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The Two Faces Of Commissioner Bryan Lober.

Brevard County District 2 Commissioner Bryan Lober is back in the news these days after an attempt to extort money from Health First Inc., for a project in Lober’s district.

A conflict is escalating between Health First Inc. and Brevard County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober over the health care company’s efforts to secure federal CARES Act money from the county to cover some of its expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Health First Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Nicholas Romanello on Wednesday accused Lober of making what appeared to be a “quid-pro-quo demand,” by asking that Health First help pay for a project at a public park in Lober’s commission district, in return for Lober’s support on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

Late Wednesday, Lober wrote a response to Romanello, saying he was withdrawing his request “that Health First match any portion of CARES Act allocation for the benefit of the local community. To alleviate any concern, Health First will be evaluated without regard to my initial proposal.”

Part of this ongoing feud is that Lober asked doctors at Health First to appear before the County Commission to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and Health First refused.

This led to Lober saying the actions of Health First not allowing their employees to appear before the Commission was putting citizens at risk.

So while one of Lober’s faces was praising caregivers and first responders during this time, another face was berating the health care providers for not doing what he wanted.

Still, for someone who with one face demands that people follow the law, Lober seems to have no problems with his other face demanding businesses do things, or else:

Lober had previously suggested to a Health First representative that the health care company match at least 80% of the money it would receive from a CARES Act grant, with the money earmarked for “the improvement of public areas surrounding their facilities.”

Lober specifically mentioned that the money should include at least $1.25 million for improvements to the county-owned public park adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island, a facility located in Lober’s County Commission District 2. The Veterans Memorial Center has proposed building a new amphitheater on the park site, and Lober noted in his email that the money also could be used for new walkways, fountains and other infrastructure improvements at the public park.

Lober previously indicated that he would not support a CARES Act allocation to Health First unless Heath First made a financial commitment to the Veterans Memorial Center and other community projects. He noted that the Veterans Memorial Center is located near the State Road 520 site on Merritt Island where Health First plans to develop a health village that will include a new hospital. That hospital will replace Health First’s current Cape Canaveral Hospital in Cocoa Beach.

In addition, Lober’s demands for “the community” belies Health First’s community involvement to begin with:

The strategies for increasing access and education regarding health-related services include:

  • Adult Dental Clinic
  • AHEC Tobacco Cessation Classes
  • Brevard Family Partnership and South Brevard Sharing Center
  • Brevard Health Alliance
  • Brevard Health Alliance’s Patient Navigator Referral Program
  • Career Source Brevard
  • Central Brevard Sharing Center
  • Free Save A Life Day
  • Fight Child Hunger
  • Stop the Bleed
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida
  • City of Melbourne Parks & Recreation
  • “Family BeFit” Program
  • Junior League of South Brevard
  • Mayors’ Fitness Challenge
  • My Community Cares
  • Space Coast Crew
  • Space Coast Youth Multi-sports

What is even more curious about this is that while Lober is making demands of a private company with one face and claiming it is acceptable, his other face has said county staff doesn’t work for citizens. In a post back in February of 2019, we noted how a citizen by the name of Maureen Rupe was told that Lober was directing the County Attorney and County Staff not to reply to her or her requests.

Furthermore, while saying that he wants Health First officials to be more involved in the community with one face, with his other face, he actively sought to dissuade citizens from being involved by increasing the fees for public record requests:

More residents are requesting public records from Brevard County government. Our commission’s reaction to that? Make it more expensive, in some cases, to obtain that information.

One could interpret an estimated 62% increase in public records requests between 2016 and 2019 as a sign of a community that’s doing its civic duty. A majority of our commissioners, however, sees that as a burden on taxpayers.

On Jan. 7, they approved with a 3-2 vote a proposal to change how the county processes such requests. Commissioners John Tobia and Kristine Isnardi cast the dissenting votes.

