A bill moving through the Florida Legislature would, if passed, give the state’s Commission on Ethics new tools to use in collecting debts.
There is some question, though, as to whether new methods to encourage public officers to pay their debts, if they become law, will extend to the 500 or so officials presently past due on fines incurred for failing to report financial information in a timely fashion
State Sen. President Don Gaetz said Monday he will ask the Florida Attorney General if new collection techniques — such as garnishing wages or placing liens on private residences — can be employed to collect old debts.
Lawmakers clearly cannot pass new legislation to punish past acts, Gaetz said. The question lies in whether new, tougher, enforcement techniques can be used to collect past debts the Ethics Commission still considers to be money owed it.
“If they can I’d be all for it,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said. “You need to pay your fine.”
Presently there are hundreds of public officials and former public officials whose names have been turned over to collection agencies by the Ethics Commission.
The names appear on an ethics commission website, along with the debt each person owes for failing to provide timely financial reports as required.
The total amount of fines owed statewide comes to $517,655.
Some of those fines, 21 of about 500 to be precise, are owed by people who have worked for communities or served on boards or with agencies in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.
One, former Crestview Administrative Services Director Mike Wing, holds among the highest of the unpaid debts. He owes $4,500 — three fines of $1,500 each for filing annual reports late in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Once a fine is determined to be late, it increases by $25 per day until capping out at $1,500, according to Ethics Commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman.
Wing said he was only aware he owed one fine, and added that he had no intention of trying to get out of paying it.
“I would pay them. I’m not going to be in a situation where I wouldn’t pay them,” he said.
While Wing’s oldest fine dates back six years, some still on the books go back much further.
William Thornton, listed as an employee of the Okaloosa-Walton (College) Board of Trustees, owes $1,500 for failing to report financial information on time in 2003.
Michael Iovieno, former mayor of Cinco Bayou, is listed as owing $1,500 from 2007 and Willie Mae Toles, a sitting Laurel Hill city councilwoman, owes $325 from 2010.
Leroy White owes $1,500 from 2009 when he was with the Dorcas Fire District Board of Commissioners.
Josh Lingenfelter, who served as Dorcas fire chief before being fired in 2012 after his wife was charged with stealing district funds, owes $350 from 2008 when he was a member of the same commission.
Other public officials from this region who owe the Ethics Commission money include:
- John Williams, Midway 2006, $1,500.
- Marcial Solis, Crestview II Community Development District Board of Supervisors, 2005, $1,500.
- Manuel Munoz, Crestview II Community Development District Board of Supervisors, 2005, $1,500.
- Mejia Marleny, Crestview II Community Development District Board of Supervisors, 2010, $475.
- Jack Rhodes, Hammock Bay Community Development District Board of Supervisors, 2007, $1,500.
- Michael Sheridan, Valparaiso Planning and Advisory Board, 2009, $1,500.
- C. Pickard, Crestview Code Enforcement Board, 2010, $175.
- Elvin McCorvey, Emerald Coast Utilities Authorities Board of Directors, 2008, $1,500.
- Casey Ladue, Florosa Fire Control District Board of Commissioners, 2010, $525.
- Ron Kilpatrick, Santa Rosa County Board of Adjustments, 2007, $500.
- Joseph Jablonka, Fort Walton Beach Code Enforcement Board, 2007, $325.
- Anita Hughes, Crestview Board of Adjustments, 2007, $425.
- Emma Thomas, Midway Fire District Board of Commissioners, 2007, $1,500.
It could not be determined Monday why some of the older fines listed on the Ethics Commission website hadn’t reached the $1,500 threshold.
Gaetz said even if the state won’t be able to use new legislation this year to garnish paychecks or place liens on the homes of the public officials who owe the state money, the officials ought to take it upon themselves to pay what they owe.
“A public official, appointed or elected, owes the community for their illegal acts,” he said. “There is no separate door to the courthouse for politicians and appointed officials.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.