Flagler County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin has agreed to settle the probable-cause finding of an ethics violation stemming from an incomplete financial disclosure form during the 2010 election. The Florida Commission on Ethics offered to settle for a $1,000 fine. That was negotiated down to $600, according to Jim Manfre, McLaughlin’s attorney.
In April McLaughlin expected he’d end up paying a $250 fine. As a county commissioner, McLaughlin is paid a $47,866 annual salary. The salary constitutes the bulk of his income.
The commission board is expected to ratify the settlement at an upcoming meeting.
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“There was no admission of an intention to not disclose,” Manfre said. “Clearly this was not a case where a candidate failed, potentially failed, to disclose a particular asset. In this particular case instead of putting in a zero he left it blank. It is a technical violation.”
The ethics complaint was filed last year by Ed Caroe, who was managing the reelection campaign of then County Commissioner Bob Abbott, whom McLaughlin successfully unseated. The campaign was nasty, and close, as both men had had a troubled financial past. When Caroe asked to see McLaughlin’s financial disclosures at the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections office, he noticed that McLaughlin had left one part of the disclosure blank–the part that asked for his assets. McLaughlin had no assets, having filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
There was also a missing tax return, though McLaughlin contends that he had filed the tax return, and that the supervisor’s office did not record it. As soon as the supervisor’s office told McLaughlin that the return was missing, it was filed–or re-filed, according to McLaughlin, when he spoke of the case in April. (McLaughlin is visiting family in Utah this week and could not be reached.)
“I guess I really think it’s just a shame that all that couldn’t have been resolved before the election,” Caroe said Tuesday, “because it really serves no purpose now other than a little bit of publicity I guess. I guess it’ll be of interest in the next election.”
Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks has maintained that her office filed the paperwork appropriately and fairly, as with other candidates, none of whom has experienced difficulties. “It is unfortunate that Mr. Nate McLaughlin has tried to put the spin and blame on this office for his non compliance, rather than accept responsibility,” said in April.
Manfre said the case is a “learning experience.” There was, Manfre added, in reference to the ethics commission, “a recognition by the board that there was at least some responsibility by the supervisor of elections for not properly advising McLaughlin when he filed the original disclosure affidavit.”
The settlement has not yet been reported at the ethics commission, where a spokeswoman on Tuesday said there was no official word yet “as to whether the case is going to be settled or go to hearing.”