Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ex- SJC Comm'r PRI$CILLA BENNETT PROTESTETH: Gobbledygook about Jurisprudence and First Amendment

 Here's the losing last-minute argument from BENNETT, who asked 17 ethics questions in October and hates the answers, although she could still become a County employee!  Reads like it was translated from the original Russian kleptocrat's ukase, under the influence of cheap Champagne.

Ms. Virlinda Doss Commission on Ethics
PO Drawer 15709 Tallahassee, FL 32317-5709
RE: File 2686
Ms. Doss
December 4, 2016
I appreciate you taking the time to consider my request for issuance of an opinion related to FS 112.313(14). I would like to note that the draft opinion that was issued did not address all the questions that I asked. Further, I wish to go on record stating that I protest the draft opinion issued. Following are the chief reasons, among the many, that I protest the issued draft opinion.
Jurisprudence recognizes the difference between a natural person as a person that is an individual human being, as opposed to a legal person (e.g. an LLC). They are legally separate and distinct entities. Your opinion is, however, that the phrase “personally represent” includes both sides of the exclusive dichotomy of the natural and the legal person. The courts do not recognize that the two are one and the same, and for the opinion to do so is an unsupported and overly broad and capricious interpretation. You have said that I may become an employee of the county. All county employees work for the County Administrator, not the County Commission. Your determination is that I may not interact on behalf of the LLC (a legal entity separate from myself) but I may interact on behalf of the County Administrator (i.e. be his ‘designee’). I would, in other words, be personally representing the County Administrator when communicating with the Commission in the capacity of my profession. And you have said that this is permissible.
Your implication is that my acting on behalf of a private sector entity or person is assumed to have unethical intent, but my acting on behalf of a public-sector entity (a County Administrator) does not. Please note that in both cases, I receive compensation for my efforts, and in both cases I would be acting in the capacity of my profession. And in both cases my professional capacity would be in service to a legal person, which is in turn providing service to others and interfacing with the Commission as a natural and integral extension of that service. For compensation. Your opinion ignores jurisprudence, lacks consistency and sets arbitrary standards and limitations.
The First Amendment is considered a basic right of all citizens to interact with their government. It speaks to the right to freedom of speech (uncensored content) , the right to petition and the right to peaceably assemble. The constitution does not distinguish rights based on compensation. Under your opinion, I have lost my rights as a citizen.
You have said that I may attend public hearings and may speak to the Commission on my own behalf, but not on behalf of another (based on compensation). You deny me the right to speak based on content. You have gone so far as to say that I may not even sit in a public meeting room during a publicly noticed meeting of the Commission (i.e. in the ‘Sunshine’) if a client of the LLC has an item on the meeting agenda. You have denied my right to peaceably assemble in a public government venue, and you have denied my right to free speech and you have prevented my right to petition my government.
Restrictions on the lobbying profession (sic) related to registration, disclosures, etc. are constitutional because they do not effectively prevent exercise of the right of petition. Your opinion, however, prevents me from exercising my right to petition. It is an overly broad interpretation. That the communication is on behalf of another is inconsequential. At what point does one cease to be speaking for themselves and begin speaking for another? The origin of the First Amendment and consequent court decisions recognize the right of a person or a group of people to petition. By definition, each person in a group of people is lobbying not only for themselves, but also on behalf of every other person in the group, as well as other persons unknown. Status of compensation is invisible.
You reference past opinions as being a sound basis for your current opinion. That something was opined in the past is not grounds to assume that it is either within the bounds of the law or that it is either ethical or moral. Consider the old laws (not just opinions) allowing slavery as well as the former opinions that certain natural people were not people at all- they were property. Certain precedent laws and opinions were errors (great or small), and should not be perpetuated.
Your opinion is overly broad in its interpretation, lacks coherence and consistency, ignores jurisprudence, and slips into denial of constitutional rights. Most disturbingly, it also ignores the most basic of our legal protections: the presumption of innocence. To say that expression of my opinions to a County Commissioner, in the ‘Sunshine’, is ethical unless it is on behalf of another flies in the face of this basic legal protection. It is a perversion of the admirable intent of the law to protect the ‘Sunshine’ process and to prevent undue influence. It is my sincere hope that the precedent opinions, as well as the one you have issued in this case, will be re-examined. They cause damage to anyone’s willingness to serve in government, and are punitive.
