I filed a formal complaint last week with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Commissioner Joseph Barbetta. It's a pain in the ass to do, to say the least. However, I think it was worth the effort.
|The Itsy Bitsy Spider Stiff Lipped|
I also have the liberty to write, discuss or even draw cartoons about my complaint against Barbetta per my phone conversation with a staff member of the ethics commission. Commissioner Barbetta has the liberty to not acknowledge this complaint publicly unless the ethics commission receives a written waiver from him requesting that my complaint is available for public review. I am willing to bet Mr. Barbetta will remain stiff lipped about this.
I am writing this background info for you because yesterday I emailed Mr. Tryon and Mr. Ernst, columnists for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, asking them if they would consider doing a follow up story on my complaint since both of them had recently written about Mr. Barbetta. However, since my complaint is "confidential" the ethics commission is not free to speak about what I filed - unless Barbetta asks them to go public with my complaint. (complaint content is attached to the bottom of this blogtastical diatribe)
|Me, having fun.|
Coming from Youngstown, Ohio, Sarasota is making me feel right at home with all of its shady characters who run our town - elected or friends of the elected. And I know this blog or my Facebook posts make me appear as Debbie Downer but I've had a lifetime of fun, more fun than necessary. I can afford to be one of those people who isn't all "jazzed" about our local political leaders.
As I was told years ago, "Expect nothing so you won't be disappointed." Knowing all the "players" Commissioner Barbetta is connected to, I think the power his job has afforded him has led him to believe he is untouchable. Sadly, this is probably the case, I expect nothing but am hopeful he will be dismissed as Commissioner (a gal can dream). I cannot help but imagine there are more back door deals that will go undetected long past his exit as a County Commissioner that will benefit Mr. Barbetta but not his constituents.
Now let me be clear, my ethics complaint isn't about whether Joe Barbetta is a nice person. I am sure he has a bevy of family, friends and fans who enjoy his company. He looks to be quite the "man about town" and is surrounded by a lot of smiling people. I'm sure they'll all be there for him to say what a horrible "naysayer" I am. And I say Nayyyyyyyy.
No, this complaint isn't about whether we are nice. It's just politics. Stinky politics.
Secondly, let me be extra, extra clear, this is not an anti-Italian thing. I'm half Italian, if you must know. I referenced coming from Youngstown, Ohio, because if you are from Youngstown, and you paid attention to politics, you know what a shady political past (and present) Youngstown has; from the mob, to racketeering, bribes, nepotism, Youngstown, Ohio is great training ground for someone who is interested in politics. You learn to smell something stinky growing up in Youngstown and let's just say, I'm usually really quick in detecting a dog fart in the TV room. And Sarasota has a giant dog fart hovering in the Commission County chambers.
Now enough with my juvenile jokes. I was scolded last year by Diana Hamilton, a local SRQ "opinionator" for my sense of humor. And by now if you are reading these rants, you all know what I think of her, all fluff, no filler. So on to the meat and potatoes of this blog.
I clearly must give very high praise and props to Cathy Antunes and Marilynne Martin who first began reporting about what I now call the Benderson Slush Fund Park or Barbetta's Bog (as my funny partner named it) and SANCA. If it weren't for these women and others who are active citizen watchdogs pointing out indisputable grievous actions by Mr. Barbetta, I wouldn't have spent a couple of days reviewing Sarasota County Commission minutes from 2006 to present. I am happy to share that material with you if you wish to see it. Great beach reading.
And the further I dug into the minutes the more the minutes led me to believe Commissioner Barbetta smells a lot like Youngstown. He's been up to some very stinky business.
In my letter to the Florida Commission on Ethics, after asking Attorney Morgan Bentley to recuse himself since he is Commissioner Barbetta's personal attorney and sits as the Chair of Florida's Ethics Commission (you can perhaps see why I expect nothing) I listed the dubious actions Mr. Barbetta has conducted as our Sarasota County Commissioner. I think he has been sloppy in his concealment of nefarious actions; Mr. Barbetta certainly has no problem saying "Talk to my lawyer" to people who he has intimidated and eventually fired (with the help of his comrades). Just ask former Sarasota Ethics Coordinator Steve Uebelacker or County Administrator Jim Ley (resigned), or County Administrator Randall Reid (fired).
With turnover like that, the entire Sarasota County Commission appears to be bit players from Alice in Wonderland's Jabborwocky Court with Barbetta starring as the Queen screaming "Off with 'er head."
Seeing the shams and wool Commissioner Barbetta is pulling only reinforces my opinion of the call for a Strong Mayor / It's Time Sarasota, that is still Isn't Time. Especially since ole' Joe was one of the authors and who in my humble opinion is clearly gunning to be a Sarasota mayor due to term limits as a county commissioner. Nothing could be worse for the city of Sarasota, other than a Category 5 hurricane. Sorry for the bolding but emphasis on It Still Isn't Time!
