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Claiming The Need For Money, Sheriff Wayne Ivey Joins Suit Over Budget Vote……Spending More Tax Payer Dollars.

In case you have missed it, Brevard County Officials are involved in what started out as a bruhaha and has involved into a lawsuit.

The issue is the whether the County Commission’s vote to pass “critical need funding” for the Sheriff’s office in 2019 was legal.

Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of declaring a “critical need” related the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office budget. County Commissioner John Tobia cast the no vote.

With that required “supermajority vote” of at least four commissioners, it allows the county to exceed a voter-approved cap in how much money can be raised via property taxes in the Law Enforcement Municipal Service Taxing Unit portion of the budget.

Although property tax rates for the county general fund and 18 other specialized operating tax rates would decline under County Manager Frank Abbate’s proposed budget, that would not be the case for the Law Enforcement MSTU portion of the budget.

The proposed county budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes an increase in the Law Enforcement MSTU tax rate of 2.17 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, with the tax rate going from $1.0925 per $1,000 in the current 2018-19 budget year to $1.1142 per $1,000 proposed for the 2019-20 budget year.

For a property owner who pays taxes on a property with a taxable value of $200,000, that increase amounts to $4.34 a year.

The proposal commissioners supported would result in a $1.77 million or 9.44 percent increase in tax revenue generated by the MSTU portion of the sheriff’s budget, bringing the total to $20.47 million.

To have stayed within the provisions of the charter cap, the sheriff’s MSTU tax rate would have had to drop to $1.0629 per $1,000, generating revenue of $19.52 million, when increases in property values, including new construction, during the last year are taken into account.

At the time of the vote, there were many issues. As far as citizens were concerned, there was a clear lack of transparency when it came to the Sheriff’s budget:

When county commissioners give final approval to the sheriff’s budget on Tuesday as expected — as they did in a 4-1 preliminary vote — they will be doing so largely based on trust. That’s because at least three of them have not seen Ivey’s detailed financial plans of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. The other two — Chair Kristine Isnardi and Vice Chair Bryan Lober — did not respond to written questions from FLORIDA TODAY for comment on this topic.

Ivey seems intent on keeping his detailed budget closely held, despite several citizens and FLORIDA TODAY asking the BCSO for itemized details of the budget.

Unlike other parts of the budget, commissioners and the county’s Budget Office do not have access to a line-item accounting of the BCSO budget — only a top-line summary — partly because the BCSO budget is on a different budgeting software system than the county departments under direct management of the county manager and County Commission. That’s also true of the budgets of most of Brevard’s other elected constitutional officers, but they did not seek approval to exceed the spending cap this year.

Citizens made public records requests for the Sheriff’s proposed line item budget, and despite the fact that producing the records would have taken less then 10 minutes, the Sheriff’s Office slow played the public records requests until after the Commission vote. That meant that the average citizen could not see what the “critical needs” the Sheriff was claiming were. No one knew what the money was going to be spent on. Ivey had met with some commissioners before the vote, but even they either didn’t see the line item budget or simply wouldn’t comment on it.

Bizarrely, Commissioners simply said “trust us” and trust the Sheriff” when the lack of transparency on the proposed budget was brought up.

For Commissioners Rita Pritchett and Curt Smith, this was sufficient for them to support Ivey’s ask.

“I trust the sheriff,” Smith told FLORIDA TODAY, adding that the top priority of government is to protect its citizens.

“To me, this is just an attempt to stir up emotions,” Smith said, referring to criticism by some members of the public to the sheriff’s critical needs request.

Eleven residents spoke during the July 23 County Commission discussion of the BCSO budget, including some prominent Republicans, and nine expressed some concerns or criticism related to either the sheriff’s budget or county spending in general.

“I think it’s absurd to even question” the BCSO budget, Smith said.

Brevard County Commissioner Rita Pritchett said she has no qualms about the limited financial information she is getting on Ivey’s budget. She said she “thought it was a pretty frugal budget,” noting that both the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office’s spending per resident and the starting pay of deputies are below that of many nearby counties. (Photo: TIM SHORTT/ FLORIDA TODAY)

Pritchett, a certified public accountant, told FLORIDA TODAY she has no qualms about the limited financial information she is getting on Ivey’s budget.

Pritchett said Ivey and then-BCSO Chief Financial Officer Greg Pelham came to her Titusville office to make a private presentation to her in advance of Ivey’s public pitch to the County Commission at a public meeting.

“I thought it was a pretty frugal budget,” Pritchett said, noting that both the BCSO’s spending per resident and the starting pay of deputies are below that of many nearby counties.

After speaking against the increase, Clerk of the Courts Scott Ellis decided to initiate a lawsuit over the vote:

Brevard County Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis has filed legal action against the County Commission, contending the county is misinterpreting how its charter cap should work.

Under a provision in Brevard County’s charter, there is a cap on how much property tax rates can increase, unless the County Commission declares a “critical need” through a “supermajority” vote of at least four of the five commissioners.

In his complaint, filed in Circuit Court, Ellis said the county is improperly basing a future year’s tax rate on the level established by the previous year’s critical need.