The most significant changes are:

  1. The county will begin charging for a request after the first 15 minutes it takes to answer it. Under the old rules, that period was 30 minutes.
  2. In the event that a request requires more than 15 minutes, the full estimated cost of the request must be paid in advance. The old policy required only 50% up front.
  3. The hourly rate charged to answer the request will be the county employee’s hourly rate plus benefits. The old fee was an averaged professional rate of $16.25 per hour plus an administrative fee of $9.44 per hour. Existing policy already requires that a request be handled by the lowest-paid employee capable of doing so.
  4. If a county commissioner answers a request, his or her hourly rate will be calculated based on a 20-hour workweek instead of the regular 40 hours. That’s because commissioners are considered to serve on a part-time basis.
  5. Commissioners currently make $58,145 a year. Based on a 20-hour workweek (and a 52-week year), their hourly rate will be $55.90 plus benefits versus $27.95 based on a 40-hour week.

All of the increases go back to the fact that with one face Lober hails “government transparency” and with the other face, makes “transparency” increasingly expensive to the point where the average citizen can’t afford the records that the public owns.

The fight with Health First is not the first unnecessary fight that Lober has engaged in over the CARES fund:

Brevard County Commission Chair Bryan Lober’s reply to an email from a Cocoa Beach official about CARES Act money set off an email spat between him and the city’s mayor.

Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik called Lober’s response to an email from Cocoa Beach Director of Marketing and Economic Development Melissa Byron an “inappropriate, divisive” personal attack. Lober defended his reply by saying Byron’s email didn’t indicate she was working in an official capacity and that Byron and her husband had attacked him in the past.

Both Malik and Lober have now accused each other of being politically divisive and making unprovoked attacks.

Byron sent an email Thursday to Lober on behalf of the Beachside Recovery Task Force, a group of local businesses and organizations, asking that the County Commission consider allocating some of the over $105 million in relief that the county received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for financial aid to local businesses.

“I cannot adequately convey, in words, the jubilation I derive from having received your below message in which you request that I take certain action; I could not wait to reply!” Lober replied.

He went on to write that the task force should replace her if it wanted to have “any goodwill whatsoever on the part of (his) office” due to apparent bad blood between Byron and the commissioner. He said her involvement makes it less likely he will support her positions.

More: Fine, Melbourne City Council members battle over fireworks celebration

“It is puzzling that you would ask someone who was said to have joined ‘John Tobia on the wing-nut side of the Brevard County Commission’ to take the measures you have requested,“ Lober wrote, quoting a remark in a FLORIDA TODAY guest column made by Byron’s husband, John Byron, a retired Naval officer who headed the Naval Ordnance Test Unit in Cape Canaveral, and a one-time Democratic congressional candidate.

Lober wrote that Byron should be replaced by someone who is “well distanced and does not cohabitate with those who have baselessly and unprovokedly maligned me.” Lober, when asked by FLORIDA TODAY, would not elaborate on his criticism of Byron, saying he did not want to “assist in the sensationalization of non- newsworthy items.”

This is another case where Lober wants to demand community involvement with one face, and then deride that involvement because of a person with another face.

The fact of the matter is that the CARES funds are supposed to benefit people and businesses in communities and be devoid of partisan politics.

Neither of Lober’s faces seems to get that idea. He is fine with the idea of withholding funds because of political disputes.

We are not necessarily fans of Health First for a variety of reasons, but we are less fans of people who speak out of both sides of their mouths and whose actions don’t match their practiced and dishonest rhetoric.



4 Responses to “The Two Faces Of Commissioner Bryan Lober.”

  1. Fed Up Tax Payer says:

    Reminds me of how many of us in Palm Bay know the County held the Interchange completion hostage until our council signed an ILA taking over control of Babcock St, SMH. Here’s my beef….how can you call it a “Interlocal” agreement, if only one side (county) benefits? JS.

  2. Percy says:

    I’m beginning to see that ethics doesn’t really exist in politics or with elected officials. The state needs to step in and make it easier for ordinary citizens to file a complaint anonymously, have it looked at by an independent panel of citizens to determine if anything unethical occurred.

