Tampa Port Authority Chairman William "Hoe" Brown resigns

TAMPA - William "Hoe" Brown has resigned his position as Chairman of the Tampa Port Authority following revelations of filthy conditions at rental properties he owns.

Code Enforcement recently deemed that property owned by Brown was deplorable and unfit for people to live.

"First thing was the stench," said Director of Hillsborough County Code Enforcement Jake Slater.  "Overwhelming.  It was something I hadn't smelled in a long time.  It is one of the worst things that I have ever seen in my time as code enforcement director."

In his resignation letter to Governor Rick Scott, Brown wrote "I am keenly aware of my lapse in judgment, and I feel strongly that I must focus on taking full responsibility and making amends to the best of my ability.  Simply said, this is the right thing to do."

According to code enforcement officials, it would have been impossible for Brown not to know of the filthy conditions.  The trailers were located less than 20 feet behind Brown's Seminole Heights office on Stanley Street.

The trailers were hauled off the property Monday just hours after Brown reportedly told the tenants to get out and handed them $1500 in cash apiece to help them relocate.

But, even with trouble brewing regarding rental conditions, ABC Action News learned Brown rented out an apartment on the same property Sunday.

"It is one of the smaller places but it is small, cramped," explained Mark Smith.

Smith said he reached an agreement with Brown to rent the less than 300 square foot space for $700 a month.

He was about to pay him another $100 Friday afternoon but Brown did not show up at his office or return calls following his resignation.

According to Smith, the first night he moved in, burglars broke into his house, ransacked it and stole a DVD player.  He claims he tried voicing his concerns to Brown on Monday but was brushed off.

"Tried to talk to him because he was in the process of moving the trailers and was all like, 'I can't talk right now, I am busy.'  And then that was it," Smith explained.

Smith's mother showed up at the property Friday afternoon because she was worried about her son.  She learned from ABC Action News about the allegations against Brown and his resignation.

"I can't understand it," said Louisa Smith.  "I really can't.  How he [Brown] takes advantage of the people like this."

Smith says he wants his deposit back and plans to find a new apartment.

Brown did not return our calls for comment.

Governor Scott responded to Brown's resignation by stating, "We appreciate Mr. Brown's service to the state of Florida and for his work on the Tampa Port Authority Board of Governors.  We continue to wish the very best for him and his family."

According to Slate, there is nothing code enforcement can do to Brown legally because he complied and removed the trailers.

However, officials have fielded calls regarding conditions at other properties Brown rents and say they are looking at conditions at those places.

Resignation Letter

Dear Governor Scott:

After much thought about recent events associated with my business as well as in consideration of my wife who I love dearly and this community, I have decided to resign from my appointed and publicly-held positions, including the Tampa Port Authority's Board of Governors. I am keenly aware of my lapse in judgment, and I feel strongly that I must focus on taking full responsibility and making amends to the best of my ability.
Simply said, this is the right thing to do.

I believe I have served well and faithfully in my public capacity,
and I have been incredibly honored to do so.

William A. "Hoe" Brown

Previous report by Erik Waxler:

The chairman of the Tampa Port Authority said he takes full responsibility for running illegal rental property.
 
Code Enforcement determined that property owned by William Brown, who is also a prominent Republican fundraiser, is deplorable and unfit for people to live.
 
A visit to the property in Seminole Heights behind Brown's property management office found that the trailers in question are gone, and the area was being cleaned up.
 
But code enforcement officials say they will now look at all of Brown's other properties to make sure they are not in the same horrible condition.
 
Jake Slate got a first-hand look at the trailers, and saw families living in filth.  "First thing was the overall stench, overwhelming," he said.  "And the roaches on the soiled door frame and on the mattress."
 
He is director of neighborhood empowerment in Tampa.  "It was one the worst things that I've ever seen."
 
Neighbors say since those trailers were put there, there's been nothing but trouble.
 
Next-door neighbor Janai Harris said "At least once a day, there would be police or something." 
 
Things were so bad here, tenants were given just a day to vacate.  And the trailers were hauled away yesterday.
 
Today, the backyard behind William Brown's office was freshly mowed.  And his spokesperson, Beth Leytham, said
the chairman of the Tampa Port Authority was inside, but too stressed to talk to the media.
 
"He does take full responsibility and he wishes he was a little more attentive to the day-to-day operations."
 
She also says rent money was returned to the tenants, and they were given help relocating.  She said all seven residents found new housing.  "We have great lengths to do everything we can to make it right."
 
Officials say it's illegal to even have trailers on this property, but Brown insists he thought it was zoned for commercial use.
 
And as for the condition people were living in, he told code enforcement had didn't realize it had gotten so bad."
 
"He wasn't an absentee landlord," said Slate.  "He was right there on the premises.  If he did any type of inspections at all in the back, he would quickly realize there was something wrong." 
 
Because Brown complied with code enforcement and got rid of the trailers, he's actually not facing any fines. 
 
Along with looking at his other properties, officials say the phone is ringing off the hook with reports of other rentals around Hillsborough County that might also be unfit for living.
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