Creeping On – Ethics Violations in the Media

Update3:  Goodhue’s article is back.  Maybe its temporary disappearance was just a glitch?

Update2:  Hmmm…when I went to check back on the Reporter/Keynoter story all I found was a dead link.  I had a feeling the piece might disappear and/or get a make-under so I saved it for posterity.  (Besides, I realized I forgot to include a link the first time around.)  Here’s the original in all its one-sided glory.  It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, takes its place.  Also, Rick Boettger has an update in today’s Blue Paper.  The hearing went smoothly and the fines were imposed.

Update:  If you want an adult take on the ethics violation scandal, here’s a story by Tim O’Hara from the Citizen.  Yes, the Citizen is the adult in the room this time around.  It’s astonishing. 

Speaking of adults and astonishment, Rice responded by saying:

“I made a mistake,” Commissioner David Rice said. “I’m not perfect. I will pay whatever they fine me.”

Wow.  Facing responsibility and accepting consequences.  That’s new and different for a county commissioner.  My guess is he knows when he’s busted and doesn’t see the sense in making it worse.  Smart.

End of update.

So after my nasty-gram, the Keynoter/Reporter published a story about how four county commissioners got busted for ethics violations.  It’s heavily slanted, unfortunately.  But that’s to be expected I suppose.  It’s the way of things in the Keys.

The excuses are flying fast and thick.  Whatever the commissioners may lack in mathematical ability and common sense, they more than make up for with their incredible excuse-making talents.  Sadly, excuse-making doesn’t do much for the public.  It does plenty to the public, but it doesn’t do anything for the public.

Here’s the run-down.

“Crying Carruthers” whined about how hard it is to fill out a form.  Waaahhh!

County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said in an interview this week that completing the disclosure forms is a “convoluted and unclear process” and she will hire an accountant to help fill them out from now on.

Hmmmm…really?  Here’s a link to the form and the instructions.  It doesn’t look convoluted to me.  It’s not as bad as a federal income tax return….oh wait a minute….Carruthers has trouble with that, too.  Taxes are only for the little people I guess.

The Odious Sylvia Murphy was totally baffled by the form.

Awww…poor thing.

Among the items misreported on Murphy’s disclosure forms are listing her Tavernier home’s assessed value and not its total value. For instance, for 2015, Murphy reported the total value of her home as $242,215 when in fact it was $360,391. She said in an interview she thought the total value of her home was listed on her property tax bill when it’s actually listed on her Truth in Millage notice, which is mailed to homeowners to inform them about a taxing entity’s proposed property tax rate before it’s approved.

“It actually looked very simple,” Murphy told investigator A. Keith Powell. “So, I was overconfident.”

Uhhh…actually it is very simple.  Let’s take a look at that form again mmmmkay.  Here’s what it says about valuing real property.

Real property may be valued at its market value for tax purposes, unless a more accurate appraisal of its fair market value is available.

Gee, where can I find the market value of real property?  Oh…I’m so confused and confounded.  So lost and alone.

Hey, I know!  How about the Property Appraiser’s website?  They might know something about the market value of real property.  Here’s a screen shot of Murphy’s property card.

Murphy_home

There it is – $360,391.  This was not hard, I promise.  It took me like two minutes.  I read the form, googled “Monroe County Property Appraiser”, searched “Murphy Sylvia”, and there it was.  It probably took Murphy longer to cook up her bullshit excuses than it took me to find this bit of information.

But you see, Murphy is a habitual liar – a person who lies even when the truth would serve her better.

The Quiet One.

David Rice has apparently gone into hiding so his “friend”, the Odious Sylvia Murphy, decided to “help” him.  (See above about her tendency to lie.)

Rice could not be reached for comment by press time, but Murphy said the discrepancy was likely due to him being confused about what the disclosure forms were actually asking for. She thought originally the forms asked for total rental profit, but a landlord is actually required to report the total rent collected.

