Taxpayers to Pay Up to $50k to Help Them Fill Out Simple Form
by Rick Boettger…….
News break—I just received a copy of Mark Herron’s contract from an attorney in County Attorney Bob Schillinger’s office. Herron will get $300/hour plus expenses to vet not only the Commissioners’ but their “employees,” whoever that includes, but “. . .do not exceed $49,999.99.” They say this is authorized by Section 2-58(b)(3) of the county code. I, and if necessary my Harvard lawyer, will take a close look at this section and report later.
How on earth could they get worse, since what I have already reported is so appalling? To recap, last week I gave you the total amount of misreported financial data for the four commissioners’ 16 ethical violations caught this year (Heather Carruthers, Danny Kolhage, David Rice, and Silvia Murphy—George Neugent got his three violations last year), an astounding $15.3 million, and total number of errors of form, over 700. I asked you to guess who had which errors. Here are the answers:
Leading the pack on financial misreporting was Heather Carruthers, with total errors of $7,427,421 over the four years. Second is David Rice at $4,561,558. In third place is Danny Kolhage at $2,254,648. And bringing up the rear is Sylvia Murphy, with “only” $1,109,000 in reporting errors. These are all admitted by their own hand, meaning, for example, a net worth was off by half a million, a portfolio of $700k was first reported at $550k, or a boat worth $100k was not reported at all.
Errors of form were mainly not reporting addresses, or reporting only a portfolio like “Ameriprise Account” instead of the 15 stocks within the fund. In this contest for incorrect reporting, Danny takes first dishonors with 335, then David with 228, third Heather with 138, and Sylvia again least-bad in show with only 10.
As promised, I will in ensuing weeks discuss each commissioner’s violations in detail, one at a time. This week, a remarkable press release put out by the county shows how the guilty commissioners simply don’t get it when it comes to ethics, but instead how they are permanently compounding the problem in their response to it.
On October 20, the day the Commission on Ethics met in Tallahassee to impose the fines, the county’s PIO put out a press release which you can link to HERE. That is the only way you are likely to find it, as it is NOT on the county’s website as old news, unlike every other press release they have issued. (One Key West publication published it verbatim as its only coverage of the fines, but it seems to have been otherwise ignored—please correct me, anyone, if you’ve seen it somewhere up the Keys.) In two sentences it describes the violations as simply “reporting errors” and the range of amounts of the fines. It then says they were all “corrected prior to [accepting the fines].”
Further minimizing the gravity of the offenses, the press release does not offer a word of explanation or remorse from any of the guilty commissioners. Instead, it quotes county attorney Bob Schillinger at length, basically saying, we’ve fixed the problem, nothing to see here anymore, everybody move along.
But the way Schillinger says they’ve “address[ed] this issue” only makes it worse for us, the taxpayers. They have “retained Mark Herron . . . to review the forms filed” from now on. Herron is the top ethics lawyer in the state, defending charged officials. I am sure you can not pay more than he charges to do this simple task of filling out the forms.
Worse, Schillinger proudly says they “invited Virlindia Doss, Executive Director of the Commission on Ethics, to conduct training. “ Both Herron and Doss covered what Schillinger calls the “nuanced instructions” for the Form 6.
“Nuanced” means “a subtle distinction in expression.” But there was nothing “subtle” about either the instructions for the form 6 or the giant errors the commissioners made while not following them. You be the judge: Simple or Nuanced?:
- “List the name of each source of income . . ., the address of that source, and the amount . . .”
- For financial portfolios, the instructions emphasize, “Do not list simply ‘stocks and bonds’ or ‘bank accounts,’ For example, list ‘Stock (Williams Construction Co.)’ ‘Bonds (Southern Water and Gas)’ . . “
- “’Income’ means the same as ‘gross income’ for federal income tax purposes, even if the income is not actually taxable . . . Examples of income include . . .gains from property dealings, . . . rents. . .
- If more than $1,000 was gained from the sale of a property, then you should list as a source of income the name of the purchaser, the purchaser’s address, and the amount of gain from the sale.”
All of the commissioners’ errors were of the above four types, except those even simpler, like not getting the form notarized, or not reporting an asset like a boat at all. I see no “subtle distinction of expression” leading two of the commissioners to not reporting at all the sale of properties for millions of dollars in gains.
If filing the income from reporting your capital gain is too tough for you, you have the option of “filing a complete tax return” for the year. Actually, if you are too embarrassed to, say, report you made no charitable donations, as George did the years he itemized, you could simply pay your tax preparer, say, $50 to take the information you have already reported to the IRS and put it on the form. They all MUST have paid preparers, as if they can’t handle the Form 6, they would stand no chance with the 1040. The preparers would consider the $50 to be easy money.
Instead, the county has proudly decided it is worth spending our tax money on the most expensive such lawyer in the state to handle this simple work, with the smokescreen that the above instructions are too “nuanced” for our commissioners to handle all by their lonesomes. I have submitted a Public Records Request to the county asking the enabling legislation for this expense, Herron’s contract, and the cost of getting Doss down here. Cammy Clark promptly responded (thanks, Cammy) saying Bob Schillinger would answer when he gets back from vacation (whenever that is–she did not say).
Other questions I want to ask all of the commissioners include the following:
- How can we trust you to handle our half a billion dollars of money every year on complicated problems when you can’t even follow the directions for this simple form?
- Will you apologize to Linda Gottwald and the Board of Directors for SUFA for your putting her out of business and relentlessly prosecuting them all for years on the basis of a spurious “audit” that showed she made fewer errors in seven years of financial reporting than any of you did in any single one of the 16 forms currently fined for violations?
- Do any of you take issue with the estimate of over $1,000,000 in costs to us the taxpayers for your ruining SUFA and pursuing Linda and her Board?
- Do any of you have any remorse for your slipshod lack of effort in filling out these important forms?
I’ll ask them all these questions by email, including a few questions about reporting details specific to each. Please suggest others, if you wish, and I can include them. I doubt they will answer. If they indeed do not, it is lucky we have the monthly meeting Nov. 17 down here, three blocks from my house, in case I have to show up to ask them in person.
“Nuanced”? Give me a break.