by Rick Boettger…….
It’s official: the Florida Commission on Ethics affirmed the 16 ethics violations committed by Commissioners Sylvia Murphy, Danny Kolhage, David Rice, and Heather Carruthers at their meeting in Tallahassee today [Friday morning, Oct. 20]. The total fines were even higher than I reported last week, because they imposed a violation for a year for which I did not even file a complaint—in all, it came to $20,000 for the four.
The amount of their errors was astounding, far more than I estimated when I filed the complaints in February this year. While I could see around $3.8 million in misreported financial data, it came to over $15,352,000 for the four over all four years, including net worth, assets, liabilities, and income reporting errors, based on their amended Form 6X’s and noted by the Report on Investigations by the Ethics commission’s investigator. For errors of form, I counted 51 in all. These in fact added up to over 700 errors of form, counting addresses and unreported specific investments, etc.
They got to our cases at 9:07, and we were done at 9:18. The main item of discussion was the size of the fines. The Ethics Commissioners, I felt, wondered why they were as high as they were (George Neugent was fined a relatively paltry $500 per year for inaccurate financial disclosure forms). These four got between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, more or less the difference between a slap on the wrist and an ass-kicking.
I had hoped the higher fines were because the Ethic Commission, like me, thought the Monroe commissioners’ naming George “Honorary Mayor” within a month of his receiving “Public Reprimand and Censure” was a clear slap in the face of the very concept of ethics. But no, the advocate said the high fines were what the Monroe commissioners proffered, and were “higher than ordinarily asked.”
It looks to me like they were simply desperate for this to go away. Had they fought the charges, and haggled over the fines, we could have had as many as eight meetings, each one reported separately. They wanted to pull the bandage off all at once, instead of drawing out the torture. This worked out well for me, as well. Just one overnighter to our Capital, which is not exactly a vacation destination, instead of eight of them.
As a blushing aside, the quote of the day is one Ethics commissioner’s comment: “The Complainant did a very good job of laying out” the financial issues involved. Second place is for the advocate’s explanations for why Rice was fined more than Heather, and Sylvia less than the others: David’s were “more egregious” and Sylvia’s were “less egregious.” The operative word here is “egregious”. Amen and hallelujah.
To repeat why this is important, it shows both the lack of regard for honest financial reporting and an incompetence at reading simple directions. In other media, the commissioners have defended themselves on the basis of “arcane” demands. This is nonsense. 99% of their errors were simply not putting in accurate values for their income, financial portfolios, and real estate. Or writing in addresses. If they can’t follow these rules, how on earth can we trust them with a half billion of our tax dollars, much of which is spent on difficult programs to judge?
In coming weeks, I will be discussing each individual commissioner one at a time. I will be emailing each detailed questions in their turn, so you will get to see their side of things.
Let me leave you with a guessing game: Which of the commissioners had the following individual total financial misreporting errors, each in millions of dollars?:
Second guess, is who made the most errors of form? (I bet this one will surprise you.)