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Robocalls target Hillsborough School Board’s April Griffin — more than a year before elections

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

On Memorial Day, April Griffin awoke to a barrage of calls and texts from friends.

The Hillsborough County School Board member learned she was the subject of a negative robocall from a group calling itself “Citizens for Fairness and Equity.”

Griffin initially described the call on her Facebook page as comparing her to “being like President Trump, supporting charter schools, and had racial undertones because it talked about me winning (taking away) an election for the chairmanship over the only black board member.”

“This stuff does not bother me,” Griffin said Monday. “I find humor in it,” comparing it to attacks she received when she last ran for office when she was being compared to President Barack Obama.

She says she has no idea who “Citizens for Fairness and Equity” is, and isn’t spending much time thinking about it.

Griffin has served on the school board since 2006, and re-elected twice since, including in 2014, after initially announcing that she was stepping down from the board and would run for a Hillsborough County Commission seat. In a crowded field of candidates, she easily defeated her opponent to win a third term in office.

She was a leader in speaking out about former superintendent MaryEllen Elia, voting along with three other board members to fire her in January 2015. It was a move that, at the time, alienated those board members from the Hillsborough County political and business establishment.

Yet, despite intense criticism, the only two board members who voted against Elia who were up for re-election last year, Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes, won their respective elections (though Valdes margin of victory was only 267 votes).

Griffin’s description of the robocall referring to her election as chair was about her victory over former school board member Doretha Edgecomb in November 2015. As described by the Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol at the time, Edgecomb was next in line for chair, as “rotating the chair has been a tradition for decades.”

However, the board chose Griffin on a 4-3 vote.

Edgecomb no longer serves on the board, after not seeking re-election last year.

Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Chair Ione Townsend is vacationing in New York, but was contacted by party members who said that the phone number listed on those who received the robocall was the official phone number of the DEC.

“We had nothing to do with it,” Townsend said. “We just found out about it because somebody reported it to us.”

Townsend reported the alleged cloning of the number to AT&T, and she said they are investigating the matter.

Griffin, who is running for re-election next year, believes Townsend and says it’s just another sad example of how politics in recent decades has changed for the worst.

“I learned a long time ago that if I was going to make any kind of impact, that I was going to make some people very happy and some people very unhappy,” she says. “I can compartmentalize it.”

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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