A strict interpretation of FS, coupled with ‘Sunshine’ regulations, protects the public interest. An overly broad and capricious interpretation such as this is does not. It is likely that your overly broad interpretation of the statute would find many in the state in a condition of unintended violation of the law- simply because your interpretation is overly broad and has no basis in the ‘real life’ scenarios of people and government in small and medium sized counties.
I have no desire to become a lobbyist as that profession is defined. I am a planner. It is a profession that I have practiced for over 15 years. I established a planning company prior to running for office, and I wish to have the right to return to my profession to make a living. Certain of the comprehensive and indivisible services I offer as a planner require (by jurisdictional authority and by agency other than my own) that I appear before the County Commission in public hearing; either as a principal or as a team member. To be prohibited from meeting individually with a commissioner outside of hearing (out of the ‘Sunshine’) is one with which I do not argue. To be prohibited from speaking with the County Administrator, and either of the Assistant County Administrators, and the person designated as Administrative Support to the Administrator, and any of the administrative assistants to the County Commission (there are no staff dedicated to individual commissioners), and any of the administrative assistants in Administration is absurd. A strict reading of FS should return an opinion that the prohibition includes only the Administrator and his chief support staff (the person whose position is described by the Administrative Support box on the organizational chart submitted).
To be prohibited from attending and participating in properly noticed public meetings and workshops and interacting with my government in the ‘Sunshine’, to have my dual and separate status as a natural and a legal person ignored, to be prohibited from serving the clients of the LLC in accordance with the practices of the profession at large, to be prohibited from participating as a professional member of a team in the ‘Sunshine’ in public meeting, and to be denied my rights as a citizen under the Constitution is egregious. It is an overly broad and capricious interpretation of the intent of the law (to protect the principles of ‘Sunshine’), and it has all the characteristics of a taking. To be considered guilty of unethical behavior without precedent action is unconscionable.
I respect and live within the bounds of the law. I do so because I choose to. If the Commission upholds your opinion, I have no alternative but to live within the unreasonable restrictions you have placed on my ability to make a living in my chosen profession of planning, and your overly broad interpretation of the intent of the law. I will do so, but will do so under protest.
It is my hope that the Commission will consider the basic intent of FS 112.313(14) and find that the ‘Sunshine’ laws and regulations fortify the simple intent of that statute. It is my hope that the Commission will find that overly broad interpretation is not in the public interest, that they will recognize jurisprudence determination, and that they will find that communication in the ‘Sunshine’ is within the intent of what is permissible. Further, I hope that they will find that the “County Administrator and his immediate support staff” is in accordance with the organizational chart that was submitted, and agree that the “immediate support staff” is defined by the Administrative Support position indicated and that communication within the ‘Sunshine’ is permissible. It is my sincere hope that my public (sic) service (sic) has not severed my ability to make a living in my established profession.
Priscilla (“Rachael”) L. Bennett
EMAIL cc to: Gray Schafer
PO Box 840119 St. Augustine, FL 32080 386.341.9122

1 comment:

Tom Reynolds said...

Rachel Bennett is 100 % correct on this matter. This is an unconstitutional statue and should be quickly overturned. Not only is this Opinion by the Florida Ethics Commission wrong but a Civil Rights violation. Plus it is insulting to the other County Commissioners as well as the County Employees.

Does someone think that because Rachel Bennett is a now former Commissioner that the now Commissioners would vote to support her projects/clients because she use to be a Commissioner ? I DO NOT THINK SO AND PLEASE DO NOT INSULT THE CURRENT COUNTY COMMISSIONERS. The current County Commissioners are of the HIGHEST INTEGRITY ! If fact the current County Commissioners would scrutinize the projects even more. That would be to double make sure the projects and or clients are staying within all the Laws, County Ordinances, and rules.

Now the County Employees are also very honest. As a person who sits and listens for hours at County Commission meetings, the employees are of SUPER HIGH INTEGRITY. So this opinion based on the State Statue is a BIG INSULT to more than just former Commissioner Rachel Bennett.

As a person who just had my own Constitutional Rights violated by the City of St Augustine Beach/Management, the St Augustine Beach Police Department/Chief and Lt. Commander and a St Augustine Beach City Commissioner/Businessman, I AM EXTRA APPAULED !