Hillsborough School Board member Henry Washington

Election for Hillsborough School Board seat should be overturned, suit says


Tampa Bay Times | by Marlene Sokol | December 15, 2020

TAMPA — Weeks after the new Hillsborough County School Board was sworn in, a former member who was defeated in her re-election bid is suing to try and reclaim her seat.

Tamara Shamburger alleges that Henry “Shake” Washington does not really live in his mother-in-law’s house in West Tampa, within Hillsborough’s District 5; but in Seffner, about three quarters of a mile east of Mango Road, which forms one of the district’s easternmost boundaries. The lawsuit claims he did not fully relocate before he ran for office, as he should have done under the law.

Shamburger is asking a circuit court judge to declare her the winner of the Nov. 3 election.

Washington’s attorney called lawsuit frivolous and compared it to efforts by President Trump to overturn his Electoral College loss to President-elect Joe Biden.

Shown in a campaign photo, former Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger is suing to try and regain her seat. She alleges the winner, Henry "Shake" Washington, did not properly establish residence in the district.

Shown in a campaign photo, former Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger is suing to try and regain her seat. She alleges the winner, Henry “Shake” Washington, did not properly establish residence in the district. [ BONNIE RAUK | Sweet Tee Photography ]

“Tamara Shamburger lost by more than ten thousand votes, a margin of more than ten percentage points,” attorney Cheryl Forchilli wrote in the opening page of Washington’s response. “Perhaps inspired by events on the national stage, she now asks the Court to set aside this decisive election result and subvert the clear will of the voters.”

Shamburger’s attorney, Christian Waugh, countered that Washington’s position is a stretch. He said the new School Board member would want people to believe he is sharing a house with his mother-in-law on Willow Avenue near Blake High School while his wife and daughter remain in the Seffner home.

“He’s lived in this house for decades,” Waugh said, referring to the Seffner residence. “They built this house together. I know he is a good man and has a good reputation. That’s not the issue at all. You are living with her mother on a permanent basis? It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Neither Washington nor Shamburger would comment on Monday, leaving the talking to their attorneys. The suit was filed Nov. 23 against Washington and the Hillsborough County Canvassing Board.

A key document in the court file is a sworn statement that Washington gave on Dec. 10.

In it, Washington described the steps he took, before and during his campaign, to establish residency in the West Tampa home.

He gave up his homestead exemption in Seffner. He bought a mattress and moved his clothes into the closet on Willow Avenue. He signed a lease and now pays rent. He transferred some household accounts to his name, and reimbursed his mother-in-law for others. He updated his driver’s license.

The house belongs to Washington’s wife and her brother. His mother-in-law lives in it through a life estate, a legal arrangement that allows the resident to remain in the home for the duration of her life.

But Shamburger’s lawsuit notes that, although Washington changed his address on some documents, he continues to use the Seffner mailing address for other property that he owns. The suit alleges Washington took the steps he described to “deceive” election officials. It also notes that the requirements for legal residency are stricter in school board races than for some other types of elective office.

In his statement, Washington wrote that the West Tampa house holds special significance for him because it was once the home of A.J. Ferrell, a principal at Middleton High School while Washington was a student there during the years of segregation. “He inspired me to become an educator,” Washington wrote. When a new Middleton High School was launched in 2002 as a technology magnet, Washington was its first principal.

But Waugh points to another paragraph in the same statement, which he considers evidence of duplicity. In it, Washington wrote, “my wife and adult daughter continue to reside at the Seffner house. I go there frequently to spend time with my family, to help maintain the property, and to handle other family matters. I sometimes spend the night there.”

Washington also wrote, “my wife sometimes spends the night with me at the Willow Avenue home.”

Photo: Hillsborough County School Board member Henry “Shake” Washington waves to the audience after he was sworn in Nov. 17. Standing next to him are his daughter, Jamia Washington, and his wife, Cheryl Washington. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]