Martin County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard has been fined a civil penalty of $2,400 for a Code of Ethics violation involving an omission on her property valuation for six years running.
Heard agreed to pay the fine without a further legal fight. She and the Office of Attorney General signed the negotiated settlement agreement in March and it became final April 17.
The final order says Heard violated Article II, Section 8, Florida Constitution, and Section 112.3144, Florida Statutes, by filing an incomplete CE Form 6, Statement of Financial Interests, for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 ..."
The Form 6 financial information is required of all public officeholders.
This past weekend Heard was quoted in The Stuart News, saying, "I filled out my forms correctly. I just unintentionally omitted one property I owned in North Carolina. I made a mistake. All other charges were thoroughly investigated and dismissed."
But John McAuliffe, the Palm City resident who filed the June 18, 2014, complaint against the commission chairwoman, dismissed her explanation and "pretense" at vindication.
"Newcomers to the election process make mistakes," McAuliffe told Sunshine State News, "not seasoned politicians like Sarah. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was running for re-election; she wanted to hide her wealth so she wouldn't get the negative publicity millionaire elected officials get. In Martin County it is better for her image to be one of the common people."
McAuliffe also pointed out that instructions on Form 6 call for public officials to list themarket value of their properties. Heard listed her Intracoastal waterway-frontage home only at its assessed value, a figure nearly $500,000 below market value. "The Commission on Ethics let that one slide," he said, "and I'm waiting to hear back from them on why. Frankly, I don't think they know."
The commission dismissed other allegations in McAuliffe's complaint, notably failing to list her husband's aircraft as an asset; fudging travel expense reports for per diem allowances on several occasions from 2011 through 2013;and acceptinga $425 watercolor painting from 1000 Friends of Florida when the commission was discussing "forgiving" court fees due back from 1000 Friends in a land-use lawsuit.
"The painting 'gift' to me is the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the Ethics Commission's ruling," McAuliffe said. "The commission is saying here that there's no conflict of interest between Heard and the Martin County Conservation Alliance, for whom she voted, although she was a member, or the 1000 Friends of Florida, who gave her that 'gift' prior to the vote? And there was nothing wrong with her expense reports?
"I find this "settlement" reprehensible and a violation of the public's trust by the Commission on Ethics itself. These were violations that should not be 'negotiated' away," he said. "To what end? So that Sarah has to fill out her previous six years of financial disclosure forms correctly? She should have to do that anyway, without 'negotiating' out of any other charge."
See the attached preliminary report below for investigator A. Keith Powell's explanations.
"I'm sorry the chairwoman thinks all this was just about 2014 and a single election. It wasn't," McAuliffe said. "This is a pattern with Sarah Heard. Between her lost emails and broken laptop ... this is a leader without ethics, without scruples. Look, as I said before,I have no ax to grind. I don't own a business, I'm not a developer. I'm just a concerned dad who wants his kids to be able to come back to live in Martin County some day if that's what they want.
"Fair warning to Sarah and this Martin commission majority: It's not over. I'm just getting started."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith