MANATEE -- Political circles were buzzing Thursday about whether a Manatee County Commission candidate lied about his college graduation, which he denied.
Palmetto City Commissioner Charles B. Smith, who bested two other Democratic candidates in the primary election, and faces a write-in candidate during Tuesday's general election, denied he fibbed about his graduation from Orlando's University of Central Florida.
He graduated from UCF with a degree in criminal justice, just as his official biography on the city of Palmetto website says, he said during an interview with the Herald.
He termed rumors about his educational background, which he said also included a stint at the school previously known as Bethune-Cookman College, "very offensive."
However, UCF officials said they have no record of a person named Charles B. Smith graduating during the time Smith previously told the Herald he had earned a degree.
"We have a La Charles Bernard Smith with the date-of-birth you provided, who attended UCF from the spring of 1984 through the fall of 1985," wrote Chad Binette, assistant vice president for news and information at UCF. "He was a criminal justice major. He did not earn a degree."
Efforts to reach the registrar at Bethune-Cookman University late Thursday were unsuccessful.
When asked to provide ways The Herald could confirm his college graduation, Smith declined, saying he did not give his Social Security number to anyone, and, asked to produce a copy of his college degree, he said he didn't know where it was after so many years.
Smith, of Palmetto, faces write-in candidate Troy Thomas in Tuesday's general election.
The two are vying for the District 2 county commission seat representing areas north and south of the Manatee River, including parts of Palmetto and Bradenton.
During the primary election, Smith beat incumbent Commissioner Michael Gallen by four votes, and Corie Holmes, a consultant on criminal investigations.
Asked for a comment, Gallen said Thursday: "This tells a lot about his character, and I feel badly for the people of Manatee County. That's pretty serious to falsify your background, if that is true. I heard about it during the campaign, but I was committed to not go negative during the campaign. I didn't want to bring up any bad things on either of my opponents.
"I just ran on my record, and I feel good about that," Gallen said. "The way I was raised (was) not to speak badly of other people."
Holmes said Thursday that Smith had consulted another local politician during his campaign, and was warned about what he put on his resume "because it wasn't exactly true."
"And he did it, anyway, and he was informed it would be problematic for him," said Holmes. "It's definitely something that needs to be considered because his ethics are in question, and he has violated the law on numerous occasions as it relates to his campaign."
Holmes has filed complaints with the Florida Division of Elections about what he said were campaign violations involving Smith, his family members, and the write-in candidate, Thomas. Holmes said late Thursday the investigation is still under way.
Efforts to reach Thomas were unsuccessful late Thursday.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.