How the court rules on Ellis’ complaint could have a direct effect on future budgets of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. At the request of Sheriff Wayne Ivey, the County Commission in July voted 4-1 to declare a critical need for law enforcement, which allowed the charter cap to be exceeded for a component of the BCSO budget — called the Law Enforcement Municipal Services Taxing Unit — for the fiscal year 2019-20 that began Oct. 1.

The issues raised by Ellis could affect the base level of the BCSO budget when the 2020-21 budget plan is formulated.

“Allowing the increased millage rate to remain in perpetuity without limitation, long after the emergency or critical need has passed, would thwart, rather than advance, the purposes of the charter amendment,” Ellis said in his complaint. “Because the excess rate cannot remain in place without a new finding of emergency or critical need, any emergency or critical need must be deducted from computing the succeeding fiscal year’s rolled back millage rate.”

We believe Ellis’s lawsuit has legal merit.

While Ellis better than most understands the legal implications of what the Commission and the Sheriff conspired to pull off in granting Ivey’s request for “emergency needs,” we are still “hung up” on the Commission’s lack of transparency and the Sheriff’s office denial of citizen’s rights to see the budget. The two parties, in our opinion, conspired to keep the public uninformed despite laws to the contrary.

When the County’s top cop and the Commissioners ban together to hide pertinent facts and data, there is something drastically wrong.

When a Commissioner claims that criticism of the Sheriff’s lack of transparency is “pretty obscene,” there is something wrong.

However, the latest twists in this saga are even stranger.

First, the Commission and Ellis agreed to let each other see the strategy they are taking in the lawsuit. That’s a step back from where the Commission was going to hold legal closed session to discuss strategy with their legal team. Ellis and Tobia had criticized the closed sessions, but the law allows for them and the verbatim transcripts of the closed sessions would have to be made public once the case was over.

The Commission and Ellis have agreed to some record keeping and document requests from each party:

• Agreed to have all written interactions between any of the five commissioner with their attorneys on this lawsuit be considered public records, waiving their “attorney/client privilege,” as long as the clerk of courts office did the same with its attorneys. However, internal work products within the county attorney’s office on this case will remain private.

• Agreed to waive any public records fees it otherwise would charge the clerk of courts office for those documents that will be public in this case. There still would be a fee when members of the public request those documents. (emphasis ours)

Yet perhaps the main and most stunning announcement is that Sheriff Wayne Ivey has filed motions to be a part of the lawsuit.

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey wants to help defend county commissioners after they were sued by Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis in a matter involving the sheriff’s budget.

The case will directly affect how the County Commission will handle property tax revenue increases targeted for Ivey’s budget.

Attorneys for Ivey and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office have filed a six-page “motion to intervene” in Circuit Court, asking that the sheriff be added as a defendant in the case.

The motion argues Ivey is “a necessary party defendant because the sheriff is materially interested” in the case and “would be directly affected by adjudication of the controversy. In short, the sheriff has a very real financial stake in the outcome” of the case.

The motion was not filed by in house counsel which means more tax payer dollars will go toward this.

The motion was filed on behalf of Ivey and the BCSO by Keith Kromash of the Melbourne law firm of Nash & Kromash.

In short, Sheriff Ivey who claimed that the county wasn’t spending enough and he needed more money in an unpublished budget, somehow managed to find money to try to become a part of the lawsuit between the County Commission and the Clerk of the Courts.

The disagreement between the Commission and Ellis is not one that involves Ivey per se. Ellis thinks the Commission did something wrong and is looking to set precedence and to make sure the Commission follows that precedence for all time. This is a case where the Clerk is claiming the Commission violated the law as approved by the citizens of Brevard County. The fact that the violation occurred in regards to Ivey’s office is not germane as we believe Ellis would have made the same argument and filed the same lawsuit no matter what agency budget the Commission was voting upon.

Still, in our opinion, there is a certain level of hubris in the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office wanting money and then spending money on this. We wonder if the Commission will waive public records fees for Ivey and his legal team as well. (While still charging the public for public records at a newly approved rate.)

You can’t make the stuff up.

It is almost as if some of the players in this mess don’t realize that they are using money from hard working taxpayers rather than some sort of slush fund they call a “budget.” After all, Ivey is simply spending taxpayer money in the hopes taxpayers will pay even more.

(If anyone can see the logic in that, we’d love to hear it.)

It is easy to spend money when it is coming out of other people’s pockets.

Finally, we want to comment on something that Commissioner Kristine Isnardi said:

County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi said commissioners should not be blamed for the lawsuit or the ensuing legal costs, because it was Ellis’ decision to file the lawsuit.

“We didn’t ask for this lawsuit,” Isnardi said.

“The whole thing is a circus, and it’s political. But that’s besides the point. So we’ll take it to court, and we’ll be judged there,” Isnardi said. “I think I hear circus music in the background.”

We agree that the whole thing is a circus.

However, the Commission, not Ellis, sat there and did not ask or demand a line item budget for the Sheriff’s office.

The Commission, not Ellis, allowed the Sheriff to back the date of the vote up against a hard deadline.

