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Nancy Smith

Polk County's Troubled DEC

April 23, 2019 - 8:00am
Kathie Sunderland and Shawn Kinsey
Kathie Sunderland and Shawn Kinsey

Democrats in Polk County are getting down and dirty. With each other. 

What we've got here is a kind of passive-aggressive brouhaha between the Democratic Executive Committee's former chairman and current chairwoman over which one can go lower to rat-out the other's unpleasant secrets. With charges of racism thrown in.

The trouble started when former Polk County Democratic leader Shawn Kinsey, who left office in December, was caught with his hand in the till. Kinsey "stole" $2,683 from the party, says the Lakeland Ledger. His guilt was never at issue. He spent the money on a trip to Chicago and to regularly fill up his vehicle. When confronted with a letter demanding he repay the money, he returned it.

As you might imagine, Kinsey opted not to run again. “I’ve apologized,” he told the newspaper last week. “I didn’t run for re-election again because I thought it would be divisive." 

I Beg to DifferBut Polk Dems were mad. In a resolution from late March, the Ledger says, local DEC officials wrote that following a financial review, they found Kinsey “usurped the powers of the DEC Treasurer, acting in that capacity during the 2018 calendar year, and did sign all checks for the DEC personally, violating the provisions of the DEC bylaws.”

The Democratic Executive Committee wrote in its resolution that Kinsey had “libeled, slandered and discredited the DEC, its officers and members by falsely claiming that he is a victim of ‘racial bias,’ that the DEC and its members are ‘racist’ and that is why he did not run for the office of DEC Chair again at the election, all of the foregoing casting the DEC and its members in a false light.” He said the resolution was untrue.

On his way out, Kinsey made sure the Party and the press had the goods on his successor, Kathie Sunderland. Seems she and her husband Richard, while living in California years ago, had been involved in a Ponzi scheme.  Neighbors blamed them in a civil lawsuit for losing $500,000.

Kinsey said as head of the party, he dismissed the couple from the board when he learned of the court case, but -- having gone ahead and dropped the teaser, declined to release additional information. As if he were taking the high road. “I was trying to protect the integrity of the DEC and trying to save them the embarrassment,” Kinsey said.

The lawsuit involved an investment in heavy-equipment sales in the Middle East, according to 2011 court documents. Richard Sutherland said his wife’s name was dropped from the lawsuit, and he, too, was scammed out of about $450,000 in the deal. He said he lost the case but the FBI was involved, and when the neighbors discovered Richard Sutherland had nothing to do with it, eventually the case was dropped and went away. Maybe. Probably. I can't find anyone who's seen papers to prove the case was dropped.

I know these folks at the Polk County DEC are only human. As are we all. People make mistakes. People squabble. It happens in the best of families.

But you've got Kinsey who stole money from the Party but thinks it's OK if you bend the bylaws but return the cash. And you've got Sutherland who fell for a scheme even the FBI says appeals to chumps in search of easy money. Think about it. These are the people looking for good candidates to represent us, who want us to trust their judgment in 2020. 

Even for the most committed Democrats, that has to be a big ask. 

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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