So again, expecting nothing, here are my complaints against Commissioner Joseph Barbetta in my letter to the Florida Commission on Ethics:
I attended the Sarasota County Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2014. Commissioner Barbetta broke his oath that day and breached the following Florida Commission Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, Item III. The Ethics Laws / A. Prohibited Actions or Conduct:
2. Unauthorized Compensation
3. Misuse of Public Position
4. Disclosure or Use of Certain Information
(In hindsight, I actually think he broke more ethics laws...)
In addition to Mr. Barbetta lying at the 3/19/14 commission meeting, it is shown in public County Commission minutes he voted numerous times on agenda items he has a personal financial interest in as shown in the complaint below.
I. MARY KENEALY EVENTS/SANCA/BENDERSON DEVELOPMENT: Commissioner Barbetta was listed as sole manager member of Mary Kenealy Events; Mary Kenealy Events received payments of $20,836.13 by Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center (SANCA) in 2013. I do not have complete records of SANCA Accounts Payable and and think other monies may have been paid or owed to Mary Kenealy Events. Prior to the 3/18 meeting, Commissioner Barbetta had failed to recuse himself from voting on matters pertaining to the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center (SANCA), essentially reimbursing his event’s company for services rendered.
Commissioner Barbetta finally recused himself from voting at the 3/19/14 commission meeting, disclosing that Mary Kenealy Events was his “wife’s business” and she had been advanced expenses for reimbursement. This is on video and witnessed by the entire Commission, myself and many others. Mr. Barbetta claimed at the 3/19/14 meeting that there had been no prior SANCA votes which is not true. His votes can be found in published public County Commission minutes and video; two of his prior SANCA votes were listed in the 3/19/14 meeting background material. After the 3/19/14 commission meeting, Mr. Barbetta removed his name as the sole manager member for Mary Kenealy Events. Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center is an entity that receives funding from Sarasota County and Benderson Development. Mr. Barbetta appears publicly to be friends with all members of the SANCA board and Benderson Development higher ups. It appears Commissioner Barbetta’s event company is the only firm hired for event planning jobs on the Benderson water park project.
There were two County Commission votes regarding SANCA in August 2013 and October 2013. These two votes were listed in background material at the 3/19 meeting where Commissioner Barbetta made his false statement about his event company. SANCA depends upon our County Commission for its financial backing; SANCA is also funded by the Benderson family with their large development projects that also require County Commission approvals. Considering the client relationship between Mr. Barbetta and the board members of SANCA, is it appropriate for Mr. Barbetta to continue to vote on Benderson and/or /SANCA projects? Many in the community of Sarasota think not.
On 4/18/13, Mary Kenealy Events (owned at the time by Commissioner Barbetta) was used to produce an event in relation to the Guy Peterson / University of Florida satellite office.
Commissioner Barbetta failed to disclose ownership of Mary Kenealy Events on his 2013 financial disclosure submitted to the state. His prior financial statements are not available online.
II. PGT: On 1/29/14 Commissioner Barbetta voted in favor to approve a tax exemption for PGT. Commissioner Barbetta is a PGT stockholder. I am not certain when Mr. Barbetta obtained stock, however, I think he should have recused himself from this vote. PGT received a $600,000 Sarasota County grant a few years ago.
It appears Commissioner Barbetta was a board member of the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation and may have participated in the creation of the PGT grant. It appears in county commission minutes, Mr. Barbetta has voted numerous times on issues related to PGT and the PGT grant.
III. SUNOVIA/EVOLUCIA: On 3/18/14 Commissioner Barbetta voted on an issue pertaining to Sunovia/Evolucia, a company he owns stock in. Sunovia/Evolucia received a $100,000 Sarasota County grant a few years ago. Commissioner Barbetta is a Sunovia (now Evolucia) shareholder.
It appears Commissioner Barbetta was a board member of the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation and may have participated in the creation of the Sunovia grant. Mr. Barbetta has voted numerous times on issues related to Sunovia and the Sunovia grant and failed to recuse himself from votes related to this company.
IV. FLORIDA SHORES BANK: Currently Commissioner Barbetta owns shares of Florida Shores Bank, we have no way of knowing if Commissioner Barbetta has participated in votes related to development financed by this bank. This is an important question in light of his failure to recuse himself past votes related to his personal investments.
With the recent firing of Steve Uebelacker (who was hired to restore ethics to Sarasota County government) where do we turn? We turn to you. It is documented by the Herald Tribune that Barbetta intimidated Mr. Uebelacker when Mr. Uebelacker brought some of the subjects I have pointed out in this letter to Commissioner Barbetta. Former County Administrator Randy Reid witnessed this intimidation, he too was fired, for what some see as not acquiescing to the current Sarasota County Commission.
##Commissioner Barbetta is in receipt of my formal complaint, why not send him an email or give him a call and ask him about the above items in question? Or attend a county commission meeting and ask him in person. He is very amusing to observe when someone rubs his rhubarb the wrong way. Crunch.