Florida City Officials Resign as New Law Requires Net Worth Disclosure 

A new law coming into effect on January 1 will require a high level of financial disclosure for local elected officials in Florida. There has been a push for transparency among Sunshine State politicians and the Florida Ethics Commission, but a wave of resignations from officials has emerged, all citing invasion of privacy.

Officials feeling the pressure

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Two city commissioners from Daytona Beach shores have stepped down as the latest in a series of local elected officials leaving before January 1, when a new law will stricten financial disclosure requirements.

Invasion of privacy

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Shores commissioner Mel Lindaur had served since 2016 but recently told The News-Journal that the new requirement – submitting a “Form 6” – is “totally invasive” and ultimately purposeless.

Form 6 pushing commissioners away

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Commissioner Richard Bryan has also served since 2016 and handed in his resignation letter on December 21, arguing that he had another priority while admitting that the Form 6 issue had “affected the timing” of his decision.

Mayor steps in

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With the commission down to three members, Mayor Nancy Miller said there will be discussions on how to fill the vacancies during a January 9 workshop. Miller declined to comment on the Form 6 controversy.

Highest salaries in the state

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The resignations follow recent reporting by The Daytona Beach News-Journal revealing city officials’ salaries. The piece analyzed data from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research that showed that the City of Daytona Beach Shores has the highest annual salary per employee.

Shady practices

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The piece also spotlighted recent actions of the City Commission, including a dubious pay raise for its city manager. Mayor Nancy Miller urged the approval of the $1000 per month pay raise for the city manager, who had just seven months on the job, to match his salary to his predecessor, who had over 20 years in the role and a favorable employment contract.

It’s not just Daytona Beach

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The new financial disclosure requirement has been cited statewide by local elected officials who have quit from cities including Fort Myers Beach, Bellear, Naples, Jacksonville Beach, North Palm Beach, Cedar Key and St. Pete Beach, among others.

Nothing new

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Many state officials have submitted Form 6 starting in the 1970s, including the governor and Cabinet, legislators, sheriffs, and county council members. The form requires the disclosure of the filer’s net worth and holdings valued over $1,000, including bank accounts, stocks, salary and dividends and retirement accounts.

Republican support

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Republican Senator Jason Brodeur sponsored the legislation in the Florida Senate. Republican Senator Spencer Roach of Fort Myers sponsored the House version of the bill, arguing it brings “parity” among elected officials.

Ethics head argues for increased transparency

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The Florida Commission on Ethics has been pushing for the expansion of the legislation for several years. “Enhanced financial disclosure will increase public trust. The reason why (the) financial disclosure (form) is filled out is to provide transparency, increase public confidence in government and help identify potential conflicts of interest of public officials,” Kerrie Stillman, executive director of the commission, told the Senate Rules Committee last March.

Florida leading transparency efforts

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Stillman praised Florida as “a leader of transparency”, and said political corruption had been uncovered at all levels of government. “These elected officials are asking for citizens’ votes. They’re asking to hold the public trust,” she explained, “and as part of the exercise of disclosing financial interests, and providing information on what might cause a potential conflict of interest, that actually helps the public official, as well.”

Bring back the old disclosure

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Lindauer, the recently resigned Shores commissioner, argues Form 6 is driving away good officials from public service and is less effective than Form 1, the previous disclosure. Form 1 required city officials to show the public sources of income, which allowed possible conflicts of interest to be exposed.

It’s not about our wealth

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“Form 6 is totally invasive. The first question is what is your total net worth,” Lindauer argued, adding that the level of disclosure is an invitation for criminals to target officials. “What difference does it make if one elected official is worth $100,000 and the other is worth $10 million?” he asked. “That’s totally irrelevant.”

It’s about our performance

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“People like me, who live a middle-class life and don’t flaunt wealth at all, now people see you in a different light and treat you different,” Lindauer said. “All I want to know is: Am I doing a good job or not?”

Officials making their voices heard

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Lindaur added that he hopes there will be a pushback on the Legislature following the local elected officials’ resignations. “I really enjoyed my work,” he said. “I thought I was making a difference.”

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