Letter: Reject flawed Republican nominee
Angela K Casey
St Augustine, FL
As civic-minded Americans, we are obligated to promote government which is in the best interests of our families and our community, to the exclusion of the interests of any political party.
On November 6th, vote for the County Commission candidate in District 5 who will not be encumbered by the burdens inherent in Ms. Bennett’s situation. For the good of your family and your county, you must elect someone removed of the taint of conflict of interest. Reject the flawed Republican nominee.
In county government, the most important and difficult decisions, over which a county commissioner will preside, are those involving land use. In this county, in these times, these decisions affect the property rights of virtually all the citizens in the county. It is the most consequential responsibility placed on the commissioners.
These decisions must be made in an atmosphere that is perceived as fair and balanced. There must be no hint of conflict of interest or corruption; or grave consequences can result.
The law in Florida on this is very ambiguous, in application, if not in intent. It begins with this declaration:
112.311 Legislative intent and declaration of policy.-
(1) It is essential to the proper conduct and operation of government that public officials be independent and impartial and that public office not be used for private gain other than the remuneration provided by law…
(5) It is hereby declared…the policy of the state that no officer or employee of a state agency…a county…city…and no member of the Legislature or legislative employee, shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect; engage in any business transaction or professional activity; or incur any obligation of any nature which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. …
Ms. Bennett, as a declared consultant to land developers, has an open, unambiguous conflict under this chapter of the statute. Her declarations that she could recuse herself can never remove the obvious conflicts that exist in her role. It would also reduce the voting number to four and this is untenable on what is designed as a five member commission.
While I accept her desire to serve is grounded in good intent and faith, just the nature and role of her employment are defined in state statute to present an implicit conflict that will cast all the actions of the full commission under a serious cloud from the moment she is elected.
That will have a poisonous impact on the functioning of the commission during her entire tenure. Under the law, every decision she takes can be subject, at the whim of any single citizen who is affected, to litigation to stop what could be vitally important development that could bring great benefit to all the citizens in the county.
Nothing is more destructive to business and economic activity than litigation.
The statute also contains this:
112.312 Definitions. (8) “Conflict” or “conflict of interest” means a situation in which regard for a private interest tends to lead to disregard of a public duty or interest.
Lastly and most disturbingly, based on Ms. Bennett’s financial disclosure, it is clear she cannot meet her debt obligations on her commissioners salary and her declared intent is to make additional income representing developers and other land interests before regulatory agencies.
There is no escaping a conclusion that there will be a blatant and continuing conflict of interest as regards her responsibilities as a sitting commissioner.