Ethics 101: Open Letter To County

My letter to the County Commission asks for explanation regarding how they choose people who will serve on the board of directors for Sarasota’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).  The EDC is charged with implementing strategies to grow and diversify our local economy.  They make recommendations to the County Commission regarding economic development grants.  Read: your money being awarded to private enterprises.  You remember those grants –  they include the 650K that went to Sanborn Studios.

Serving on the board of the EDC is privilege – and inherent conflicts of interest and/or demonstrated problems with avoiding such conflicts ought to be reason to pass on a candidate for the EDC board, and certainly sound reason for stepping off the EDC board.  We have many intelligent, talented people who can serve, whose corporate, legal or ethical status are free of ethics questions or conflict of interest.

These ethically-challenged practices are consistent with a County Commission who just fired their ethics officer for looking into County Commission ethics questions.  

The bold text portions of this post are hyperlinks – click on them to see the articles/websites for background information.

 

Hello Commissioners,

I am writing to inquire about the status of the Economic Development Corporation board of directors and the criteria used to appoint and retain EDC directors.

Specifically, one year ago a local attorney was found guilty of malpractice by a federal jury. He was sued by the FDIC for failing to represent a bank’s interests properly.

A Yale law professor testified in the case, calling the multiple conflicts of interests the worst he’s ever seen.

Despite the findings of a Federal jury, who concluded this attorney failed to protect the bank’s interests in making a 5.3 million dollar loan, the local attorney one year later serves as a board member of the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation, as shown on the EDC website.

It seems the Federal jury’s findings regarding malpractice/conflicts of interest in protecting a client making a significant loan would uniquely disqualify an individual from serving on the EDC.

Can the BCC please provide an explanation why this individual serves on the EDC board of directors?

The recent firing of the County Ethics Officer who questioned County Commissioner actions, specifically the client relationship between SANCA and a Commissioner-owned enterprise, indicates a failure to uphold ethical (and possibly legal) standards by the BCC. The Commissioner who owned the event company consistently failed to recuse himself from SANCA votes with one exception. This is not meant to suggest recusal is a sufficient remedy – it appears the client relationship may be highly improper.

When Bob Waecther was filmed stealing the identity of a fellow Republican on videotape, the BCC took no action regarding the propriety of his continued service in official advisory roles. After Mr. Zoller and I wrote to you questioning his continued service, Mr. Waechter resigned.

Lack of proactive leadership regarding sound ethical standards is an abrogation of your duty to provide the public with honest services. Please advise as to how the EDC board is configured and reviewed, and what, if any, action you plan to take to address the problem noted and any other potential issues (e.g. is it appropriate for a corporate recipient of EDC grants and County tax exemptions to serve as chair of the EDC board of directors).

 

Thank you,

Cathy Antunes

 

8 Comments on Ethics 101: Open Letter To County

  1. Cathy,
    Once again I am singing your praises on this posting: “Ethics 101: open Letter to County”.
    Your ability to cut to the chase with such insight and factual interrogation is astounding.
    I just want to commend you on your relentless pursuit of transparency in Sarasota County.
    You are the tip of the iceberg, rapidly thawing out the submerged double-dealings of Sarasota politicos that create subterfuge, and self-interests that ultimately take its toll on the rest of us.
    By being an outsider watch dog and whistle blower you are shaking loose the complacent citizenry, and for this we should all be ever thankful.
    Please don’t give up, no matter how daunting it may seem, as we would loose an investigative treasure, of which Sarasota desperately needs.
    Don Guy

    • Thank you Don! I appreciate your interest, comments and encouragement. Pointing out problems only matters when we all pay attention and demand better. Ethical missteps and blunders are bad enough. A local government that thumbs its nose at ethical standards, implements faux changes. fails to act with integrity – it costs us all.

  2. I attended the County Commissioners’ meeting yesterday but left for a dental appt before they got beyond posing for multiple photographs with various recipients of awards. About 2/3rds of the audience was there for photo ops and then another 5 or 6 were photographers. It appeared to be self aggrandizement time.
    I wonder why city commissioners don’t attend the county commisioner’s meetings.Seems to me they are definitely impacted by what the CC’s decide. It’s like the Sheriffs Dept not communicating with the Police Dept.
    Those wanting to learn more about the Common Law Grand Jury can attend the May 6th meeting of the Sarasota Patriots at 6:00 pm at the firestation at 2070 Waldemere St.

  3. Agree. An added concern is that their activities are so buried from the average citizen’s view that they only get feedback from expert, concerned citizens like you two. I thank both of you and know more must be done. In addition to that, the county is so big and has towns and cities within it, I feel as if the Commissioners are responsible to nobody, no constituency. Unlike contacting my State and Fed Reps and Senators, I don’t have a “my commissioner.” Should we take a page out Obama campaign: neighbor/area teams that made use of all levels of time/expertise from leaders to give me the script and tel #s, I’ll make the calls?

    • There’s definitely a need for effective community action with the County Commission. The model sounds interesting Joan- let’s talk about it! Kathy, I’ll check out your link.

  4. Cathy, here’s where the people’s Common Law Grand Jury will be effective in rooting out this type of corruption……please research it at http://www.nationallibertyalliance.org Help get behind the effort to activate it in Sarasota County. It has already been established, there are just a few kinks to overcome.

  5. Great letter Cathy. You make many good points.
    But I wish to add a point about the performance of the EDC.

    Every week I get a e-mail from the county on upcoming matters. Many times we are “amending” these original EDC grants to change the terms. There is one on this weeks agenda for Institute of the Ages. A $1.2 million dollar grant was given and they were suppose to hire 8 full timers. They didn’t and are now requesting a change to get the remaining funds anyway. See http://edmsweb01w.scgov.net/sirepub/cache/0/d2bao2mzfgewpn45twtdzfzd/79791504182014093520244.PDF

    The EDC and BCC constantly rubber-stamp all these changes. What good are these agreements if the recipients do not have to live up to them. What economic activity do they really achieve for the citizens of Sarasota?

    It is time for a comprehensive independent audit to determine if continuing this corporate welfare is really benefiting the citizens who pay for it..

    • Right on the mark Marilynne. Yesterday the County Commission amended their agreement with Enterprise Florida regarding the two 5 million dollar state grants for Nathan Benderson Park. Instead of reporting on each grant separately on a quarterly basis, they will consolidate the reports and do it once a year. Ten million dollars, and they only will report on how those dollars are being spent once a year. Outrageous.

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