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Meet Sheila Scott-Griffin, fighting to make runoff in City Council race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Sheila Scott-Griffin calls herself the “Game Changer.” She touts her ability to listen and varied professional experiences including advanced degrees in law, public administration and theology.

If there is a resume bullet point to throw out to voters in a campaign, she’s got it. She’s worked in the community as a foster parent, homeless placement volunteer, a tutor and with the Goys & Girls Clubs. She’s helped women in prison and done inner city advocacy work.

Griffin-Scott took the Leadership St. Pete class in 2004. She’s been a U.S. civil rights monitor and served on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. And that’s just a small sampling of the resume she distributes to voters in campaign materials.

But she’s also had a checkered past. Scott/Griffin’s law license was suspended by the Florida Bar twice in 2007 and 2011. The first time her law license was suspended for six months and she was ordered to return $32,000 to four clients for, among other grievances, lack of competence and diligence.

She was again ordered to repay more than $1,000 in 2011 for lack of communication and violating fees and costs of legal services for two clients in 2005 and 2006. That offense came with a one-year suspension.

The Tampa Bay Times chronicled one of the wronged clients formerly represented by Scott-Griffin. Davontae Lawson told the Tampa Bay Times Scott-Griffin took $15,000 from his mother while he was in jail pending drug charges. He claims she stopped communicating with the family and, as a result, he was later unable to seek post-conviction relief.

Scott-Griffin didn’t respond to the Times’ inquiry about her troubled legal dealings, but she openly spoke about the problems during a meeting with SaintPetersblog.

According to Griffin, all of the issues stemmed from her businesses failing. She said she started the practice with just $100 and ended it $100,000 in debt. Scott-Griffin said the Florida Bar instructed her to parcel out all of her cases, but she kept a handful thinking she could handle them.

“I take full responsibility,” she said of the Bar grievances filed against her.

She spoke of one of the complaints, presumably referring to Lawson, as a simple misunderstanding. She said that client’s appeal paperwork was sealed in an envelope ready to be sent off, but never was.

“I didn’t know it wasn’t filed,” she said.

Scott-Griffin also claims many of the grievances filed against her as a lawyer were sought after by another attorney, though she did not say who. She said clients were approached and probed as to whether or not there was any wrongdoing.

In any case, she’s now put it behind her and no longer practices law. She said at first she was reluctant to talk about it, but now hopes that by explaining the circumstances – two cases that went unpaid ultimately tanked her practice – voters will focus on the good rather than the bad.

She’s embarking on a series of “listening groups” in order to let residents weigh in on issues they think are most important in their district. She said the most common theme she’s heard from the more than 70 residents she’s met with so far is a misunderstanding of the Southside Community Redevelopment Area.

“Some think it’s going to be the savior of the community,” Scott-Griffin said. “Others think its going to take their homes.”

When asked to explain, Scott-Griffin said some residents, mostly the elderly, worry that blighted homes with unkempt yards will be taken by the city and under the CRA. She said she’s been educating residents on what the CRA could actually do. Specific uses for the money generated by the CRA haven’t been hashed out yet.

Scott-Griffin hopes any funds coming from the new CRA could be used to help struggling homeowners shore up blighted properties. She also worries when she sees vacant lots.

“When I see empty lots I see a lack of generational inheritance,” Scott-Griffin said. “Ownership translates to identity.”

She explained that when people don’t have a self-identity they’ll “take anything” just to put food on the table.

Here’s where Scott Griffin stands on three of the main issues currently facing the city:

The Tampa Bay Rays

Scott-Griffin is in favor of “letting the Rays look anywhere they want.” But she said that doesn’t mean she is in favor of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s deal with the team to let them do that.

“I don’t think the current MOU is alive,” she said.

A new MOU, which Scott-Griffin thinks is imminent, would include a provision for severance if the team left the city.

The Pier

Scott-Griffin said she was “dumbfounded” when the city sent out a survey asking residents which design they preferred and then ignored the results. She said the survey should have included more than just choosing a “pretty” design.

But now that a design has been chosen, she said it’s time to tie the downtown CRA to the Pier project and “move forward.”

Scott-Griffin wasn’t familiar with a looming petition that would ask voters whether they should have the ultimate say in construction and demolition projects on downtown waterfront, but she said she’s “for voters.”

“I never believe a petition is a waste of taxpayer money,” she added.

Recycling

Here Scott-Griffin was a little ambiguous. She thinks residents should be able to opt out of the program and be exempt from paying for it if they so choose.

But she said the rollout should have been a “magnanimous celebration.”

She said she’s not “sold on the fact that it will pay for itself.” However, the city has never claimed that as a certainty, more of a lofty hope. She said that the program could come with “increased cost in unexpected ways.”

Scott-Griffin even hinted she may be of one of the folks who thinks the 95-gallon bins are just plain ugly.

She did come with a new suggestion for the program – utilize community recycling bins at neighborhood parks.

Scott-Griffin faces four challengers in the August 25 primary — Will Newton, Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Lewis Stephens.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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