    I looked into filing an ethics complaint with our current system and it scared me off pretty quick with talk about complainant liability and the recovery of court and legal fees. I believe most companies have some kind of ombudsman system to bring up concerns and have them addressed without all the hoopla, these systems usually keep the complainant and accused fairly anonymous unless it’s determined that laws were broken. Maybe the state could create something along those lines.

  3. Carla says:

    Speaking of ethics in government, or the lack thereof, did you read the last couple of paragraphs in the 8/27/20 issue of Florida Today’s story, “War of words continues between Lober, Health First”? It says, “In a related development, the County Commission on Tuesday authorized Bentley to seek an legal opinion from the Florida Attorney General’s Office on whether Commissioner Kristine Isnardi could vote on CARES Act Funding and other issues related to Health First. After a previous inquiry from Bentley, Florida Commission on Ethics senior attorney Caroline Klancke researched whether Isnardi could vote on the CARES Act funding. In a seven-page memo, Klancke said Isnardi could not vote on CARES Act funding to Health First because Isnardi is a nurse practioner affiliated with Health First, and there would be ‘a voting conflict of interest, requiring Commissioner Isnardi’s abstention from voting.’ But Isnardi said she has heard a different viewpoint from other attorneys, and she wants to see what the Attorney General’s Office has to say.”

    To me, it seems obvious that Attorney Klancke is correct – it would be a conflict of interest for Isnardi to vote on matters relating to her employer, Health First. But apparently, Isnardi doesn’t want to hear that. Instead, she wants to go opinion shopping, hoping that the Attorney General’s Office will give her the opinion that she wants. Hopefully, they will not, but even if they do, Isnardi should realize that there is at least the appearance of impropriety were she to vote on matters relating to Health First. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see there would be a conflict of interest; it should have been evident even before the Florida Commission on Ethics opinion was given.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Carla,

      We did see that in the Florida Today.

      The Florida Guide to the Sunshine Amendment and Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, is written by the Florida Commission on Ethics and is deeper than that Florida Statutes as to the meaning, restrictions and allowances for the acts of public officials and employees as the guide incorporates court rulings, Commission rulings, etc,.

      Section E, Voting Conflicts of Interest, contains this:

      No county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss, or which the officer knows would inure to the special private gain or loss of any principal by whom he or she is retained, of the parent organization or subsidiary or sibling of a corporate principal by which he or she is retained, of a relative, or of a business associate.

      The key to us is “special private gain or loss.” Is the CARES fund “special” in that it is available to all businesses?

      We don’t know.

      Moving away from the CARES money for a moment, assume that the County wanted to pave a stretch of road that went by Commissioner John Doe’s self owned business. The proposed road will include widening the road, beautifying it etc. The improvement of the road and beautification would benefit Commissioner Doe’s business as well as the other businesses in the area.

      Does Commissioner Doe have to walk away from that vote?

      That being said, we think Isnardi’s desire to vote is contrary to Florida Statute 286.012 which reads:

      286.012 Voting requirement at meetings of governmental bodies.—A member of a state, county, or municipal governmental board, commission, or agency who is present at a meeting of any such body at which an official decision, ruling, or other official act is to be taken or adopted may not abstain from voting in regard to any such decision, ruling, or act; and a vote shall be recorded or counted for each such member present, unless, with respect to any such member, there is, or appears to be, a possible conflict of interest under s. 112.311, s. 112.313, s. 112.3143, or additional or more stringent standards of conduct, if any, adopted pursuant to s. 112.326. If there is, or appears to be, a possible conflict under s. 112.311, s. 112.313, or s. 112.3143, the member shall comply with the disclosure requirements of s. 112.3143. If the only conflict or possible conflict is one arising from the additional or more stringent standards adopted pursuant to s. 112.326, the member shall comply with any disclosure requirements adopted pursuant to s. 112.326. If the official decision, ruling, or act occurs in the context of a quasi-judicial proceeding, a member may abstain from voting on such matter if the abstention is to assure a fair proceeding free from potential bias or prejudice. (emphasis ours)

      We think even if there is no actual conflict of interest, there certainly is an appearance of a conflict of interest and Isnardi should walk away from the vote and file the required paperwork.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      A. Afterwit.

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