Pat Gerard may soon have to explain to constituents why she used “official business” to meet with lobbyists in an effort to raise campaign cash – perhaps on the City of Largo’s dime.
In October, the seven-year Democratic Largo mayor announced she would step down to enter the race for Pinellas County Commission District 2, the seat currently held by Norm Roche.
On April 2, as part of her official duties as mayor, Gerard visited Tallahassee to attend the Florida League of Cities Legislative Action Days, an annual event where FLC members meet with lawmakers to address legislative business on behalf of constituents.
That is what Gerard claimed she did when submitting a signed Employee Travel Report on April 23 to the City of Largo for $334.88 in food, travel and hotel costs.
While in Tallahassee, in fact, Gerard chose not to meet with any representatives of the Largo area — Republican state Reps. Ed Hooper, Larry Ahern or state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Instead, the mayor used the visit as an opportunity to meet with Florida politicos — including South Florida super-lobbyist Ron Book – to raise money for her Commission campaign.
Book spoke with Gerard briefly but declined her request for a visit.
“I don’t know Mayor Patricia Gerard,” Book said in an email. “What I do know that while the Mayor was in Tallahassee during the Legislative Session for Florida League of Cities day, she reached out to for no other reason other than her campaign for County Commission in Pinellas County.”
Book added that upon learning of Gerard’s submitted report, it was clear to him that she billed the City not for her business with the Florida Capitol, but doing “campaign work.”
“I not only question her ethics,” Book added, “but I certainly believe that if she received reimbursement from the taxpayers of the City of Largo — which is where my sister and brother-in-law live and the City where my late mother used to live in — she has stolen money from the taxpayers.”
Gerard’s submission to the city states it is for “necessary travel expenses for the performance of official duties for the City of Largo, FL.” Book suggested that by signing the report, while fully acknowledging that her untruthful statement could be fraudulent, it is punishable as a misdemeanor in the Florida law.
Most recent financing reports, dated through Aug. 29, show Gerard has so far raised nearly $148K in campaign contributions.
In an unusual turn of events, Gerard will now face Ed Hooper — the state representative she didn’t care to meet with in April – in the General Election. Hooper is the term-limited state lawmaker who defeated Roche in the Aug. 26 GOP primary for PCC District 2.