LARGO -- Commissioner Charlie Harper, under fire for who knows what in Largo, makes no secret of the fact that he is a friendly fellow. And, he says, he intends to stay that way.
He has taken colleagues and city employees to lunch or dinner many times. He makes no secret of that. He sees nothing wrong in it, he says. In some cases, his hospitality was extended in appreciation for performance that did not bear directly on him or his city duties.
On one occasion a few months ago, he hosted most of his colleagues, including Mayor Bob Jackson, at dinner at a Florida League of Cities meeting on the east coast.
Taking folks to lunch seems to be the vortex around which the supposed allegations whispered about Harper swirl.
The county's only daily newspaper has editorialized on the subject, stretching provisions of the Largo city charter to fit its argument.
One observer noted, "It looks like another smear campaign."
The Big Paper did that a few years ago with a former commissioner, Marty Shelby. The effort was not necessarily successful in driving Shelby from office. He resigned a commission seat to run against Jackson for mayor, and Jackson, in city office for about 30 years, was just too strong.
In Harper's case, the BP's suggestions have drawn a warning letter from his counsel. To accuse someone of a crime is defamation per se.
Harper has been sort of accused by an unidentified person (the Clearwater Gazette knows who it is, but because the fact cannot be documented, the person's identity is being withheld) of a yet unidentified accusation. A pretty kettle of fish, especially for Harper who protests his innocence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
The facts are concealed by operation of Florida Statute 119.07(6)(u) which says "where the alleged victim chooses not to file a complaint and requests that records of the complaint remain confidential," all records shall be held confidential.
How nice; a person can be ruined in public by someone hiding behind the veil of confidentiality.
Of course, the language is pure nonsense when one analyzes it. The Florida Legislature has a genius for making bad law and this is one pluperfect example.
The thing is, the whole matter has been anything but confidential. It seems everyone in Largo government on the "inside" knows all about it.
Details were shared with at least one commissioner (who is known) who otherwise knew nothing about it, because the sharer of information (who is known) said that person could "be trusted."
An investigation of the matter was conducted by a Tampa lawyer (again, the name is known, but the Gazette has no written documentation of same) who reportedly cleared Harper of any wrongdoing.
Then you throw in the element of the city manager suspending City Clerk Diane Bruner from her duties in connection with the election (she is the "election authority established by law" for city elections) and putting Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert in her place for that duty and perforce Bruner has possibly been dragged into the Harper matter. It appears that way to most observers.
One high city official (not Harper) has complained that he has not seen the Tampa lawyer's report although he says he has asked for it in no uncertain terms.
There is a scenario of what happened that could be reviewed here, but again, no documentation, so that elucidation has to await firmer confirmation. But if it is true, it is damning for certain parties (Harper not included).
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