Okay, class, let’s read that form again.

“Income” means the same as “gross income” for federal income tax purposes, even if the income is not actually taxable, such as interest on tax-free bonds. Examples of income include:  compensation for services, gross income from business, gains from property dealings, interest, rents, dividends, pensions, IRA distributions, distributive share of partnership gross income, and alimony, but not child support. Where income is derived from a business activity you should report the income to you, as calculated for income tax purposes, rather than the income to the business.

So again, if Rice manages to correctly file his federal income taxes, he can fill out the financial disclosure form.  Maybe I ought to search for more tax liens.

Dim-bulb Danny.

I discussed Danny Kolhage’s mathematical short-comings here.  It’s so sad.  Seriously, how do you run the Clerk’s office for like 120 years without knowing basic arithmetic?  I’ll give him credit though, he seems to know when he’s busted.

Commissioner Danny Kolhage was fined $5,000. He failed to disclose assets and income. He told investigators that even though he filled out similar forms in his decades of public service, he “recently had not been reading the instructions prior to completing them because he assumed he knew exactly what was required.”

He added, “I intend to change that.”

Based on my own review, Kolhage’s forms were the most screwed up of the bunch.  They made no sense whatsoever.  There was definitely something very wrong.  I’m really interested to compare his amended forms to the originals.

The Ethics Commission’s Reaction

Based on my own life experience and field observations, not to mention stone-cold numbers, I know the county commissioners lie about stuff all the time.  It’s as plain as day, if you bother to look. Even so, I’m surprised at the harsh punishments.  That suggests to me that maybe there’s a little more going on here.

I’m wondering if the county commissioners tried to play hardball or if they decided to get cute and clever with the wrong person.  They’re big fish in a little pond, and sometimes they lose sight of how little that pond actually is.  In other words, they get too big for their britches.  I’ll have to read through the documents and see what I can see.

The Keynoter/Reporter/Murphy’s Mouthpiece

It’s clear that the ethics commission hit the Odious Sylvia Murphy where it really hurts – her pocketbook.  Here she is griping about Rick Boettger, who filed the complaints.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, while acknowledging she “definitely made mistakes” filling out her disclosure forms for four years, said she finds Boettger’s motives “weird, but an expensive weirdness for us.”

“He’s mad at George for Linda Gottwald’s downfall, and he’s blaming us for making him mayor,” Murphy said, noting she and her colleagues had to pay for attorneys to help them amend the disclosure forms.

Oh, cry me a river.  It’s not Rick Boettger’s fault that the Odious Sylvia Murphy is too lazy and arrogant to properly fill out her financial disclosure forms.  The only person impressed by her whining is David Goodhue, the reporter who parroted her blame-game in the tag line and throughout the article.

Filer cites anger over 2010 County Commission animal shelter audit that cost his friend her job in his complaint.

Listen, anyone who watches the county in action long enough is bound to get really pissed-off.  That’s a normal reaction.  For Boettger, the trigger was the sleazy way they handled the Stand-up for Animals (SUFA) situation.  The commissioners accused SUFA of “sloppy bookkeeping”.  That’s how they justified their attack.  The supreme irony, of course, is that the commissioners are now on the hook for their own “sloppy bookkeeping” and they’re crying their eyeballs out.  I find that incredibly humorous and satisfying.

Oh yeah, the other supreme irony is that after all the county’s ginned-up drama, SUFA walked away with a $45,000 settlement.  The county commissioners are a bunch of clowns.

Oh yeah a second time, the county’s animal control dealings are questionable in general.  It’s not a huge leap to think they were up to no good with the SUFA situation.

Bottom line.

Let’s not lose sight of the real story here .  It’s got nothing to do with anyone being “mad” at the commissioners.  The commissioners are living in a hell of their own making.  They lied (again).  They got caught (for once).  Now they are being punished (finally).  The end (a happy one).

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