Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Record article on ethics ruling ripple effects on front page
In 2014, I asked St. Augustine Historic Architectural Review Board members to file financial disclosures as required by Florida Statute 112.3145.
City Attorney RONALD WAYNE BROWN and successor ISABELL CHRISTINE LOPEZ avoided and evaded the issue, with BROWN writing an e-mail, asking LOPEZ to get "some protection" from the Ethics Commission (a conversation, not a written advisory ruling). I persisted, raising the issue repeatedly, to the annoyance of our clueless City staff.
On October 28, 2015, in response to HARB's request for an opinion, my request was vindicated: financial disclosure is mandatory for HARB members. We won another victory against the local Establishment.
On Tuesday, February 16, 2016, County Commissioners voted unanimously to require such disclosures for its Cultural Resources Review Board:
Eleven minute discussion is here, with citizens Tom Reynolds and B.J. Kalaidi speaking in support, and Tom suggesting that I hung the moon:
Presenter - Rebecca C. Lavie, Assistant County Attorney
8. Financial Disclosure for Cultural Resources Review Board members. The Cultural Resources Review Board is an appointed board of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners whose purpose is to establish priorities for the identification, nomination, protection, preservation, and potential acquisition of cultural resources within St. Johns County. In furtherance of this purpose, the board has the power to designate Significant Cultural Resources, review and comment on Cultural Resource Management Plans as part of the County’s Development Review Process, evaluate and issue recommendations for County Landmark and County Landmark District Designations, and issue Certificates of Appropriateness for projects affecting County Landmarks and County Landmark Districts. On October 28, 2015, the Florida Commission on Ethics issued an advisory opinion finding that members of the St. Augustine Historic Architecture Review Board are local officers as defined by Section 112.3145(1)(a)2.d, Florida Statutes, and are subject to financial disclosure requirements. The St. Augustine Historic Architecture Review Board serves a similar purpose to that of the CRRB within the city of St. Augustine. Based on the Commission on Ethics advisory opinion, a copy of which is attached, the County Attorney's Office recommends that the Board of County Commissioners require financial disclosures for members of the Cultural Resources Review Board pursuant to Section 112.3145, Florida Statutes.
Here's today's Record article, on page one:
St. Johns County board could be required to disclose financial information
Posted: February 15, 2016 - 11:25pm | Updated: February 16, 2016 - 4:31am
By SHELDON GARDNER
St. Johns County could expand its financial disclosure requirements following an opinion by the Florida Commission on Ethics about a St. Augustine board.
A resolution scheduled for a vote today before county commissioners would require financial disclosure by members of the Cultural Resources Review Board, which is appointed by the County Commission.
The issue is tied to an advisory opinion by the state ethics commission, which said members of St. Augustine’s Historic Architectural Review Board are subject to financial disclosure requirements under Florida law, according to the county. The County Attorney’s office is recommending the change because, according to the county, the Cultural Resources Review Board and St. Augustine’s HARB have similarities.
The CRRB’s purpose “is to establish priorities for the identification, nomination, protection, preservation, and potential acquisition of cultural resources within St. Johns County,” according to the county. Among other things, the board evaluates and recommends County Landmark and County Landmark District designations.
Kerrie Stillman, spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Ethics, said the purpose of financial disclosures is for greater transparency as well as to allow residents to know when an official may have an interest in a matter coming before the board. It’s also a reminder for officials “that they’re in a position of public trust,” she said.
“Florida is known for its transparency and open government laws,” Stillman said. “Financial requirements are an extension of that.”
State law spells out which government officials in Florida must file financial disclosure forms. But local governments can require other board members to file financial disclosures, Stillman said.
Officials file one of two types of annual financial disclosure forms, depending on what role the official plays. One form requires fewer details, which is what members of appointed boards file, Stillman said.
That form, called Form 1, still lists primary and secondary sources of income and intangible personal property, among other applicable items.
The state ethics commission’s advisory opinion on St. Augustine, issued last year, found that members of HARB are local officers as defined by Florida law and are subject to financial disclosure.
The opinion cited the various powers of HARB, including land planning and granting certificates of appropriateness and certificates of demolition for buildings 50 years old and older.
“If HARB merely issued technical advice or policy papers about historic preservation goals, its board members would be exempt from financial disclosure obligations, unless the city imposed the filing obligation by local ordinance. However, HARB is an entity that holds public meetings in which applications from property owners are reviewed during a public hearing. HARB is not a mere advisory board, because its members vote to approve, deny, or table applications, and its decisions become final and binding unless they are appealed to the City Commission,” according to the commission on ethics.
The county resolution says that “the purpose and powers of the St. Augustine Historic [Architectural] Review Board are analogous to those of the [Cultural Resources Review Board]” and “the county has determined that, based on the Commission on Ethics advisory opinion, the CRRB should file an annual statement of financial interest as provided in [Florida law].”
As per law, board members will be required to file a statement of financial interest within 30 days of appointment and then no later than July 1 each year.