One would think that the headline would be an easy distinction to make. Not in the world of politics, apparently. Over the weekend news broke that County Commissioner Jim Barfield had paid a fine over errors in a financial reporting forms following a complaint made to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Complaint made, settlement reached, end of story. Unless...unless politics is the motivation for the complaint in the first place. That would certainly appear to be the case. That, and a personality spat between Barfield and Representative Randy Fine over differences in political opinion and action, each by the other.
In 2016 Matt Nye, known for years in Brevard political circles, filed complaints with the Ethics Commission on Barfield and fellow Commissioner Curt Smith. Both had been targeted for defeat in their reelection campaigns by newly elected Commissioner John Tobia. Whether Tobia and Nye colluded in the filing is unknown, but likely. The complaints focused on financial reports required of these officials that contained errors or issues of not complying strictly with the form’s requirements.
Barfield has already paid his fine. Smith also anticipates such a result from the complaints filed against him.
The apparent failings by these commissioners can be attributed to several things: newly elected officials being unfamiliar with the filing, simple clerical errors, not understanding the depth required for the form to be accurate, leaving the form for staff to complete, not paying attention to detail when completing the form, or any number of possibilities. While this may allow for claims of incompetence, it does not provide any direct line to claims of corruption.
An “ethics violation” sure sounds bad during a campaign season. And it would be if actual ethics were involved. And that’s the point. These “violations” are clerical in nature and do not demonstrate anything other than a lack of competency or concern in completing a form. Period. Certainly fodder for a political campaign, but that’s about it.
When Barfield’s Ethics Commission settlement was announced, Representative Randy Fine contacted me with the information. The next morning he contacted me during the show to see when I was covering it. I wasn’t. That seemed to confound him.
That Randy is pursuing this to the degree he has chosen demonstrates his lack of experience in the political world and his fixation on getting the best of a political adversary. Making a mountain of political corruption out of a molehill of clerical errors or omissions is not logical absent absence of evidence of intent to deceive.
Randy is right in his perception of corruption in Brevard. The situation with the Palm Shores mayor, the Honor America over billing the city of Melbourne for a roof job that took double the money necessary for the job, the apparent attempts at covering up those crimes by some in city and/or county government, they all scream for investigation and resolution by proper authorities.
Sadly, crying wolf over paperwork distracts from the real issues of corruption that deserve to be the headline instead of the sideshow. Until the personal political battles are removed from the business of the people, I don’t see this getting any better.
Time to grow up, boys, and do the jobs we elected each of you to do. And leave the personalities and campaign tricks to their proper venues. Incompetence does not equate to corruption. It’s time we stop conflating the two and get back to a proper focus.