Monday, June 12, 2006

Public Servants

The recent series by the Sarasota Herald Tribune concerning public servants and ethics, perks and "bending" the law, reveal much about the difference between "political gain" and "community service".

We read about Senator Mike Bennett's financial dealings with state agencies that fall under his purview as he either heads up or sits on committees that make critical decisions for these agencies.

In Sundays editorial "Bending it like Bennett - Senator and other legislators stretch ethics laws to the limit" the editors conclude:
Bluntly put, if elected officials can't make a living without doing business with the agencies they help oversee, they really ought to get out of politics and focus on making a living full time.

Good advice indeed.

Other local public officials have received scrutiny in the same series of articles.

Sarasota's Commissioner Mary Anne Servian downtown condo deal was the subject of an article and a letter to the editor.

Ideally we would like all our public servants to serve the public's interest. We understand that while this may be somewhat idealistic, it is nice to know that questionable activity will likely get scrutinized by local media.

Our expectation is that the public interest is foremost in the minds of those we elect. The appearance of personal gain should be scrutinized, discussed and clarified. Lingering doubt feeds cynicism and clouds citizen participation. The best communities have strong public servants and highly participative citizens.


Mary Anne Servian said...

I thought I might weigh in on the issue of ethics and our purchasing a home to live in downtown.
My husband and I have for sometime been contemplating moving into a condo downtown to simplfy our lives. I have a persistent and recurring back condition and maintaining our home has become increasingly more difficult. Hence the decision to move. We decided on downtown since we both like the urban setting with all the amenities close by and the prospect of walking more and driving less.
After the 1350 Main project was approved we thought it would be a great spot to live. After consultion with the Assistant City Attorney and a phone call to the Florida Commission on Ethics I was given the green light to buy a condo.There were no more approvals needed by the developer and therefore no reason for me not to go forward.
I expressed an interest in a unit to a young woman in the under-construction sales office and she took my name and said she would call when they were ready to accept "reservations".
My husband is a Business Broker and must by law hold a real estate broker license to conduct business even though he doesn't deal in stand alone real estate transactions. As a result when we put in our reservation we were given the choice of a 3% broker's commission or the 3% off the unit. We opted for the latter. Same as every other agent. We were called to come in to put in our reservation the same as 40 others did. There was no special consideration given to my husband and I.
After a lengthy conversation with the editorial board they too agreed that I did nothing illegal, immoral or unethical.
This is now being used as a polictical issue and is devoid of any merit.

Anonymous said...

Com. Servian - Wasn't there an application for TIF funds for 1350 Main that was still on the table until September -- well after you'd placed your reservation/down payment?

Anonymous said...

I believe there are instances where perception overtakes reality. I know that on the surface one might take a second look at a deal as portrayed in the newspaper for Commissioner Servian. However, the explanation from Commissioner Servian satisfies my concerns. Also, I have appreciated the commissioner trying to tackle things "head-on." I do not agree with the commission's approval of the development downtown based on the lack of coordination among all the plans and perhaps without full review of what the agreed upon vision is for the City. All I read from the developers is that they pretty much want to "pave paradise, put up a parking lot" and provide high end retail. What's worse, we still pay despite all the benefit they have in "location, location, location." Since this is a city that prided itself on its devotion to the arts and culture this seems a strange path to take. How about bayside ampitheaters,how about parks? Any plans for future facilities, community centers, additional arts groups? These seem to get pushed out of the way when dollars hit the forfront. I also believe that the Comissioners should look much closer during this budget process at their admistrators and internal operations. Instead of just looking at the numbers ask for reports, ask for dates of accomplished goals, ask for back up documentation, ask where exactly funds come from. Think about consolidation and eliminate departments and divisions not adding value and fund staff where needed, outsource where necessary and put the savings toward staffing and functions that can make a difference and provide insight into the areas that require it. The commissioners need to do their homework and pursue nagging issues and get answers. From my persepective City Auditor and Clerk Robinson runs a tight ship and accomplishes what he sets out to do. For example, what have we done in the area of sustainability? The strategic objectives within each department's budget are great. But, if they are not being accomplished then they could be misleading as to the amount of staff really necessary. Think out of the box and realign priorities, change where change is necessary and produce a City that is unique and that can recapture whatever charm is left. This city is on track to copycat the uncontrolled development of East coast Florida cities. Take a step back, place a moratorium on the development until a viable, focused, strategic, sustainable, thoughtful, taxpayer approved vision can be developed.

Mary Anne Servian said...

In response to anonymous 9:15 regarding TIF request: 1350's request came after our reservation and before we went to contract. I can assure you that had the developer not withdrawn his application for TIF I would have followed my City Attorney's advice. That may have been recusal but I doubt the attorney would have advised that since I would not personally financially benefit. That is the only reason for recusal under the conflict reasoning. Fortunately, Mr. Brown saw fit to recind his request. A wise decision.