Financial disclosure protects citizens from corrupt officials

From Governor Rick Scott to members of obscure local boards, thousands of elected officials and appointees across Florida are receiving their annual financial-disclosure forms; and, it will soon be time for citizens to know more about the financial interests of those responsible for managing our tax dollars.

Last year, in August and into September, Historic City News in St Augustine reported in a series of articles about disclosures made, and not made, by St Johns County elected officials. Since this is an election year, we will revisit the results of those investigations and check back in with the Florida Commission on Ethics to see how well they do this year.

Elected officials and specified appointees have until the day after Labor Day to file their disclosure documents without paying a penalty. The legal deadline is July 1 — but the automatic $25-a-day fine for late filing does not start piling up until September 5.

Historic City News was surprised to uncover that when we made our initial inquiry in August, every St Johns County Commissioner had met their July 1st obligation to report assets, liabilities and income to the Florida Commission on Ethics — except Joseph “Ken” Bryan who was chairman at that time.

The Florida Commission on Ethics was created to keep track of the financial data in the mid-1970’s; at a time of scandals in local and state government.

Year after year, the nine-member panel makes recommendations to the Legislature — seeking, for instance, the ability to initiate an investigation without waiting for a citizen to file an ethics complaint against a public officer.

Or, they have asked for authority to slap a lien on property owned by public officials or employees who ignore its fines — but, the truth is, so far, lawmakers who are subject to the disclosures, have never given real teeth to the ethics watchdog. Even the $25 daily fine for late filing of disclosures is capped at $1,500.

Follow Historic City News as we take a closer look at fiscal responsibility, financial integrity and ethical administration in local St Augustine and St Johns County government during the coming weeks.

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