Last Friday night, Janet Dougherty could be seen hobnobbing with various Republican Party friends at the Hillsborough County Lincoln Day Dinner at the Pepin Center in Tampa — the annual fundraiser for the local GOP that will help the party as it tries to win local, state and the presidential race in 2016.
But it’s the type of event that she will no longer be able to attend as executive director of the county’s Environmental Protection Commission, after attorneys representing herself and the county agreed upon language for a new contract that will take effect when she officially inherits the job on July 1.
A special meeting of the EPC (which consists of the regular Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners) was held today after Dougherty objected to a provision added to her proposed contact that said she could not run for office or engage in political activity while serving as EPC executive director.
“This language is ambiguous,” Dougherty told commissioners today about why she asked for the meeting with her attorney present. “I just want to define political activities.”
Board members had no problem in clarifying what they considered unacceptable.
“I don’t want you to be working on someone’s campaign, or endorsing, or picking a side in any of these fights because it may be contrary to what’s in the best interest of the entity you’re serving,” Commissioner Victor Crist said.
“We don’t want you taking part in any campaign, other than voting,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said bluntly.
The concerns by commissioners didn’t come out of a vacuum. Dougherty has twice run for political office, including losing out to Stacy White in the GOP primary for the eastern Hillsborough County Commission District 4 seat last summer. She also worked on Tampa City Council candidate Jackie Toledo’s unsuccessful effort to win office earlier this year.
Commissioner Ken Hagan said he definitely didn’t want a situation like what happened last fall, when former Hillsborough County Superintendent MaryEllen Elia placed a campaign sign for District 6 School Board candidate Dipa Shah on her front lawn. Shah was running at the time against April Griffin, Elia’s bitter foe on the School Board. But he also said he didn’t understand why Dougherty was being held to a higher standard than the man she is about to replace, Rick Garrity, whose contract did not include such language. And he listed a series of other officials in the county who also don’t have such a provision regarding political activities.
“It doesn’t exist with PTC executive director, Civil Service executive director, Sports Authority, port director. In fact, the port director (Paul Anderson) was at the Lincoln Day Dinner the other night,” Hagan said, adding that such a provision for the EPC director is not in the County Charter. “I’m looking for some consistency.”
Commission Al Higginbotham said he believed that was an “oversight,” and that the Charter Review Commission, which is currently meeting this summer, should and will address that inconsistency.
With concerns that the failure to agree on contractual language today would force the board to hire an interim EPC executive director, EPC Chair Les Miller called for a 15-minute break for both attorneys to meet to agree on language. They did so.
The agreed-upon language says that the executive director of the EPC shall not hold any political office or participate in any political campaign activity other than voting. If she requires clarification about an action, the EPC attorney shall provide an opinion on that potential action.