Mail Purge

Am I shocked that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacey Easterling nudged Commission Vice-Chair Thomas Scott out of his chance to ride in the St. Patty's parade?

No! I'm just surprised she allowed anyone else in the parade.

With just 15 months on the job, Easterling has demonstrated a well-undeserved arrogance and sense of entitlement that usually take politicians years to refine.

Easterling, the newest member of the commission with just over a year on the job, has spent thousands of tax dollars mailing out updates that tout her work. This is not the usual self-promotional crap that politicians mail constituents in their districts. Apparently, Easterling perceives her efforts as so special, so important, so monumental that she needs to send mailings to citizens outside her district — conveniently at the very moment when she's trying to raise her countywide profile so she might have a chance to beat Commissioner Jim Norman in a countywide race. And, she sends Hillsborough residents the bill.

La Gaceta's editor and publisher, Patrick Manteiga, filed a public records request for the list of recipients, curious whether Easterling just hit on Republicans who would be most likely to vote for her. No can do, she responded. No list was kept.

Manteiga has approached the state attorney's office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and is preparing a complaint against her, alleging a criminal violation of the state's open records law. He's called in computer experts to ascertain how she could have done a mailing with a computer randomly selecting names without some sort of electronic trail.

"I think she lied to me," said Manteiga.

Not only is Easterling an unabashed opportunist and a postal stamp leech, she is also, apparently, the star graduate from the Bill Clinton School of Obstruction.

When news of Easterling's postal propensities broke, Commissioner Ronda Storms asked her fellow commissioners to restrict mailings so no single member could use the entire $14,000 mailing budget. For the first time, I was stunned to hear myself cheering "Go Ronda!" instead of "Go to hell, Ronda!" But, Storms is right. One of Easterling's mailings cost about $600, and is at least the third mailing of its type. Manteiga, a Democrat, recently got one of her letters after his request for the list. Easterling probably wonders what the big deal is.

Well, someone who dips into the trough and takes thousands for her own selfish aspirations will, no doubt, dip and dip again. Political greed starts with postage stamps and, like an addiction, can quickly escalate into the shady construction of a palatial new South Tampa home right next to the one former city housing chief Steve LaBrake is trying to unload. These stories come and go every year, whether they're about politicians abusing their position for mailings or free theater tickets or travel. We'll write about them using our money to dine in fancy restaurants we can't afford or watch porn on their in-room cable while traveling on official business in some great resort. The total dollar amounts generally aren't big, but the principles are.

Easterling said she needed to mail those letters to let citizens know about a measure that said the commission should be able to connect with the school board to find out how zoning decisions might impact local schools.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Besides, she didn't even include some sort of excuse for writing them. No call to action. No legislators to write. No hearing to attend. Just some lame letter letting people know how wooooooooooooooonderful she is. Please.

At least my favorite shameless self-promoter, Bob Buckhorn, knows how to wake us up by picking an attention-getter like topless dancing.

Easterling told me twice that she hasn't done anything illegal and that the only reason this is an issue is that it's an election year and the people who don't like her are taking shots. "I've learned that politics is a dirty game," she said. I asked if she will do it again and she said, "I will do it again and, I'm glad you brought that up. I knew I had something to do. I've got to call (county administrator) Dan Kleman about doing another letter."

God, what a great quote. Thanks. Got another? Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told me she can always separate the true achievers from the lightweights by their ability to focus on their current jobs, without obsessing about their higher aspirations. "That has been a key to success because you demonstrate your potential far more by your current performance than anything else," she said in an interview. Easterling hasn't demonstrated much in her performance yet.

Well, wait a minute. I take that back.

Stacey Easterling has managed to accomplish the unthinkable.

She's gotten me to agree with Ronda Storms.

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