Friday, August 22, 2014

Honey, the Ethics Commission wants to speak with you on the phone

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 1:50 PM

DammitHoneyEthicsOnTrail_8-22-14.jpg

That's probably what Susan Hagan said to hubby, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan, when the Florida Ethics Commission called to alert them that Hagan is now under investigation for ethics violations.

The charges stem from Hagan's alleged failure to provide full disclosure regarding his assets, as required annually by the Florida State Constitution.

Article ll, Section 8a of the Florida Constitution mandates that "All elected constitutional officers...file full and public disclosure of their financial interests." The reason behind this should be obvious. The public has a right to know that an official's personal assets and investments won't influence them in carrying out their duties or their decision making. It also helps to provide transparency as to what an official's investment portfolio contains and how that portfolio may have changed since holding office.

County Commissioners and other elected officials must file the Ethics Commission's Form 6 each year. The form requires definitive detail as to the intangible investments (such as stocks and bonds) being held. As alleged, Hagan hasn't complied with that rule from 2002 through 2012 in the disclosure forms that he filed.

When an official fails to provide that transparency, it greatly diminishes public trust and has a tendency to raise many questions.

For example, does Hagan own stock in land development companies? Did he obtain these assets after taking office? If he does own stock in land development, is he recusing himself when these companies come before the commission for land development approval? Does Hagan own stock in Bass Pro, or any company that Hillsborough County has given tax breaks or relocation incentives to? Does he own stock in any of the companies that the county awards contracts to annually? Without full disclosure, questions like these remain unanswered and, as a result, distrust can fester.

Could this be a simple omission? Are the Form 6 disclosure instructions clear enough?

You be the judge:
(Excerpt from the Form 6 instructions)
How to identify or describe the asset:
- Intangible property. Identify the type of property and the business entity or person to which or whom it relates. Do not list simply "stocks and bonds" or "bank accounts". For example, list "Stock (Williams Construction Co.)", Bonds (Southern Water and Gas)", "Bank Accounts (First National Bank), "Smith family trust", "Promissory note and mortgage (owed by John and Mary Doe)".

I don't know about you, but the reporting instructions look crystal clear to me. If you own stock, you can't just say "stocks" or "investments" or "retirement account". You've got to name the stocks.

How about the other sitting commissioners? Have they failed to fully report their assets, as instructed? Nope. In looking at the Form 6's that the others filed, it is apparent that the instructions were crystal clear to them, as well as, to the rest of us.

To restore public trust, Commissioner Hagan needs to let us know where his money is invested and what companies/corporations he's banking on. The Florida Ethics Commission is now investigating this matter to determine why this information was withheld. In addition, they will have to determine if these omissions were done
intentionally.

The investigation began on August 4, 2014. But, as usual, there is a backlog of ethics cases, so there is no estimate as to when the commissioner will have his hearing before the Ethics Commission.

(Editors note: George Niemann is the complainant in this ethics case. He has received verification from the Ethics Commission that the case is currently under investigation and will go through the entire process, including a hearing before the commission).


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