The road to impropriety

Although the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners has a code of ethics, after Monday’s meeting, we thought perhaps a refresher course was in order.

Commissioner Bob Cole isn’t new to local government, so we were surprised when he not only made a motion to approve resurfacing five roads, including his own and two entrance roads leading to his residence, but also voted in favor of the motion – without disclosing he lived there.

When a specific proposal benefits a commissioner in any way – and this goes for anyone in public office – that commissioner should recuse him or herself from the vote. It doesn’t matter if the road in question has opened up and swallowed people.

Merriam-Webster defines “conflict of interest” as a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.

Santa Rosa County’s code of ethics prohibits such conflicts.

“We avoid conflicts, or the appearance of conflicts, between personal interests and official responsibilities on behalf of the county,” the code states. “We use county resources – time, personnel, equipment and supplies – for county business or county-sponsored activities.”

Not only did Cole make the motion and vote, he failed to disclose that he lived on the road in question. We’re not accusing Cole of deliberately voting for his own interests. But the way it was handled gives the illusion of impropriety.

Following the vote, we asked Cole why he didn’t abstain. “Why should I?” was his response.

Because the law requires it.

Pursuant to Florida State Statute  112.3143, “No county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss.” The statute goes on to say, “Such public officer shall, prior to the vote being taken, publicly state to the assembly the nature of the officer’s interest in the matter from which he or she is abstaining from voting and, within 15 days after the vote occurs, disclose the nature of his or her interest as a public record in a memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting, who shall incorporate the memorandum in the minutes.”

The law doesn’t prohibit Cole from voting – but he needs to disclose the possible benefits he could receive.

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