Some members of a black advisory board created by former Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson now say they witnessed firsthand the influence of paid consultants on the message being presented to voters.The investigations continue.
The concern came over a discussion about whether Johnson's name or just his title should be used in public information distributed to black voters.
When a member of the African-American Advisory Board offered his opinion, he was overruled.
"There were times in which we would discuss things and how they should appear. There was a fine line," said Anddrikk Fraiser, vice president of the African-American Advisory Board. "I said, 'Maybe we should just go with Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections,' and the consultant would say, 'No, it should say Buddy Johnson.'
"Was it egregious? I would say yes."
Johnson and his office created the advisory board in August to be an independent panel that would identify issues of concern among minority voters.
It was a volunteer organization made up of black leaders from area churches, businesses and community organizations.
But Johnson used federal voter education money to pay two consultants, Thomas Huggins and Sherryl Cusseaux, who regularly attended board meetings. Huggins was in charge of Johnson's black outreach, and Cusseaux had been hired, in part, to establish the board.
Today, Johnson is out of a job and under federal investigation for how his office spent taxpayer money.
Phyllis Busansky, who defeated him in November, no longer employs the consultants who worked to craft his education outreach.
But the advisory board remains, trying to fulfill its mission.
Board members are still discovering how little they knew about Johnson's outreach effort.
It was only recently, Fraiser said, that he learned Johnson also paid $16,204 to a third consultant, Patty, to duplicate work the board was doing for free.
Fraiser said they were never told that Patty had been hired in early October to help defuse rumors about "No Match, No Vote." At the time of Patty's hiring, the board was scheduling two forums to discuss the issue and address concerns.
"I had no idea Michelle Patty had anything to do with Buddy Johnson, besides being an endorser, until those stories came out," he said.
"I do find it a little bit odd because of the efforts we went through to flame out the rumor of the 'No Match, No Vote.' That was one of the top things on our list, behind working with ex-felons to get their rights restored."
From its inception Aug. 21, there was much the board wasn't told.
The 17 members were not told how everyone was selected or why.
They were not told until mid-September that the board would not receive any money. Members had to pay for expenses out of pocket, Favorite said.
"No one on that committee got paid anything," Fraiser said. "We were meeting two, three hours every two weeks."
And they were not told that Cusseaux had been paid to create the board.
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