Ethics panel to take closer look

Published September 2, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Hillsborough County wants the state to drop cases against 16 residents who served on volunteer boards and were fined for not filing a simple, one-page financial disclosure form last year.

Some people face fines of $1,500. But the County Commission claims the residents were not required to file the forms by any state law or county ordinance and that it would be "unjust" to force them to pay.

The county's request went before the Commission on Ethics, which took no action Thursday. The ethics panel wanted more time to investigate the county's claim that a paperwork mixup resulted in fines wrongly being imposed.

The county's demand to drop the fines comes after Steve Mowery of Valrico protested his $1,500 penalty as unfair.

Mowery, who served on the Buckhorn Estates Special District, told the Ethics Commission in July that the county opposed the fines. His complaints were rejected.

But the Ethics Commission signaled Thursday that it will look into claims in a letter from County Commission Chairman Jim Norman, who contradicted statements made earlier by the Ethics Commission's general counsel, Phil Claypool.

Claypool wrote in an Aug. 18 memo that Hillsborough exercised a local-option provision in the ethics code in 2003 to require appointees to special districts to file the disclosure form, known as Form 1, in 2004.

But Norman said the county has no record of having made such a request, and the Ethics Commission staff hasn't produced one, either. Mowery had made the same argument at the commission's July meeting, to no avail.

Besides Mowery, the list of 16 fined appointees, released by the Commission on Ethics, lists members of the Lake Magdalene Estates, Hickory Hill, Country Village, Carrollwood North and Logan Gate Village special districts.

"It is obvious there have been mistakes and miscommunication by the staffs of Hillsborough County and the Commission on Ethics," Norman wrote.