By Matt Nye
So far this year three elected officials have stipulated to, and paid fines for, ethics violations regarding their Form 6 financial disclosures.
The violations for County Commissioners Jim Barfield and Curt Smith stemmed from multiple annual Form 6 filings they made as elected officials. West Melbourne Councilwoman Andrea Young’s violation stemmed from a Form 6 filing she made while a candidate in 2015.
I filed the complaints against Barfield and Smith.
Early last year newly-elected Commissioner John Tobia attempted to establish a lobbyist registration ordinance based on one in place for the state Legislature. During the discussion of the item, Smith belittled Tobia’s proposal and went out of his way to boast about how ethical he and the other commissioners were. Smith derided the proposed ordinance as “a solution in search of a problem.”
Smith failed to mention he and Barfield received significant campaign donations from local lobbyists. The ordinance failed to pass, with Barfield, Smith and Commissioner Rita Pritchett voting against.
It is one thing to vote against something you don’t agree with. When you go out of your way to belittle a fellow commissioner who is only trying to do right by his constituents, holding yourself out as a sterling example of ethical behavior, you better make sure your own house is in order.
Barfield and Smith, as well as local radio talk show host Bill Mick, have called my filing of the complaints “politically motivated.” Mick went so far as to call me Tobia’s “lackey.” He apparently forgets I filed an ethics complaint against Tobia during his last campaign for state representative. The Commission on Ethics found the complaint without merit.
Dismissing a charge as “politically motivated” seems to be a popular refrain from elected officials who’ve broken the law. Former Clerk of Courts Mitch Needelman made the same claim in the BlueWare scandal. Any complaint, comment or utterance by anyone regarding anything having to do with any political position may be construed as political, but that does not make the complaint false.
The disrespect, hypocrisy and hubris displayed by Smith at the meeting about the lobbyist ordinance drove my complaint. The notion the complainant makes the complaint less valid turns the notion of objective law on its head. Form 6 financial disclosures exist to create transparency for the voters. Disclosure statutes exist to ensure elected officials comply. The merit of any complaint is determined by the Commission on Ethics, which conducts a thorough investigation and bases its decision on facts and Florida statutes, not political opinion.
Both county commissioners filed incorrect reports two years in a row. This is more than simple clerical error – it is a pattern of disregard for the rules they swore an oath to follow.
The voters deserve to know these elected officials can’t or won’t accurately file the reports required, and the complaint process and subsequent media coverage is how the voters find out they aren’t following the rules.
Matt Nye is a Republican candidate for Florida House District 52 covering central Brevard County. He’s running against GOP Rep. Thad Altman.