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District.
“And see? You are probably wondering, ‘I didn’t know we had a Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District.’ But we do! It’s good to know.”
O’Connor is the Green Party candidate for Hillsborough County Commissioner District 7.
But what we are wondering is why — given O’Connor’s low profile campaign and the sheer obscurity of the Board of the Soil and Water Conservation District — has the illustrious Tampa Bay Times chosen to run pieces on the purported scandal on three consecutive days, starting with Monday’s shocking exposé that a “Hillsborough candidate resigned from the Soil and Water Board after pot stunk up hotel room.” The Times that day had featured three articles (with pictures) at the top of the front page, with the O’Connor piece right in the middle.
On Tuesday, October 2, the paper stayed on the attack when reporting on their County Commissioner “recommendations.” While endorsing Kimberly Overman for District 7, the Tampa Bay Times mentioned in passing:
“Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor, 70, who resigned from a conservation board in June following a controversy over marijuana found in her hotel room on a board trip, is also on the ballot.”
And now today, the Daniel Ruth smear, in the tradition of L.A. Confidential. All this, mind you, is over alleged pot-smoking that happened on May 16, four-and-a-half months ago, and a resignation following a June 13 meeting of the Soil and Water Board.
The October 1 article relates the sordid details. After her taxpayer-funded one-night stay in Okeechobee, O’Connor checked out of her hotel after a meeting on water conservation programs.
“But O’Connor, a candidate for Hillsborough County Commission, smelled strongly of marijuana, hotel staff later told district officials. They sent staff members to check her room and found marijuana on the bed and a room that reeked of the drug.
“In a letter sent to the district June 5, the Holiday Inn Express and Suites demanded the district pay an extra $500. The marijuana odor was so pungent, the hotel had to hire a professional cleaning firm and use commercial fans to air out the room, which could not be let for three days, the letter said.
“At the district’s next board meeting June 13, O’Connor denied smoking marijuana. Fellow board members indicated they would ask Gov. Rick Scott to remove her from office for malfeasance if she did not resign, but she faced little criticism.”
She resigned at the meeting but said all the allegations were “unfounded.” Law enforcement was not contacted. This whole affair has a funny smell to it, but it does not seem that the smell is that of Cannabis.
Some Important, Unasked Questions:
- First, why would marijuana smoke take a cleaning crew, industrial fans and three days to remove?
- Since O’Connor had flown to Okeechobee in the first place, how did she get past airport security? Why would she even risk it?
- Why would a marijuana user leave marijuana behind?
- According to the article, Soil and Water Board Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins told the Board on June 13 that “The hotel was very upset” after discovering marijuana and evidence of its use in the room. At what point was Tompkins informed of the problem? During her own stay? Did the hotel contact O’Connor first or was Tompkins the first person the hotel approached with these accusations?
- The hotel says marijuana was found in the room, but law enforcement was not called. What happened to the marijuana? Was it kept or thrown away? If it was destroyed, was Tompkins aware of this at the time? Did someone order the hotel to destroy evidence to a crime to protect the reputation of a county official? Did the hotel do this on their own?
- The hotel took 3 weeks to send a letter to the county demanding $500 payment. Since O’Connor had already signed a form agreeing to pay $500 if she violated the smoking policy, why didn’t they demand payment immediately, or charge the credit card on file?
- Why is this issue coming to light now, more than four months later, but right before the Times endorsement article?
And most troubling is that this is how Hillsborough County does business. According to the article, the Soil and Water Board agreed to keep this matter out of the official minutes, and did so, even though O’Connor had been accused of a crime (which O’Connor denied she had committed), leaving the county owing $500. The county decided not to honor that debt. A motion was made and seconded, to instruct the county attorney to ask the governor to have O’Connor removed from office. O’Connor instead resigned. All of this was excluded from the official minutes. A 40-minute discussion got five words in the official record.
Is it common for Hillsborough County to make criminal allegations “go away”? Does the county attorney or the County Commission know of this deal and others like it? In these meetings, the previous meeting’s minutes are usually approved by the Board, so all its members must now be aware of these omissions.
So we find the Tampa Bay Times has indulged in a naked political hit job. We find it unlikely that a marijuana user would abandon their marijuana on a hotel bed. We find it preposterous that marijuana smoke would require a professional crew three days to clear. We find the back-channel communication between Betty Jo Tompkins and anonymous hotel staff to be suspicious. We find the timing of the whole affair to be suspicious.
The entire story is one massive cover-up, with officials doctoring meeting minutes to void embarrassing accounts of Board malfeasance, official debts and perhaps more. The Times walks right up to a story that might implicate powerful county officials and employees, and then buries it.
Attacking O’Connor’s campaign.
Daniel Ruth doesn’t neglect to take a shot at the Green Party itself, which is most likely the real target of this slander-fest:
“It should be noted O’Connor is a Green Party candidate for the commission, so you could argue given the Green Party’s support for the environment and organic foods, the marijuana stuff might be considered a plus.” and …
“There are any number of other more worthwhile uses one could come up with if one had an extra $26,000 laying around rather than blowing all those dollars up in a haze.”
Daniel Ruth, whose article’s very title states, “For pot-using commission candidate, campaign funds are going up in smoke,” writes:
“Still, O’Connor’s County Commission candidacy is a bit of a mystery. Records show that to date, she has loaned her campaign $26,000, but has only spent $50. Nor has she bothered to create a campaign website.”
He goes on:
“Forget, for the moment, the ‘did she or didn’t she’ question about using marijuana in an Okeechobee hotel room. Why would someone blow $26,000 on an ill-fated campaign that O’Connor has to know she has absolutely no chance of winning?”
The Republican Todd Marks for District 7 campaign finance reports list over 30 one-thousand dollar contributors described as “Business/Real Estate” or “Developer” or “Political Committee.” Would the $175,941 he has amassed to date be “up in smoke” should he lose?
Democrat Kimberly Overman reports almost all her contributions as “Individuals.” It would seem that her business contributors are merely masquerading as patriotic individuals (from her glory days chairing the Housing Finance Authority which specialized in financing developers?). But would her total of a measly $111,877 be “up in smoke” should she bite the dust?
For the record.
While clearly stating that O’Connor loaned her campaign its funds and that it has only spent $50, Ruth twice says she has “blown” the money and calls it a poor “investment.” O’Connor has neither sought nor received the endorsement of the Green Party of Florida, so we cannot speak to the seriousness of her campaign.
No corroboration is given for any of the allegations, nor is there any report of an investigation — just sneering condescension and manufactured innuendo.
It appears that the Times has an agenda to smear O’Connor and the Green Party. We suspect the Times was fed information by sources not named in the article to further these sources’ own political goals.
We call on the Times to correct or retract these articles and to further investigate the meeting of June 13, and the integrity of all Hillsborough County official meeting minutes in general.
— Samson LeBeau Kpadenou
Co-Chair, Green Party of Florida
Green Party candidate for Florida House of Representatives, District 87