Monday, May 16, 2016

SJR Water Mgt. District's Chairman Unethical? (Palatka Daily News)

St. Johns River Water Management District Chair faces ethics investigation for conflict of interest.

Ethics complaint filed against board chairman
by Asia Aikins
Palatka Daily News
St. Johns River Water Management District governing board Chairman John Miklos is at the center of a Florida Commission on Ethics complaint stemming from his company’s involvement in a potential public land acquirement in Volusia County.

Deltona resident Donald Mair said he recently filed a complaint with the ethics commission claiming Miklos has a conflict of interest, as Miklos’ company, Bio-Tech Consulting, works with the city of DeBary to acquire land at Gemini Springs.

Florida statute 112.324 said ethics complaints and records are confidential until the complaint is dismissed, the commission makes a decision or the alleged violator requests records be made public.

Mair said the committee has responded to his complaint, stating it would be reviewed to determine if the complaint warrants an investigation.

According to the statement of facts Mair said accompanied his complaint, “Bio-Tec Consulting is under contract by Pagasus Engineering to consult and assist … in acquiring and develop 102 acres of land … under the care and management of the St. Johns River Water Management District, which (Miklos) is the governing board’s chairman.”

On April 6, the DeBary City Council approved a supplemental contract with Pegasus, naming Bio-Tech Consulting as a subconsultant to address permit modifications and requests for additional information for the water management district, Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Environmental Protection, among other tasks, for $40,000. Miklos would be paid $155 per hour for his services.

According to city documents, the request for additional information agreement said Bio-Tech would “respond to any requests for additional information sent by the (water management district) regarding permit modification.”

“His business is working with the city of DeBary to influence the St. Johns River Water Management District,” Mair said. “The keyword is influence.”

Mair said he based his complaint on a 2013 ethics commission opinion, declaring a conflict of interest for a municipal police officer who also owned a private investigative firm that conducted surveillance on “unfaithful spouses” and employees suspected of theft.

“Although you emphasize this type of surveillance does not require consulting the confidential information available to you as a police officer, … your access to confidential information could be of benefit to your employer,” the ethics committee opinion said. “The concern in such situations is whether the private interests of the (officer) will be contrary to his or her public duties, thereby tempting dishonor, rather than with whether the officer … can avoid succumbing to the temptation of using public resources for his or her private benefit.”

If Milkos began working with the city after the property was acquired, Mair said, the conflict of interest would not exist.

“The fact that his firm is assisting in the process of acquiring land from the governmental agency he heads creates a conflict of interest” Mair said, citing state Statute 112.313.

The DeBary land deal is proving to be a contentious issue, as the city of DeBary hopes to acquire a portion of conservation land at Gemini Springs for transportation-oriented development related to the nearby SunRail station.

DeBary city officials, Volusia County officials, private land owners, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman and board members addressed the issue during Tuesday’s St. Johns River Water Management District meeting, but there was no mention of an ethics commission complaint against Miklos.

A spokesperson for the water management district said Thursday, “the district is no longer able to discuss this issue … due to a potential ethics investigation.”

Miklos’ third consecutive term as chairman of the water management district’s governing board will continue through November 2018.

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