Flagler County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin is facing an ethics complaint going back to a financial disclosure form he filed last summer, while running for the commission. The state Commission on Ethics found probable cause that the form McLaughlin filed was incomplete. All elected officials fill out a financial disclosure form once a year. All candidates for office are required to fill one out as well, outlining their assets, liabilities, sources of income, interests in specified businesses and net worth. (See a 2010 form.)
McLaughlin was running against then-incumbent commissioner Bob Abbott. McLaughlin says he filed the required form on June 16. The supervisor said the proper material, including a tax return, was not filed on that day. “I know they did because they stamped the form saying everything was there,” McLaughlin said. It was stamped by the Supervisor of Elections, “and I have to assume it’s complete when she stamped it.”
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On Aug. 3, Ed Caroe, who was managing Abbott’s campaign, asked to see McLaughlin’s paperwork at the Supervisor of Elections’ office, including his assets and liabilities, and his tax return. McLaughlin says he left the net worth and assets portions of the form blank because he had neither: he’d filed for bankruptcy in 2008. In that filing, McLaughlin listed $188,300 in assets and $340,254 in liabilities. (See McLaughlin’s bankruptcy filing here.) He says he couldn’t have been hiding any assets since he didn’t have any.
One item in contention: a sound system worth between $5,000 and $10,000, that McLaughlin’s 70s rock band, Category 5, has used. McLaughlin, who plays guitar in the band, says the equipment belongs to his drummer, not to him, though he sometimes uses the sound system at public events. (The band hasn’t played in over a year.) Since his bankruptcy, McLaughlin has moved from a house he owned to renting an 800 square-foot apartment. As a county commissioner, McLaughlin is paid $47,866 a year.
The supervisor of elections told him shortly after Caroe’s inquiry about the paperwork that it was incomplete. McLaughlin said he called the Ethics Commission and was advised to file Form 6X, with his 2009 tax form, which he then filed, listing minor assets. The supervisor says those forms were filed on Aug. 5. “McLaughlin never stated to this office that paperwork he filed was lost; he simply tried to correct the matter showing great concern, and scrambled to file necessary paperwork,” Kimberle Weeks, the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections, wrote in an email responding to questions about the timeline of events and McLaughlin’s interpretation of those events. She noted that McLaughlin had never filed a tax return on June 16.
“Probable cause is not a finding that a violation has occurred,” Kerrie Stillman, a spokesperson for the Ethics Commission, said. “It’s based on a preliminary investigation. It’s just saying that more likely than not a violation has occurred. So at this point Mr. McLaughlin has the option of requesting a full evidentiary hearing before an administrative law judge in an effort to exonerate himself, or he can choose to reach a settlement agreement with our prosecutor, the commission advocate. Either way whether he goes to a full hearing or whether he’s able to reach a settlement agreement, the case will come back to the commission at a public session for them to determine whether or not the law was violated, and if so what the appropriate penalty might be.”
Those penalties can range from a few hundred dollars to $10,000. The larger sums are not likely in this case, Stillman said. Nor is anything like removal from office a possibility. But whatever the commission decides is binding, and made so through an executive order by the governor. McLaughlin expects a fine of around $250.
If there was a mistake, McLaughlin said, it was committed by the supervisor of elections. “Nothing I can do if Kim is going to say no no, it’s his own fault,” McLaughlin said. “That’s kind of a raunchy attitude to make me take a hit like this but it is what it is.” He addded: “I’m going to do what’s going to clear my name of this thing, because I haven’t done anything wrong here, I followed the directions of the supervisor of elections and she kind of threw me under the bus over here.”
Weeks categorically rejects the charge. “Denial will not excuse Mr. Nate McLaughlin from complying with requirements,” Weeks said. “Requirements are his responsibility, and he should be honest and own up to what he failed to do, and not try to put blame on others for his mistakes. The staff in this office are very dedicated, organized and non deserving of Mr. Nate McLaughlin’s false claims.
“Mr. Nate McLaughlin is correct to state ‘it is what it is,'” Weeks continues. “No other candidates have experienced issues, and we have conducted smooth, fair, honest elections. The Voters are very fortunate to have the wonderful staff that currently exists in the elections office. It is unfortunate that Mr. Nate McLaughlin has attempted to use this office as a scape goat. 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. Mr. Nate McLaughlin may be trying to run from the bus, but he has never been thrown under the bus by this office; the FACTS are what they are. I have fully cooperated with the Investigator from the Commission on Ethics, and wish Mr. McLaughlin much success in quickly resolving this matter.”
The snarky “my office can do no wrong” attitude of the Supervisor of Elections is unfortunate. Good people make mistakes from time to time. I hope that circumstances will allow Nate to clear the air on this quickly, and that the voters will throw out Kimberle out on the street at their first opportunity.
Don’t forget the hours of excruciating detail that Weeks put the commissioners through not so long ago in nit-picking her budget requests. Of course in the quotes above she’s praising her staff. She fired many of the good team already in place and brought in her “yes” people. The woman is a menace.
It is hard for me to believe that Nate intentionally left out information that will compromise his commissioner seat. I do not believe anyone would do that, specially when coming from modest financial status as I know he did after bankruptcy court. If you have little or nothing on these hard economic times…what is to hide and what would be the gain? Probably a human error that will be corrected. We all do those in whatever complicated forms we have to complete wether for taxes or else in our lives.
I would not blame either side here. Just lets wait for the explanation.
