Respondent is alleged to have violated Section 112.313 (6) Florida Statutes, by authorizing the waiver of a $300 utilities fee for the then-Mayor of the Town of White Springs.
Respondent has been the Finance Director for the Town of White Springs (Town) since 2000, and she had been the Town Clerk for several years prior to becoming the Finance Director (ROI 1,8) Her duties include managing the Town’s accounts receivable, including receivables related to the Town’s utilities service. ROI 8) Her direct supervisor is the Town Manager, Stacy Tebo, and the Mayor and Town Councilmembers do not have the authority to discipline or fire her (ROI 8,9)
As of October 13, 2015, Town Ordinance 15-01 requires a $300 start-up fee to open a new water account or to have Municipal water turned on either inside or outside the Town’s boundaries (ROI 4). Every Town Manager under who m Respondent has worked has followed an unwritten policy that permits a seller of property to transfer their utilities account, along with the deposit attached to the account, to the purchaser of the property to forego the need for the purchaser to pay the start-up fee. (ROI 8) Utilities fees have changed several times over the years and the fee transfers could range from $5 to current $300 fee. Thus the purchaser of a home has two options if there is an existing utilities account. (ROI 7,9) The purchaser can pay the $300 fee and open a “new” account or the existing account can be transferred upon the seller’s request utilizing the existing depsit (ROI 7)
Then Mayor Rhett Bullard rented the former parsonage for the White Springs United Methodist Church (church) before purchasing it from the church on November 28, 2016. (ROI 3, 5, 7, 11). While he rented the home, Bullard paid the utilities bills even though the utilities account was in the church’s name. EXPLAIN THE CHURCH CHECK NUMBERS THEN…WHAT A LIE. HE OBVIOUSLY MADE PAYMENTS FOR RENT INCLUDING UTILITIES BUT NOT SEPARATE CHECKS. – Karin (ROI 7)
Respondent recalled that church Secretary/Treasurer Carolyn Cannon called her and instructed her to go ahead and transfer the church’s utilities account, including the $5 deposit to Bullard (ROI 10). According to Cannon, she was instructed by the church board to call Respondent to let the Town know that the parsonage had been sold to Bullard, but denies that she had anything to do with the utilities and fee being transferred. (ROI 11) Respondent stated that the conversation proceeded as follows:
I said”Well Carolyn, do you realize that if Rhett ever leaves” – or let me rephrase that “If Mr. Bullard ever leaves, he will get the deposit… the United Methodist Church is releasing their deposit to him. And she said, “Yes, that’s fine”.
I do recall speaking with Mr. Bullard about this, and uh, you know, he said, “Is it okay?” And I said, “Rhett, this is the way it has been done in the past.
Respondent denies Bullard asked her to transfer the church’s account. (ROI 10). Bullard denies that he requested the transfer, but does not recall how the transfer occurred, but said “It wasn’t as if I went down there and said “Here, do something special for me:. I just went down there and said “What do I do”/ And then ultimately, they, the seller, the church was amenable to putting their account, giving me their account” (ROI 6,7)
Bullard noted that he merely assumed responsibility for an old account, and never actually opened a new account, and stated.
I think that was the distinction. I think the way they told me was that it wasn’t a new account. It was an old account. If the old account. If, If, If the person that you are buying the property from will give you their account, therefore, it’s a like, an old account, I guess. If you have to set your own one up, that would be a new account. That was the way it was presented to me.
Respondent also understands that Ordinance 15-02 only requires a deposit for “New” utilities accounts. (ROI 15). Respondent and Bullard deny that they are related, socialize together, or have a mutual business interest; thus, Respondent concluded that she had no motive to do any favors for Bullard. (ROI 14, 15). Bullard denies that he received a special benefit or gain concerning this matter. (ROI 24)
If in fact, the transfer of an existing utilities account is available upon the seller’s request to any purchaser as proffered by Respondent and Town Manager Tebo, Respondent did not secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for Bullard and her actions were not inconsistent with the proper performance of her public duties (ROI 8,9) Furthermore, the home’s water account was not “opened” or “turned on” or as to require a “first deposit” of $300 pursuant to Town Ordinance 15-01. (ROI 4) For those reasons, elements three and four of a violation of misuse of public office are not present.
Therefore, based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313 (6) Florida Statutes.
It is my recommendation that:
There is no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313(6) Florida Statutes, by authorizing the waiver of a $300 utilities fee for the then Mayor of the Town of White Springs.
WHEN 15-01 was written, I’ll bet it was never the intent to transfer utilities from one owner to the next but obviously That was not stipulated in the ordinance. Instead words like “opened” or turned on or “first” deposit were used. So this is the councilor’s or the attorney’s fault at the time and as a result, I wonder how many people received this benefit. Obviously the deposit, which has never been returned to anyone to my knowledge and what was told to me by others, was placed there, in accordance with the ordinance, so if someone misses a payment, it is deducted from said deposit. I am certain Rhett pays his bills but does the town believe every owner where the seller has transferred their utilities rights will pay their bill. Council you better think what you are doing.