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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. June 18, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

All-Gulf Coast job finalists

There's political intrigue at the Fred B. Karl County Center over who will finally succeed Emeline C. Acton as the next Hillsborough County attorney. It's only apt. Acton, though an appointee, was quite the politician herself.

County Administrator Patricia G. Bean has been given the names of three finalists. They are Acton's acting replacement, Don Odom, Sarasota County Attorney Jorge Fernandez, and Charlotte County Attorney Renee Lee.

Acton left the Hillsborough attorney's office last year, citing poor health, after requesting a Florida Department of Law Enforcement probe. (See "In the Clear?" GCBR, March 5-11.) FDLE agents found evidence that Acton was paid for hours she didn't work and that her office had destroyed public records. State Attorney Mark Ober declined to prosecute Acton, who suffers from diabetes.

Among the three finalists for her old job, Fernandez doesn't seen to have much of a chance. Fernandez would be toting a lot of baggage to Tampa. He got caught blowing $20,000-plus of public money and 40 days of work time attending legal conferences a few years back. A discrimination settlement with two former secretaries that cost taxpayers another $30,000-plus doesn't help.

That leaves Odom and Lee, if Bean wants to stay with the trio she has been given. Bean was scheduled to announce her recommendation to Hillsborough commissioners at their June 16 meeting, after GCBR's deadline. But she may delay that.

If Bean puts off an announcement, here's what Coffee Talk has heard about why.

Hometown candidate Odom, who has worked in the office since the mid-1980s, has considerable support. But that doesn't extend to Pat Frank and Ronda Storms, and possibly other commissioners, who don't want the mild-mannered Odom to get the permanent job.

Bean, who is in the first year of her job after more than a decade as an assistant county administrator, would prefer not to see the commissioners split their vote on her choice.

So, what about Lee? Coffee Talk hears Lee's time with Bean went well on June 11 when the administrator heard from all three finalists, up close and personal, during separate interviews. But Lee runs a small legal shop in Port Charlotte and the jump to an 80-plus employee office may be considered too big a step for her at this time.

Plus, Lee's selection probably would not be applauded by those employees. Many of the Hillsborough attorney's office staffers were less than thrilled with Acton and her former chief deputy, James J. Porter, who is now in private practice.

Odom's elevation to the permanent post would be greeted warmly in his office, if that counts for anything.

New director sails in under a cloud

It was the boys against the girls at the June 15 meeting of the Tampa Port Authority. The girls lost, but they had nothing to be ashamed of. As for the boys, well ...

It all started with Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms. She has only served on the port's governing board since December and has a lot to learn about how they do business over on Channelside Drive.

Storms told her colleagues that she had heard from a potential applicant for the port director's job. The unnamed gentleman wondered if he should even bother to submit a resume, since he'd heard the fix was in for acting Director Zelko Kirincich.

Was there a memo on that? joked Storms.

Port board member Joseph Diaz didn't have a memo, but he was ready with a speech for Kirincich. Diaz said the port is too busy for the previously agreed-upon national search for a new director. Gladstone Cooper voiced support for Kirincich, too.

Kirincich was lauded earlier in the meeting for his openness with restless maritime business owners, who dislike the port's new emphasis on commercial development along the waterfront.

Just as Diaz made a motion to hand the director's job to Kirincich, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio strolled into the meeting. Iorio opposed skipping the national search and Storms sided with the mayor.

Authority Chairman Lance Ringhaver - like Diaz and Cooper, a gubernatorial appointee to the port board - cast the deciding vote for Kirincich's hasty hire.

There you have it. After being cheered for sunshine compliance, the port authority turned around and made a key decision that looked for all the world like it was hatched somewhere behind closed doors.

It may be premature to hail a new era of transparency at the Port of Tampa.

Another conspiracy theory

Pinellas-Pasco Public Bob Dillinger talked with his wife, Kay, about a reporter's inquiry. It was about a rumor he encourages his assistant public defenders to challenge incumbent judges at the polls. The theory being he's trying gain influence in the judiciary.

Proponents of the theory say the proof is in the challenge by Assistant Pinellas Public Defender John Carballo to Pinellas County Judge Sonny Im. After all, they say Dillinger assistant Kandice Friesen failed four years in a bid to unseat Pinellas County Judge Karl Grubb. And then two years ago, Chris Yeazell challenged Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chuck Cobb and lost.

But Dillinger's wife came up with the most logical response to the theory that her husband calls just ludicrous. If he has so much control over his assistants, his wife asked, then why wasn't he able to keep Cimos Angelis, a former assistant public defender, from challenging him in the 2000 election?

Shapiro honored

Bradenton attorney Richard M. Shapiro, outgoing president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, was expected to be honored Friday night at a dinner at The Breakers in Palm Beach.

Shapiro, of the Shapiro Law Group, will be replaced as president of the 3,800-member group by Alexander Clem, an attorney with Morgan, Colling & Gilbert, Orlando. Clem says his No. 1 goal this year is to defeat the Florida Medical Association's proposed constitutional amendment that would cap contingency fees in medical malpractice lawsuits.


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