Here’s my question. Why would Mr. McLaughlin, or any other candidate, call and ask the elections office about lost paperwork if, as Mr. McLaughlin reports, he has a stamped document from the elections office showing all paperwork was submitted and complete? Mr. Caroe has a political interest with his request and that’s understandable. But, Abbott is a huge supporter of Weeks and coddled her during her appearances before the Commissioners. In all fairness to Mr. Abbott, his words of wisdom to Weeks fell on deaf ears as she did not heed any of his advice when dealing with the Commissioners. When did the elections office staff realize all the paperwork was not filed on June 16 and were any courtesy calls or emails sent to the candidate? What was the deadline for filing and how soon after the deadline did the office realize all documents were not filed?
Things that make you go hmmmmm!
In my opinion, Mr. McLaughlin has met the Bull in the China Shop.
just a citizen says
Listen….this guy has issues this is just the first of more to come to light on Mr. McLaughlin’s ethics and professionalism. I applaud Mr. Caroe for his bull like attitude. We should be aware of when stuff like this happens, insignificant or not. Mr. McLaughlin is an elected official, our votes put him three to represent us, and he should be held to a higher standard.
another citizen says
the question I would have is, if a person has not had the ability to control his own financial and professional life, what then gives him credentials to run a county?
To just and another citizen….Commissioner McLaughlin has the same bankruptcy record as some of the other commissioners in the past had, one time or another.Feel free to research this. These hard financial times bankrupt the least expected. I believe also, “Abbott, for whom Mr. Ed Caroe was the campaign manager if I recall correct?” and was defeated by McLaughlin, maybe has a bitter case of sour grapes? Mr. Ed Caroe years ago used to be an asset for the us, the County tax payers, in those city and county meetings keeping our elected at bay while safeguarding our interest. Lately and unfortunately noticed he has strayed the course in some issues.
Makes Me Wonder says
I’m viewing the bankruptcy paperwork link and noticed Commission McLaughlin’s has 4 rings valued at $25. Are these rings from a gum ball machine or Cracker Jack box? Makes me wonder what’s being hidden?
Nate is an honest person and his agenda is to help this county.
What is Mr. Caroe’s agenda?
What is Weeks agenda?
What is Abott’s role in all this?
You write “Nate is an honest person”-is he really? Why are you trying to convince people that Nate is an honest person rather than let people decide for themselves? Are you saying others have an agenda because Nate made a mistake and seems to not want to accept responsibility? Honesty is always the best policy. Deniability won’t excuse Nate from consequences, and won’t convince me others are to blame for his mistakes or that they have an agenda-this only enforces the perception of Nate being a dishonest person.
To all here…we have so many more serious issues to be concerned about in this county right now and instead we are all wasting big time in a useless witch hunt to this commissioner for which any outcome ; 1, will not remove him from his elected constitutional officer seat, 2 will be resolved by paying a fine (maybe $250 the most). Regarding the mud throwing to his image will be washed off after a good performance will be shown by this commissioner in the rest of his tenure. If he won’t, then I will help in the bashing then. So by now Caroe and Abbott will have to wait till next election probably. Sorry
Now why don’t we all get involved in 1 do something about the Wall Street boys trading the oil future contracts and propelling the gouging at the pump. Write to all our elected one’s including Obama to enforce the Wall Street trading limits voted in January that will stop the spiral oil trade and stop the gouging.
Why don’t we demand taxes to imports to bring back our stolen jobs? Why don’t we demand that the big corporations pay the taxes they don’t. Because we have budgets deficits due to the lack of revenue too not only to overspending…We middle society and small businesses expected to maintain the full revenue to run our country and police the world, and give billions in foreign aid to our so called “allies” and also fight their wars and give all the tax incentives, refunds and breaks to these gazillionaire multinationals and billionaires. Stop nicking and picking at the little fish distracting us from the bigger one getting away. Stop giving in to distorting propaganda.
Jim J says
This guy has issues, I agree that this is just the first of more to come to light on Mr. McLaughlin’s ethics and professionalism. Mr. McLaughlin is an elected official. Honesty is always the best policy. Deniability won’t excuse him from consequences of his actions ,
just a citizen says
P’coaster…are you his lawyer or his press secretary doing damage control?…..you seemed to be trying to distract the rest of us from the issue at hand. Someone in office who’s character is being called to question. We put our trust in these politicians to make honest decisions for us and be responsible for their actions.
I will say this before leaving this alone…… Mr. McLaughlin has many cracks in his character…..and is not the professional he makes out to be. This latest was not a shock to me….. There will be more coming……someone like him eventually trips….and then the cards begin to fall. Stay tuned.
In small towns, small minds spend time on small matters. The real issue is will the Board of Commissioners do anything that will result in a postive change for the citizens of this community? And all issues other than that are of little importance.
The little things have to be taken care of first, or they turn into big things. Ethical leaders have to be put into place before positive changes can occur.
The Supervisor of Elections, as the filing officer for countywide elected positions, has a statutory responsibility in this. Was it fulfilled and if not, why?
Florida Statutes 99.061 7(a)(6)(b)
(b) If the filing officer receives qualifying papers that do not include all items as required by paragraph (a) prior to the last day of qualifying, the filing officer shall make a reasonable effort to notify the candidate of the missing or incomplete items and shall inform the candidate that all required items must be received by the close of qualifying. A candidate’s name as it is to appear on the ballot may not be changed after the end of qualifying.
Paragraph 7a lists six bulleted items that must be filed. The Financial Disclosure Form, which is the Form 6, is a part of that list. If his was filed and did not have his tax returns attached, then it seems to me the SOE or her office should have contacted Mr. McLaughlin.