The Commission, not Ellis, allowed one of the offices they fund to deny people public documents in a bald faced attempt to make it so the public could not see what they have the legal and moral right to see.

It was members of the Commission, and not Ellis who said any criticism of the Sheriff’s actions were wrong, including Isnardi who said any criticism of the Sheriff was “pretty obscene.”

The Commission, not Ellis said “we should trust the Sheriff” because ….. well because:

Ivey Endorses Isnardi for Commissioner.

One has to wonder why it is Ellis’ fault for trying to hold the Commission responsible to follow the law and to act in the interests of the people instead of working to consolidate political power and influence in the County.

County Attorney Bentley estimated that the total attorney costs for all sides in this case could exceed $150,000.

We wonder how many roads, culverts and infrastructure that would have built. We wonder how that could have helped the lagoon, or helped upgrade waste and sewage lines.

We have to wonder if this taxpayer money would needed to be spent if only the County Commissioner held itself and its agencies to the same legal standards and transparency it demands of others.

That didn’t happen.

If members of the Commission are hearing circus music, they should realize they are in the center ring.



3 Responses to “Claiming The Need For Money, Sheriff Wayne Ivey Joins Suit Over Budget Vote……Spending More Tax Payer Dollars.”

  1. Josephine says:

    WOW – it’s a same the county commissioners can’t “rob Peter to pay Paul”.

    Just think of the thousands of dollars that the Tourist Development Council(TDC) has been sitting on (I assume in the Parks Budget area); just waiting for a good use to accommodate county-wide tourism.

    I understand funds are presently designated for re-development/remodeling facilities
    or
    repairing them at Lori Wilson Park?????

    I would think shifting funds from the Lori Wilson PARK TDC remodeling BUDGET to repair some of Lori Wilson Park could be more beneficial to all county residents as well as visitors if applied to the sheriff’s budget.

    Sheriff Ivey has to deal with tourists outside of the Port Canaveral cruise ship terminal areas so it might be appropriate to re-assign county park funds in that direction, i.e., to Lori Wilson County Park. Recently noted to be a county park located in a criminal activity vicinity

    Sorry, I haven’t checked the Brevard County Charter on this one but it makes sense to figure out the county commissioners budget and schedule legally, especially when discussions on Lori Wilson Park are still on-going!

    Excess funds could then be put to use to protect the present Brevard County Life Guard mobile facilities at Lori Wilson Park along with giving the the sheriff’s budget some relief.

    Thank you AAfterwit for your informative article. It is good to know that Mr. Ellis continues to up-hold our rules and regulations, but shameful he has to point it out in court.

  2. Josephine says:

    WOW – it’s a same the county commissioners can’t “rob Peter to pay Paul”.

    Just think of the thousands of dollars that the Tourist Development Council(TDC) has been sitting on (I assume in the Parks Budget area); just waiting for a good use to accommodate county-wide tourism.

    I understand funds are presently designated for re-development/remodeling facilities
    or
    repairing them at Lori Wilson Park?????

    I would think shifting funds from the Lori Wilson PARK TDC remodeling BUDGET to repair some of Lori Wilson Park could be more beneficial to all county residents as well as visitors if applied to the sheriff’s budget.

    Sheriff Ivey has to deal with tourists outside of the Port Canaveral cruise ship terminal areas so it might be appropriate to re-assign county park funds in that direction, i.e., from Lori Wilson County Park-to-County Sheriff. Recently noted to be a county park located in a criminal activity vicinity

    Sorry, I haven’t checked the Brevard County Charter on this one but it makes sense to figure out the county commissioners budget and schedule legally, especially when discussions on Lori Wilson Park are still on-going!

    Excess funds could then be put to use to protect the present Brevard County Life Guard mobile facilities at Lori Wilson Park along with giving the the sheriff’s budget some relief.

    Thank you AAfterwit for your informative article. It is good to know that Mr. Ellis continues to up-hold our rules and regulations, but shameful he has to point it out in court.

  3. Carla says:

    It’s too bad the Commissioners didn’t insist on seeing (and analyzing) the Sheriff’s budget before they took the vote. Doubt that it would have changed anyone’s mind since they seem to be so chummy with the Sheriff, but at least they could have given the appearance that they were doing their due diligence. It is especially shameful that a CPA would rely on trust alone.

    I wonder when (if?) the sheriff finally released his budget to Florida Today in response to their FOIA request. I wish Florida Today would print it, but it’s probably too late for most people to care now considering the Commissioners didn’t even care then.

    I thought Lober and two of his counterparts were against bleeding the taxpayer dollars! At least that’s what he claimed when the Commissioners voted to increase the rates on public records requests. But here we go again… Actions speak louder than words. I guess bleeding taxpayer dollars into fellow attorneys’ pockets is acceptable.

    Also, if the Sheriff would cut down on his huge publicity budget, maybe he’d have more money available for critical needs.

  4. […] can’t decide whether this was political theater of some sort, a continuation of the “circus” Isnardi claimed when a Constitution official disagreed with the Commission, or perhaps […]

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