Happy New Year’s to all of you! The Board of Directors and I wish each and every one of you health and prosperity in 2015. Now, on to the bad news.
Not everyone reads the local newspaper so you may be unaware that there have been three arrests for three separate crimes relating to the lack of financial oversight by the county. In two of those occasions the thefts were by a county employee and an agent of the county, a contracted out probation officer position monitored and overseen by the Clerk of the Court. The third theft was money taken from a non-profit baseball league here in the county heavily financially subsidized by the County. The CCFC has been beating the drums on a lack of oversight by the Chief Financial Officer of the County (Clerk of Court's Office) for a long time. We’ve worked around the edges trying to work within the system but that has had little effect. This week we took off the gloves and I think you will see why after reading what I said to the County Commission below. The message was not well received by a majority of the Commissioners. In fact, Michael Shuler instructed the Commission not to not even answer and made at least one caustic remark. Please view the County Clerk’s segment on Forgotten Coast TV at:
Click on part six. I encourage everyone to view this segment. Watch part five if you have time as it demonstrates other problems and fractures within the Commission.
A reminder: if you have not sent in your 2015 dues yet, please send them in right away. We depend on your support and continued input. Finally, the CCFC will have public meeting in March. Dates and locations to come but we look forward to seeing some of you there.
Having attended both December Commission meetings, the CCFC has multiple concerns with the missing funds related to the theft of over $300,000 involving Florida Probation Services, The Clerk’s office and the Defendant, Jennifer Brown. Our concern is that the very foundations of the Public Trust are under assault. It goes without saying that the Clerk’s position can be seen as untenable. On one hand, she has family under legal assault and on the other hand, her legal and ethical requirements under State Law and by her Oath of Office demand action. Not an easy position to be in. With that being said, we believe the Clerk has an impossible position. Please allow me, with respect, to state the conflicts the Clerk’s Office appears to face:
- The Clerk’s unwillingness to disclose to the public the true cost to the county of the theft diminishes the Clerk’s Office credibility and calls into question the openness and transparency of her office. The case is no longer a question of conjecture; her niece is involved in formulating an acceptable plea deal according to various sources. The question now is who else is involved (if anyone) and whether Marcia knew or should have known of what was going on in her office for the past several years. This is another area of conflict of interest that Marcia cannot resolve to the public’s satisfaction on her own.
- There are allegations that one or more of the Clerk’s other employees have stolen money in the past three years. This has not been released publicly, and again calls into question whether or not the Clerk’s Office is operating in a permissive environment that has insufficient controls to deter, detect and prosecute those in the public trust.
- The Clerk has an untenable situation with multiple relatives involved as county employees or who work as agents of the county. This creates an obvious conflict of interest that she cannot resolve and keep the public’s trust. This blatant and obvious nepotism creates an additional concern to the public that creates suspicion. The theft of County and State funds continues to be an active criminal investigation that involves her chain of command and specifically her Sister-in-Law who runs the Courts and had ongoing day-to-day contact with her daughter…Jennifer Brown, Marcia’s niece.
- The Clerk has made claims and statement that are directly refuted by some of the individuals at the heart of the Florida Probation Supervision issue and that creates an additional conflict of interest.
- The Clerk appears to have stepped out of bounds in lecturing the Commission on pay and benefit issues that directly affect her relatives. This is an obvious conflict of interest that was and is never disclosed to the public at large and does not further the public trust.
For the above reasons, it would seem appropriate for the Board of County Commissioners to request, as is their right and responsibility, an external audit of the Clerk’s Office in Franklin County as proscribed by law. By asking for this outside audit, neither I nor anyone in the CCFC is accusing anyone of wrong doing. However, with the facts on the table as they exist today, it is no longer possible for the Clerk of Courts to be her own honest broker and in effect investigate herself.
Allan J. Feifer
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328