Commissioners must detail net worth unless lawsuit blocks new rule
Winter Park commissioners will consider at the next meeting whether to join a lawsuit to try prevent the financial disclosure rules from taking effect
Jan. 25, 2024
By Beth Kassab
About 12 miles south of Winter Park in another affluent city centered on a different chain of lakes, four out of the seven elected commissioners in the city of Belle Isle have resigned over new and far more detailed financial disclosures required by the state.
The new law, which beginning this year requires elected city officials to detail their net worth including assets and liabilities valued at $1,000 or more by July, is sparking resignations across Florida and, now, a legal challenge.
While no elected officials have resigned in Winter Park, city commissioners are now mulling whether to join a lawsuit that City Attorney Kurt Ardaman said he expects to be filed in early February.
Mayor Phil Anderson said during the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting that the new requirements appear intrusive.
“Note that no one resigned so come July 1, there’s going to be stuff out there we wouldn’t have normally had to do,” Anderson said. “You care about your community, but you also care about your privacy. This seems to be a pretty big reach into your privacy.”
Form 6, which has been filed by the governor, lawmakers, school boards and other constitutional officers for many years, is a new requirement for city officials as a result of changes by the Florida Legislature last year. Until now, city officials filed a far less detailed disclosure known as Form 1, which asked for sources of income, property and liabilities, but did not require any dollar amounts.
The forms are then added to a Florida Commission on Ethics database searchable by the public.
Commissioner Todd Weaver expressed concerns over potential theft over having to list expensive items in his home.
“I just feel like its an open invitation for theft,” he said. “I think its egregious.”
But the form allows officials to report household items as an aggregate figure without a detailed list. The detail required is related to financial assets, property, business interests and any debts. Liabilities are then subtracted from an official’s total assets to determine net worth.
While a number of elected officials have called the change an overreach, the ethics commission uses them as a way to provide the public with accountability when it comes to understanding any conflicts of interest an elected official might have. The forms could also serve as a check on whether officials appear to be privately profiting from holding public office.
Ardaman said the city would pay a $10,000 flat fee to join the lawsuit. He said multiple cities he represents are considering whether to join.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that in surveyed local governments in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties, and found that eight elected officials have resigned. They include two in Edgewood, one in Casselberry, and one Windermere, in addition to the four in Belle Isle.
Commissioners set another discussion on the topic for Feb. 14.