Henderson: Let's help little guy, Storms says
Hillsborough County has had its share of flamboyant politicians, but few have been in the class of Ronda Storms. Just calling her controversial doesn't come close to capturing what she is all about. As a county commissioner, she proposed that child abusers be sterilized. She fought against Planned Parenthood. On the issue of gay rights, well, she wasn't a champion. As a state senator, she promoted teaching intelligent design in public classrooms, but she also is a champion of Government in the Sunshine and is always on the lookout to help the little guy fight against the machine. She became a voice of reason at times on contentious issues in Tallahassee and is never unprepared. Given all that, it makes absolute sense she would enter the race to unseat Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner, who surely must be wishing by now that he had never cavorted with and sent spicy emails to an employee he later fired.It created the perfect opening for Storms. If she wins, she can restore confidence (her word) to the office while trying to give the little guy a break. That's what she told me, anyway, as we chatted a couple of days ago at a Starbucks in Valrico. "Why couldn't you use that office to help people?" she said. "The property appraiser acts like he gets a commission off the money he generates for the county." So there we were, off and running on a 45-minute conversation that was sharply pointed at times and stream-of-consciousness at others. I asked what makes her qualified to hold this post, and she responded with a soliloquy about what the office ought to be and an indictment on what it is. For instance, Storms said if she is elected, she will cut the appraiser's $154,000-per-year salary "by at least 5 percent." She said being in public service has actually cost her a lot of money. "I have an enormous earning capacity," she said. "I could be a lobbyist — a very successful one. But since I have been in office, I have proven myself faithful to the people of this county. I value the whole concept of public service and of helping people be served by their government and not oppressed." While in Tallahassee, she had meetings with Turner about assessment disputes or issues. She said he seldom gave the little guy a break. "When I saw the weight of the property appraiser used against the citizens, I began to cringe," she said. She also said that if an appraiser's error results in overpayment of taxes by the homeowner, she would make sure every penny is refunded. But regulations could make that a promise she can't keep. The state limits the amount of a refund to any homeowner at three years, even if the overpayment was the government's fault and took place over 10 years or more. However, Storms, who has a law degree, says, "It is discretionary. He (Turner) could provide a full refund." Will Shepherd, general counsel for the appraiser's office, said that's just not so. "In no way, shape, or form can a taxpayer get a refund for 10 years. They are cut off at three years," he said. "If it's more than that, you're just plain out of luck." Turner has questioned Storms' ability to run a department with an $11 million budget. He bases that partially on the fact that she was a part owner with other family members of a condo in Longboat Key that fell into foreclosure in 2009. "It isn't what our family wanted," she said. "Everything we did, we did as honorably as we could. We tried to get the loan modified so the rent we could get on the condo would cover the mortgage, but the bank didn't respond. Now we know why. There was a (housing) tsunami at that time. "I know my opponent will say it shows fiscal irresponsibility on my part; he's entitled to his opinion. I will point to my behavior in office. Judge me how I perform." Speaking of job performance, Turner's behavior and texting habits left the county open to a potentially damaging lawsuit. "I believe there will be (a lawsuit)," she said. "And if there are damages, he should pay them out of his own pocket." There has never been an appraiser's race quite like this, and we know why. Everything changed when Ronda Storms got involved. If she beats Turner in the Aug. 14 Republican primary and wins in November, it will be just the beginning. We may never look at that office the same way again. This is just some friendly advice for folks at the at the appraiser's office, though: You might consider stocking up on canned goods. That's a smart thing to do when Storms approach.