BARTOW – Florida House District 56 candidate Jeff Mann has alleged that another county newspaper recently published several news articles and an editorial that, he believes, are not accurate and portray him as less ethical than his political opponent, County Commissioner Melony Bell.
Florida House District 56 includes voters from Bartow, Ft. Meade and Mulberry areas of Polk County plus areas south of the county.
Mann said the other newspaper refused to publish his side of the story. The Winter Haven Sun agreed to publish what Mann and Bell both thought about recent reporting on this subject. The Winter Haven Sun does not endorse Mann or Bell. Both candidates are Republicans.
By Florida law, when two candidates from the same party are the only candidates in an election, the primary election is open to all voters and the primary election decides the winner. In Florida House District 56, around a month before the primary, Bartow resident David Joseph Patzer filed to enter the race as a non-party affiliated candidate. An Aug. 22 news article alleged that Mann “tricked” Patzer into entering the race in order to negatively affect the election. Patzer, who has not made a public comment about this allegation, has since dropped out of the race.
Mann initially told the other newspaper he did not know Patzer but later said he did. An associated Aug. 25 editorial alleged that, “It is a sad tale that voters in District 56 should keep in mind when considering their choice for state representative.”
County Commissioner Melony Bell said Mann was lying.
“I, personally, am of the opinion that (Mann) willfully lied about not knowing David Patzer,” Commissioner Bell emailed. “Later he said he did not know him (and) both simply cannot be true.”
Mann said he was not lying but requested his reasoning not be published, saying he wanted to move on.
Patzer’s brother, Jeremiah Ussery, came to the Winter Haven Sun office with Mann and said that nobody tricked his brother into entering the race; that he was with his brother when he filed; and that nobody influenced his brother into entering the race. Ussery said after his brother filed, his brother got called to work in Georgia and while he was out of state, his brother’s wife and mother-in-law, who both support Melony Bell politically, made allegations that Mann tricked Patzer into filling out a form without knowing what it was. After the other media outlet published this allegation as fact, Ussery said he contacted the reporter who wrote the story to say it was not accurate. Ussery alleged that the other reporter refused to answer the message he left requesting contact.
Commissioner Bell further alleged that Jeremiah Ussery is a Mann campaign supporter.
“Mr. Mann can complain about his treatment by the Patzer’s and the Ledger, that is between them,” Bell said. “I had nothing to do with this situation arising.”