Ethics Commission Clears Arbutine, Finds Woods Guilty
By Leo Coughlin
Chris Arbutine, mayor of Belleair Bluffs, has been cleared by the Florida Ethics Commission of two complaints of misusing his position brought by his opponent in the 2009 election.
The commission found against Rodney Woods, a former member of the Largo City Commission, in a complaint that alleged that he did not comply with financial disclosure laws in his unsuccessful campaign for re-election last November.
But the commission said it found no probable cause to believe that Woods filed incomplete information regarding his assets.
In the Arbutine case, Dave Shimkus, a former member of the Belleair Bluffs City Commission, alleged that the mayor misused his position to allow a local chain grocery store to display signs and flags in violation of the city code and that he directed other officials not to enforce the code. The commission found no probable cause.
Similarly, in a second complaint, also filed by Shimkus, Arbutine was accused of misusing his position in that he allowed the illegal placement of campaign signs, illegal use of the city seal.
Also included in that complaint was the accusation that Arbutine allowed fire fighters to display signs in violation of the code and that he allowed fire trucks to be illegally parked and ordered other officials not to enforce the code relative to those situations.
During the campaign last year, Woods's periodic campaign financial reports displayed many inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
A complaint was filed in October by a citizen, Harry Ploger, that alleged that Woods's report listed no assets or liabilities, but public records showed that Woods owned property in the city (an asset) that was encumbered by a mortgage (a liability).
Very often, Ethics Commission findings contain language that seems to be inconsistent with facts or lend themselves to what might be called "invented loopholes." Seldom are those accused found in violation to any serious degree.
One veteran observer pointed out that "Maybe the Ethics Commission sees some complaints as indicating ill will motivated by politics or vexatious and lets down the accused person even where there is a finding of probable cause."
That seems to the case in the Woods finding where Woods claimed "no assets, no liabilities" in his financial reports but the commission in total contradiction of those facts says there was "no probable cause to believe that (Woods) filed incomplete information regarding his assets."
It would seem that where there clearly are assets and that is denied that the information would be incomplete.
As an illustration of the bizarre nature of Ethics Commission findings, the commission came up with this -
"The commission determined that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were a county to purchase a parcel of real property that is owned by a County Commissioner's husband."
And then there was the case brought against Pat Gerard, then a Largo commissioner, in 2005 where the Ethics Commission found in its decision in March, 2006, that Gerard had indeed engaged in a prohibited conflict of interest but that she had relied on the advice of the city attorney in the matter and was thus excused.
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