Meeting in Tallahassee on Feb. 3 in closed session, the Florida Commission on Ethics took action on thirty-two complaints, Chairman Robert Sniffen announced today. A full round-up follows:
The Commission adopted, on a 4-3 vote, the Recommended Order of an Administrative Law Judge in a complaint against FRANK PETERMAN, Jr., former Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The Commission ruled that Peterman misused his position by incurring excessive travel costs between St. Petersburg and Tallahassee. A civil penalty of $5,000 and public censure and reprimand for the violation will be recommended to the Governor for imposition by Executive Order.
Peterman’s attorney, Mark Herron, said the ruling would be appealed.
Peterman, a former Democratic state representative from St. Petersburg, the Miami Herald’s blog reports, “was found by a state hearing officer to have repeatedly abused his travel privileges during the time he worked at DJJ in 2008 and 2009. Citing the judge’s findings, Assistant Attorney General Diane Guillemette said Peterman charged taxpayers to commute back and forth between Tallahassee and St. Petersburg, where his family lived and where he preached at a church while he worked for the state. ‘He was there every weekend, or just about,’ Guillemette told the ethics commission. “He was not down there for work and there was no work on his calendar when he was down there.'”
Dissenters in the ethics panel vote pointed out that Peterman had already paid $24,000 restitution, and therefore had been punished. Jean Larsen, a Port St. Lucie commissioner, disagreed. “We are sending the message that if you do something wrong and get caught and pay it back you’re off the hook, and that bothers me big time,” Larsen said.
In other actions: the Commission found probable cause to believe that GERALD BUHR, former Mulberry City Attorney, misused his position to raise his hourly rate for services, without the approval of the City Commission. No probable cause was found to believe that MARY JANE ARRINGTON, Osceola County Supervisor of Elections, misused her position to provide an incorrect voter list to a candidate for election.
Washington County Commissioner CHARLES BROCK was cleared of three allegations that he misused his position. The Commission found no probable cause to believe that he misused his position or resources to campaign for his Commission seat while being transported in a County vehicle; that he directed County employees to maintain or improve private properties using County labor and materials; and that he threatened retaliation against individuals involved with his nephew’s resignation.
The Commission also considered four consolidated complaints filed against State Senator JIM NORMAN concerning his former service as a Hillsborough County Commissioner. Probable cause was found to believe that he failed to timely disclose a gift. The Commission also found probable cause to believe that he failed to disclose his interest in a property and two boats on his 2007, 2008, and 2009 financial disclosure forms. No probable cause was found on allegations that he accepted money from an individual when he knew, or should have known, that it was given to influence a vote or other action. No probable cause was also found to believe that he solicited or accepted a gift from a lobbyist of the Hillsborough County Commission.
No probable cause was found to believe that SHELLEY STEWART, former Carrollwood Recreation Tax District Trustee, misused her position by ignoring the rules of Carrollwood Park or that she misused her position to allow access to the park after hours. LORA M. BROWN-KUGLER, Restitution Clerk in the Marion County State Attorney’s Office, was cleared of allegations that she misused her position to instruct a fellow employee to improperly notarize a form, or by using the office fax machine and computer for non-business related purposes. The complaint was dismissed with a finding of no probable cause.
LINDA RINER-MIZELL, Mayor of Dundee, was also cleared of allegations that she misused her Town credit card to finance a trip to a convention for the League of Cities. The complaint was dismissed with a finding of no probable cause.
The Commission considered a complaint filed against Tallahassee Mayor JOHN MARKS. No probable cause was found to believe that he had a conflicting contractual relationship by virtue of his contract for services with Sean Pitman while Pittman had a contract with the City. The Commission also found no probable cause on allegations that Mayor Marks had a conflict because of his contract with Gary Yordon, who also had contracted with the City.
No probable cause was found to believe that SHARON SCHULER, Mayor of Avon Park, had a prohibited business relationship by serving as president of a land surveying firm which her husband owned, and which was doing business with the City. No probable cause was also found concerning allegations that she had a conflicting employment relationship by her service as president of the firm while it was doing business with the City.
Probable cause was found to believe that CORINA S. ESQUIJAROSA, former Mayor of North Bay Village, violated disclosure laws by filing an incomplete financial disclosure form and amended form for calendar year 2009. However, the Commission will take no further action on the allegations because Esquijarosa has already paid a fine concerning identical allegations raised in a complaint with another agency.
A complaint filed against JERROD HOLTON, Midway Councilmember, was dismissed with a finding of no probable cause concerning two allegations. No probable cause was found to believe that he used a City credit card for a personal purchase or misused his position to recommend a roommate for employment with the City.
