TAMPA — At least a half-dozen on-duty law officers in uniform took part in a re-election event Monday for Gov. Rick Scott despite Florida laws saying public employees must avoid political activity during working hours.
Spokesmen for two of the agencies involved, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said their officers’ attendance resulted from a misunderstanding; they thought they were invited either to provide security or that it was an official governor’s office event.
A spokeswoman for Scott’s campaign said campaign officials made the nature of the event clear in all invitations and announcements but some of the officers present say they didn’t get the message.
Either way, the Tampa event provided Scott with a backdrop of uniformed law officers him as local TV news crews filmed him talking about reductions in crime during his administration.
“All the police departments around here were invited,” said Hillsborough sheriff’s Col. James Previtera when asked why he and other deputies attended the event.
Previtera said some of the deputies were on duty and some weren’t. Asked whether deputies routinely participate in political events during working time, he said, “I don’t know anything about that.”
Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee wasn’t available for comment, but Chief Deputy José Docobo said Previtera was unaware the gathering was a political campaign event.
“When he got back he briefed me that to his surprise it was a campaign stop as opposed to just the governor holding a press conference on crime, which is what Col. Previtera understood when he went,” Docobo said.
“Under those circumstances neither he nor the deputies would have been there. It is our policy not to attend political events in uniform or on duty.”
Craig Baker, an enforcement officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said he was on duty and attending the event at the order of his captain.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Wendy Purcell said Baker attended because his superiors thought the invitation was a request for an officer to assist the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which normally provides security for the governor.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican, attended the event and spoke in Scott’s favor, as did Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer. Tokajer said he was attending to represent the Florida Police Chiefs Association, which endorsed Scott on Monday.
The event was the kickoff of Scott’s “Let’s Keep Florida Safe” your, the latest in a series of statewide tours Scott is holding on key issues. It was held at a store on Adamo Drive that sells law enforcement uniforms and other equipment.
Law officers who didn’t speak at the event stood in a row behind Scott and those who did speak used a podium.
\“It’s been publicly advertised as a campaign event to everyone,” including the invitations to law enforcement agencies, Scott campaign spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.
Florida statute 1094.31 says employees “of the state or any political subdivision may not participate in any political campaign for an elective office while on duty.”
The statute says elected officials are exempt.
Spokesmen for the state Division of Elections, Ethics Commission and Elections Commission all said they couldn’t comment on how that law applies to the Monday event.