Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

County Commission News

Ethically Challenged Board Votes No On Disclosure
IDA Executive Director: “I depend on the people’s trust

Columbia County Florida (posted November 28, 2007)

by Stew Lilker

At its November 15, 2007 board meeting, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners once again demonstrated that it is an ethically challenged board. It refused to vote for the continued financial disclosure of the members of the Industrial Development Authority despite no objection from them.

County Manager fails to mention the Ethics Commission

At the November 1st BCC meeting, County Manager Dale Williams explained that the071000_Dale_2x2 County had received “notice from the state” that the IDA Board was no longer required to file financial disclosure. The County Manager conveniently failed to mention that the agency sending the letter was the Ethics Commission. He also failed to mention that the deadline for requiring financial disclosure of the IDA Board was before December 31, 2007.

At the conclusion of the County Manager’s presentation, not one Commissioner asked a question or made a comment, leaving this reporter and some members of the public wondering where the discussion occurred.

How much the county actually spends is a secret.

According to a spokesperson from the Florida Commission on Ethics (COE), earlier this year the COE went to the DCA web site to locate all the dependent and independent authorities in the state. Those counties where dependent authorities were located were advised by letter that financial disclosure was no longer mandatory for dependent authorities.

It was a technicality in the wording of the law that removed the IDA from the list of agencies required to file by the State.

Columbia County received their letter from the Ethics Commission on October 18,

2007. The letter was posted on the county web site, but the first page just happened to be barely legible.

The Ethics Commission advised the County: “Florida Statutes, contains a "local option" that the appointing authority can exercise to require members of the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority to file financial disclosure.”

The Ethics Commission continued: “The Columbia County Commission may choose to utilize this provision to require the appointed members of the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority to file an annual statement of financial interests.”

The Ethics Commission instructed the Board of County Commissioners in the procedure to require financial disclosure and the consequences of inaction. It couldn’t have been easier: “Unless the Columbia County Commission exercises this option before December 31, 2007 and provides us with a copy of its ordinance or resolution to that effect, we intend to remove the members of the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority from the list of local officers who are required to file financial disclosure for the year 2007.”

The IDA budget for 2008 is $564,000, which includes an estimated $250,000 in the bank. The IDA has two employees with a total payroll expense of $166,000. Additionally, the IDA appropriates money for among other things certification and training and project development. In 2007 the budgeted amounts for these items were $15,500; in 2008, $28,000 representing an 80% projected increase.

How much the IDA and other County entities actually spend is a deep dark secret. When questioned about the absence of actual expenditures in the budget documents during this years budget hearings, the County Manager explained that he gives what the law requires and if the Board wants him to give more, they will have to tell him.

County Commission rejects disclosure.
IDA Chief says: “I depend on the people’s trust.”

At the November 15th Board meeting, after a month to mull over the Ethics Commission’s determination that it was Columbia County’s responsibility to require financial disclosure of the IDA, the BCC was mute on the subject.

At the conclusion of the meeting your reporter inquired of the Board, “The County has the opportunity to require financial disclosure of the IDA. It is not required by the state now, but it can be required by the County. I was just wondering what the county is going to do about that?”

Jim Poole, the Executive Director of the IDA volunteered from the Jim Pooleaudience that all IDA board members file with the state on an annual basis.

Mr. Poole told the Board, “They [the IDA board members] have been filing and I can verify that they have been filing.”

The present IDA board is composed of long time members, appointed by the County, who have been filing financial disclosure statements for years without complaining.

Chairwoman Elizabeth Porter and Commissioner Dewey Weaver explained to Mr. Poole that disclosure was now optional and in the hands of the County.

Commissioner Porter said, “That changes now.” “I think there are a lot of people that shy away from public service because they don’t want everyone to know every dime they have and every dime they spend. So if the state doesn’t require it I don’t see why we should separate ourselves and require them to do something that the state does not.”

Commissioner Ronald Williams, who had previously been found guilty by the State Ethics Commission for multiple year violations of violating the State Constitution and breeching the public trust agreed with Ms. Porter.

Commissioner Dewey Weaver said he didn’t “have any strong feelings either way” adding that he thought financial disclosure was a “hindrance” to get people to serve on boards or run for public office.

Commissioner George Skinner said, “A lot of people will not serve because of disclosure.”

Commissioner Stephen Bailey said nothing.

After the meeting Commissioner Skinner said, “Anyone that is handling the people’s money should have to file a financial disclosure.”

IDA Executive Director Jim Pool told the Observer, “I think I should be filing whether it is required or not. I want to err on the side of doing too much. I depend on people’s trust.”

One has to wonder: Is the County Commission listening?