No probable cause was found to believe that ALLEAN ROBINSON, also a member of the Midway City Council, misused her position by attempting to have her husband reinstated as the City’s Volunteer Fire Chief. Another City of Midway Councilmember, CHARLIE SMITH, had a probable cause hearing before the Commission. No probable cause was found to believe that Councilmember Smith violated the ethics laws by doing business with the City of Midway or that he misused his position to allow his son to perform electrical work for the City of Midway.
ELLA MAE BARBER, Mayor and Member of the Midway City Council, was cleared of allegations that she misused her position. The Commission found no probable cause to believe that she misused her position to donate a portion of her unused travel allotment to True Believers Church.
The Commission found probable cause to believe that MIGUEL DIAZ de la PORTILLA, member of the Florida Senate, violated financial disclosure laws by failing to report certain financial interests on his 2009 and 2010 financial disclosure forms. Because he filed amended disclosures for the years in question, the Commission will only proceed on the allegations concerning the omission of his checking account on the 2009 and 2010 forms.
The Commission granted the requests of two complainants to withdraw complaints they had filed against three Cape Coral officials because they had demonstrated good cause for the withdrawal. The officials were: GARY KING, former City Manager, and WILLIAM DEILE and PETER BRANDT, former Cape Coral City Councilmen.
The Commission dismissed the following complaints for lack of legal sufficiency: BETH DILLAHA, former Winter Park City Commissioner; WILLIAM SHAW, Director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District; WILSON ROBERTSON, Escambia County Commissioner; LARRY NEWSOM, Assistant County Administrator; BARBARA KEYSER, Escambia County Human Resources Supervisor; MICHAEL RHODES, Escambia County Chief of Recreation and Special Services; UNDINE PAWLOWSKI, St. Augustine City Commissioner; two complaints against RANDALL HENDERSON, Mayor of Ft. Myers; SCOTT J. BROOK, former Mayor of Coral Springs and candidate for the Florida Legislature; and DIANE BENDEKOVIC, Mayor of Plantation. The Commission’s reviews for legal sufficiency are limited to questions of jurisdiction and determinations as to whether the charges in the complaint are adequate to allege a violation of the Code of Ethics. As no factual investigation precedes the reviews, the Commission’s conclusions do not reflect on the accuracy of the allegations made in these complaints.
A settlement between the Commission Advocate and PETER D. SLEIMAN, member of the Board of Trustees for the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, was adopted. The agreement finds that he filed an inaccurate Form 1 for the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 in violation of state disclosure laws. A civil penalty of $2,500 for the violation will be recommended to the Governor for imposition by Executive Order.
The Commission also voted to dismiss a petition for costs and attorney’s fees filed by Columbia County Sheriff MARK HUNTER, against Rudolph Davis, Sr., the complainant in a previously dismissed complaint against Hunter. The Commission also issued a formal opinion about the voting conflicts law. The opinion finds that City Commissioners who own businesses in an area frequented by cruise ship passengers are not presented with a voting conflict regarding a measure to seek a channel-widening feasibility study. Under the circumstances presented, any gain or loss to their businesses from increased patronage from widening the City’s port channel to accommodate larger ships would be remote and speculative because of the many steps necessary to achieve the widening of the channel. In addition, the Commission adopted a formal opinion finding that a prohibited conflict of interest is not created when the spouse of the general counsel of a water management district owns an interest in a company owning property subject to the regulation of the district.
The Commission also issued an opinion to a school board member. The opinion indicated that the ethics laws do not prohibit the board member from applying for employment with a foundation directly supporting the school district, from assuming the position after she leaves office, or from representing the foundation before the district within two years of leaving office. However, the voting conflict law would be applicable to any measures concerning her application for the position.
In an opinion issued to a former employee of the Department of Transportation, the Commission opined that the former employee is not prohibited from representing a person or entity before DOT districts other than the district in which he was employed. Nor is he prohibited from representing a person or entity before other state agencies or local government entities.
The Florida Commission on Ethics is an independent nine-member commission formed in 1974 to review complaints filed under the statutory Code of Ethics and to answer questions from public officials about potential conflicts of interest through its issuance of advisory opinions. If the Ethics Commission believes a violation of the law may have occurred, it may decide to hold a public hearing. If it concludes a violation has been committed, it may recommend civil penalties that include removal from office or employment and fines up to $10,000 per violation.
Any public officer, candidate for public office, or public employee in Florida who is in doubt about the applicability of the standards of conduct or disclosure laws to himself or herself or to anyone whom he or she has the power to hire, terminate, or appoint, may seek an advisory opinion from the Commission about himself or herself or that employee. Opinions may be requested by letter presenting a question based on a real situation and including a detailed description of the situation. Opinions are issued by the Commission and are binding on the conduct of the person who is the subject of the opinion, unless material facts were omitted or misstated in the request for the opinion.