With most voters focused on the presidential campaign, two Hillsborough County races are floating too far under the radar. The outcomes for races for property appraiser and supervisor of elections will have serious consequences, and the choices are clear.
The appraiser's race boils down to the fundamental issue of judgment. Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez, the Democrat, and Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms both have legislative records and a working knowledge of government that make each a qualified candidate on paper. But Storms is a divisive force and a loose cannon who has made a career of pitting one group of people against another. There are few worse qualities in a leader whose office must be a model of equal treatment and fair play.
Storms said recently she was in the race "to clean up the office." She also suggested the staff was indifferent to property owners who felt their assessments were too high. These are the same us-against-them appeals that Storms has peddled for years. In reality, the office works well; the problem was with the outgoing appraiser, Rob Turner, who sent pornographic emails to a female subordinate. By tarring the entire office with Turner's ethical lapse, Storms has worsened staff morale and set back the effort to restore public confidence in the appraisal process. And she has raised expectations among some that she will go lighter on tax assessments.
Rich Glorioso injected the same inflammatory drama in his race for elections supervisor. The Republican state legislator blasted Democrat Craig Latimer, who holds the No. 2 post at the office, for accepting campaign contributions from some staff and their family members.
Glorioso was quick to tell the Tampa Bay Times he was "not accusing anyone of anything," and that he did not believe the contributions would jeopardize the results of his race. But that is exactly what he insinuated in a letter to the outgoing supervisor, Earl Lennard, saying "it would be impossible for the employees" to carry out their duties "without the appearance of impropriety." And he went further, calling on Lennard to remove these staff members "immediately" from the tabulation office, bar them from having "any contact with ballots" and suspend their access to any elections data. Lennard, to his credit, politely told Glorioso to go fish.
Questioning contributions is one thing. But smearing public servants as too untrustworthy to balance their day jobs and their constitutional right to speech is a bizarre way for Glorioso to show off his self-touted management skills. It tarnishes the record that Latimer — who has worked for Republican and Democratic supervisors alike —has achieved in removing politics from the office and professionalizing the operation.
These races may be down on the Hillsborough ballot, but the outcomes will shape the quality of leadership in county government for years to come.