January 26, 2024 7:00am

Financial disclosure law

New law requiring local officials to file strict financial disclosures sparks passionate response from Palm Beach influencers

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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Power Poll Palm Beach influencers are somewhat divided over a new law that requires elected officials in towns and cities across Florida to file detailed public disclosures of their income and business interests.

Fifty-two percent of influencers who responded to this month’s poll think the law is a bad idea, while 45 percent support the new requirements.

The topic was so important to Palm Beach influencers that our January poll generated a higher-than-usual response rate of nearly 35 percent. Just 2 percent had no opinion on the topic.

“I believe these financial disclosure rules will deter well-qualified individuals from wanting to participate and use their talents for the benefit of the communities they love,’’ said Joe Budd, a Palm Beach County state committeeman for the Republican Party.

“A public servant should only be required to detail financial interests in things which a reasonable person would consider to be a conflict of interest,’’ he said.

For years, all elected state and county officials, including the governor and lieutenant governor, have been required to fill out Ethics Form 6 and list their entire net worth, income sources, assets and debts down to the penny.

Municipal leaders previously had to disclose only the sources of their income and business interests but not specific amounts or percentages.

That changed Jan. 1 when a new state law required local leaders to file Form 6.

The new law has led to the resignations of dozens of local elected officials across Florida, including more than 25 in Palm Beach County, who say the new rules are unnecessarily intrusive. In Manalapan, North Palm Beach and Lake Clarke Shores, a majority of those councils quit.

“We have now witnessed the resignation of many local elected officials because the rules were changed on them during their terms,’’ said Michael Napoleone, vice mayor for the village of Wellington.

“At a time when many incumbents go unchallenged, requiring an even greater intrusion into the personal and financial lives of those who wish to serve their local communities will ensure that fewer people seek to hold public office,’’ he said.

Other influencers welcome the added layer of transparency.

“If one has nothing to hide, then why should they have a problem filling out this required form?’’ asked Michael J. Peragine, managing director for Apollo Funding.

“They say sunshine is the best disinfectant for cockroaches,’’ Peragine said. “Yes, maybe a few paranoid politicians won't run because they are paranoid that their financials will be public, but the far greater effect will be to weed out people who have secret dealings and financials that may preclude them from public office.’’

But other influencers point that elected officials in many small towns are paid negligible amounts or nothing at all, making it hard to justify publicly sharing detailed personal income amounts and sources, even in the name of transparency.

“This new law has already had a tragic impact, chasing away engaged, educated citizens from public service. And that ultimately impacts all of us,’’ said influencer Carey O’Donnell, an advertising and public relations executive.

“Of course politicians should not vote on items that involve them or benefit them personally but this new law is a dumb, Draconian overreach,’’ she said.

North Palm Beach Village Mayor David Norris said during a public meeting that he had to resign because the law firm he works for prohibits him from making such disclosures.

“Transparency and some financial disclosures are helpful,’’ said former Congressman Mark Foley, “but the latest requirements are punitive and subject a lawmaker to extraordinary detail which might compromise the clients of that elected official and disclose far more personal information of others than is needed for public disclosure.’’

Many small town officials don’t want to pay unexpected additional costs to hire a CPA to help fill out the detailed Form 6 to avoid penalties. The penalty for failing to file is $25 a day up to $1,500 plus the potential for removal from office.

“We continue to throw roadblocks that deter people from wanting to be part of the governmental process. To believe a one-size-fits-all approach is the best idea is ludicrous,’’ said influencer Jim Kovalsky, a computer consultant.

While influencers were somewhat divided over the law, 80 percent agreed it will have a chilling effect and deter candidates from running in local elections.

“Down at the micro-level of local government, we should be encouraging all to participate, we should not be not setting up roadblocks to participation,’’ said Guy Icangelo, a West Palm Beach litigation attorney. “

While we do need to know and understand the outside influences on our local leaders,’’ he said, “this new measure seems a step too far.’’

Other influencers questioned why state lawmakers felt the requirement on local officials was even necessary.

“Imposing Form 6 on local elected officials was not a solution to any existing problem,’’ Napoleone said. “The previously required Form 1 struck the necessary balance between providing transparency as to potential conflicts of interest that could influence decisions, while safeguarding privacy concerns.’’

Seventy-three percent think state and county leaders should continue to be required to file Form 6.

“Welcome to the intersection of ‘Transparency’ and ‘Invasion of Privacy.’ A number of very qualified, successful city councilmen and mayors have resigned. It raises the question: How many others would have served if Form 6 was not required for higher office?’’ said Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party.

Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig said she is not opposed to the added transparency but the new law should have excluded local elected officials who receive no compensation for serving. It also should have been phased in to affect only those elected to office after Jan. 1, 2024, she said.

“People ran for office under a different set of standards, and this standard was added later. It would have prevented the resignations at the very least,’’ Gerwig said.

“I think a very broad brush was applied here and it has been unfortunate,’’ she said.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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