Sunday, November 13, 2011

David Schwab: Sarasota's anti-term limits amendment is unethical under Florida Statutes

Community activist David Schwab asks a pertinent question in this letter he sent on Nov. 6 to Sarasota County's new ethics and compliance officer, Steve Uebelacker. Is it ethical for county commissioners to vote to try to circumvent Sarasota's voter-approved 8-year term limits on their own initiative, even though they personally are the primary beneficiaries of the move? Schwab says no. His argument is simple and seemingly unarguable. It will be interesting to see how Uebelacker responds.

Dear Mr. Uebelacker,

As you are probably aware, the Board of County Commissioners has initiated a referendum item which extends the term limits for the county commission. My question to you is how is this ethical under 112 f.s.? [See Florida Statutes, Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, part III]. As public officials you are not supposed to vote upon issues which under 112.3143 would "inure to his or her special private gain or loss."

As this measure is not a citizen initiative but an initiative of those who stand to gain from it, I find it highly unethical. As members of the BOCC are currently at or exceed the term limits approved by the voters in 1998 it is unethical for them to go against the will of the people for personal gain. Term limits have been ruled constitutional by a state court of appeals which overrides the decision by the 12th curcuit. This is an attempt by members of the BOCC to gain personally by asking for a reset of term limits already found constitutional by a state court of appeals.

This fact makes the language of the amendment unethical also as it is misleading. So their voting for this referendum is unethical under Florida law as some BOCC members would no longer be able to run again as the current voter approved 1998 charter amendment stands.

This would be a special personal loss as they would be voting themselves out of a job, or gain as they would be able to run again for 3 terms with a reset. They would also gain as incumbent candidates are not likely to be challenged by their own party and gain from being in office from over a decade with name recognition and established fund-raising. These are all reasons this is unethical under 112 f.s.

Has the county BOCC recieved an opinion from Florida's Commission on Ethics prior to pushing for a referendum which clearly has the power to "inure...special private gain or loss"? The BOCC knows without this referendum Mr. Thaxton will not be able to run in 2012 unless Florida's Supreme Court overrules the 4th DCA. As that is the highest court that has ruled thus far, our term limit is constitutional as it stands.

Has the BOCC consulted you as to the ethical nature of this referendum item?

David Schwab

Sarasota County, Florida

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