Why Florida’s New Financial Disclosure System Is Causing Bureaucratic Confusion

By on September 28th, 2013

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up story to our Sept. 21 report about Florida’s new financial disclosure system.

Fines are still accruing for Florida elected officials and state employees who have yet to disclose their financial information, but they may not know it.

Of the 37,000 officials who have been submitting their financial information as part of the legislature’s 2013 ethics overhaul, 350 have been fined $25 for each day past Sept. 3 when they didn’t submit a form disclosing their financial holdings, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics website.

Although some officials submitted their finances either directly to the state or through their local supervisor of elections, about half have continued to let their fines build up to $600.

Kerrie Stillman, an ethics commission spokeswoman, said there are two major reasons why the fines are still rising and not being paid.

“Part of it is… we don’t send out fine notification letters until November,” she said. “The other part is, we are not the only place where people file their forms.”

The confusion among filers may stem from the existence of two different types of forms, which are handled by two different groups.

The state is the only one involved in sending and receiving Form 6, Stillman said. It’s a more detailed form and reserved for elected constitutional officials, like county commissioners or school board superintendents.

Form 1 is filed with local supervisor of elections, she said, and is not the state’s responsibility.

Wesley Wilcox, supervisor of elections in Marion County, said Form 1 is for officials who are appointed to boards.

It’s Wilcox’s belief that officials with a Form 1 designation who haven’t disclosed their financial information are not doing so out of malice or secrecy.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t take the fining process seriously,” he said.

He said an official’s thought process is along these lines: “Surely, they’re not going to fine me $25 a day for not filing out this itty bitty form.”

“But they really do fine, and they really do expect you to pay,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox added that the process is broken on a bureaucratic level.

“It’s been our responsibility to inform the Form 1 filers,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t personally do this. But I know that there’s a certified letter in this process.”

Stillman said the same is true at the state level. A notification was sent out in early summer. A postcard was mailed in August, warning of the deadline. And every day, she said, the commission’s office makes efforts to get in touch with officials who still have not disclosed the information.

Sometimes people don’t disclose information because of unusual circumstances.

“You’ll find that sometimes somebody doesn’t file because they’ve passed away,” she said.

Also, because  forms are sent to any official who held a position as of Dec. 31, 2012, variables often change in the interim, Stillman said.

Seth McBride, of Marion County, is no longer on the county zoning commission but is still being asked to disclose his information. His fine is still growing.

Connie Sanchez said Gilchrist County is no stranger to paperwork mix-ups. As the county’s supervisor of elections, she’s seen her fair share.

The most recent is Robert Rankin, Gilchrist County’s superintendent, whose Form 6 was temporarily lost at the state level, she said.

Sanchez’s guess is that Rankin’s resignation from the school board on Jan. 18, 2012 to run for superintendent fell too close to the Dec. 31 cutoff and confused state officials.

“That’s where he’s run into his problems,” she said. “Anything is possible.”

Sanchez said she wants no one in Gilchrist County to suffer a fine, especially Form 1 officials who are appointed and not elected.

“Whenever they’re being fined when they’re not drawing a salary is not good,” she said. “They don’t draw a paycheck to be on those boards.”

An appeals process is available for officials who have accrued a fine, Stillman said. If officials can demonstrate an unusual circumstance, the fine is dropped.

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