Smith VS. Tobia. Ding!

At the last Brevard County Commission meeting, Commissioner John Tobia raised the issue of expenditures by Commissioner Curt Smith.

Tobia claims the expenditures were inappropriate and according to the FloridaToday:

Tobia cited county administrative orders, a County Commission policy and a Florida Statute for reasons why the various expenses should not have been reimbursed.

Smith, on the other hand, said the reimbursements were all approved by the County’s Finance Department.

To be honest, in the scheme of things we aren’t talking about a whole lot of money – just $337 bucks which includes:

• Reimbursement on a travel voucher for extra legroom on a flight to Colorado Springs, Colorado ($50.12).

• Reimbursement for Smith’s wife’s baggage fee on a trip to Colorado Springs ($50).

• Charging his purchasing card with multiple tickets to a Friends of Sally’s House event ($225).

• Receiving travel reimbursement for mileage to a Republican Women’s Network Luncheon ($3.78).

• Receiving travel reimbursement for mileage to a Brevard Republican Executive Committee Picnic and Straw Poll ($7.56)

• Receiving travel reimbursement for mileage to a Republican Liberty Caucus Constitution Day Dinner ($1.08).

Tobia raised the issue when Smith was not present which led some to say it was “bad form” or “improper to raise the issue” when Smith wasn’t there to defend himself. But Smith was present earlier in the meeting via the phone but the connection died. Tobia had planned his remarks prior to the phone connection to Smith being lost. Without Smith “in the room,” should Tobia have waited? Maybe. Probably even. At the same time, it is not Tobia’s fault or responsibility to make sure Smith was either at the meeting or had a connection to the meeting. We believe a good case be made either way.

No matter how you view how the topic was raised, Smith did not take kindly to Smith’s expenditures being called into question and viewed it as a political attack.

“Absolutely, it’s politically motivated,” Smith said.

Tobia is “like a little dog, nipping at your ankles,” Smith said. “His rants are boorish. He just likes to stir things up, whether they were true or not. To me, he’s irrelevant.”

(Wasn’t it just a few meeting ago that County Commissioners were calling for more “civility?” Kind of hard to see civility in one Commissioner comparing another to a dog, but we digress….)

The day of the meeting, Tobia handed each Commissioner a binder with 86 pages of the expenditures, receipts, and the supporting documentation he and his staff compiled in support of his position that the expenditures were wrong.

To be honest, the 86 pages are full of images, which makes the file extremely large. (The initial file(s) we received were over 33 megs in total.) We optimized the files and ran them through Acrobat’s OCR function which lowered the size of the files. We broke them in to two files so you can download them and read them yourself.

Commissioner Smith Expenditures pages 1-41.pdf
Commissioner Smith Expenditures Pages 42-86.pdf

There are three outcomes of this dispute that we see:

1) Tobia is wrong and the expenditures are all okay under the current laws, policies and procedures.

If that is the case, we hope that Commissioner Tobia will do the right thing and make a statement on his accusations being incorrect. That would be the right thing to do.

2) Smith’s submittal of the expenses was wrong and not in line with current laws, policies and procedures. If that is the case, Smith should make a public statement, admit the mistake and repay the County and the citizens of Brevard.

3) If the expenses should not have been approved because they are against current laws, policies and procedures, the person or persons who approved them (including the Finance Director or supervisors) should face consequences in the form of some sort of discipline. If that means suspensions, firings, etc, we are all for that. We hear all the time that citizens need to trust the government and public employees. That means being accountable. County Manager Frank Abbate should step up the mic, tell us all what happened, what the discipline was for those involved and announce what steps have been taken to prevent this from happening again.

However, we think there is a different issue that the Commissioners will not debate, look into or examine: the expenditures themselves.

Let’s assume for a moment that Tobia’s complaints against Smith’s expenditures are inaccurate and have no foundation. Let’s also assume that Smith is correct that the Brevard County Department of Finance approved all of the expenditures and Smith did nothing contrary to the policies, and County / State statutes.

Our question is “why are the citizens of Brevard County paying for these items to begin with?”

Millions of people fly on airplanes every year without getting more legroom. There are thousands of Brevardians who fly do so without paying for extra legroom. So why are those same citizens paying for extra comfort for Commissioner Smith, much less any Commission or any government employee?

That also extends to the fifty bucks paid because Smith’s wife packed luggage that needed a fee for it.

Here’s a tip: either learn to pack more efficiently or even better, don’t go because Mrs. Smith isn’t an employee of the government, isn’t responsible to the people of Brevard County and isn’t conducting County business.

As for the “Friends of Sally’s House,” the organization is a good cause, but assuming that the expenditure was correctly approved, why are the people of Brevard paying for a Commissioner to attend a fund raiser? There is no official County business being conducted at the fund raiser, so wouldn’t it have been better just to go to the Commission and say “can we buy a ticket for this event?”

Instead, Brevardians got to pay for a Commissioner at a fund raiser that was more akin to a campaign trail stop.

Can anyone out there tell us why citizens should be paying for that?


Bueller? Bueller?

That’s the real problem we have with things like this. Elected officials get to write laws that allow for repayments and reimbursements from tax dollars. There is no need for fiscal oversight or accountability because officials can literally pass a law allowing for expenditure and then say “this is a nothing burger. We followed the law.”

It’s like the foxes are running around in the chicken house of citizens’ tax dollars.

There are those who are going to say that Tobia’s accusations are politically motivated. There are those who are going to say that Smith’s defense and accusations against Tobia are “politically motivated.”

We want to make this clear: we don’t care about the “politics” of this. If these two elected gentlemen want to go at it in the political field, have at it. Go make statements, claims and counter claims. Politics is often a dirty mess and if politicians want to roll around and sling mud like a pig, go for it. We are honest enough that to some extent, we like watching the mud fly.

But when the issue is tax money – money that the Commissioners and the County government says they desperately need – that matters to us. The amount in this incident is small. We agree on that, but the problem is that these are not the only expenditures and reimbursements out there. Besides the Commissioners being reimbursed for questionable things, there are other government officials and people taking trips and submitting requests for reimbursements as well.

It could very well be that the $337 bucks we are talking about here is nothing but the tip of the reimbursement iceberg. That becomes even more true if the people that approved Smith’s expenses in error are approving other expenses erroneously as well.

As we said, government officials often talk about “trust,” “accountability” and “transparency.”

When it comes to expenses and approval process, we aren’t seeing much that says we should trust anyone in the County government.

That’s our opinion and please feel free to disagree.

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