BY LEN CABRERA / JUNE 6, 2019
Recently, Alachua Conservatives broke the story that City Commissioner Gail Johnson was being sued by her credit card company. She responded with a Facebook video saying that she was filing for bankruptcy. The Gainesville Sun, which frequently reads more like a public relations outlet for the city commission, painted a sob story and talked about lots of support for Commissioner Johnson, but avoided the obvious issue: Why didn’t we know about these financial issues before Commissioner Johnson was elected?
The pathetic 13% turnout that elected the City Commission was a far cry from a city-wide mandate for the commission’s radical agenda, which is frequently passed by unanimous vote with little or no debate. So we began to look into what was known about the candidates before the election. The disturbing answer was “not much.” Here’s what passed for candidate information at the time from WUFT.
If you tried to get more information on your own, you’d be hard pressed to find anything useful. The candidate Form 1, Statement of Financial Disclosure, is a form designed by politicians to protect politicians. There is no useful information. For example, in Part A (Primary Sources of Income), the directions say candidates do not need to disclose the amount of income, and they do not need to mention their spouse’s source of income.
In Part C (Real Property), the candidates are not required to list their residences. That means voters cannot tell whether a candidate owns or rents the house they’re living in. The difference is important because someone with “Skin in the Game” (see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book) will likely govern better, with more concern for home values and property taxes, than someone who can simply move if his policies ruin the city. Renters can also game the system by easily moving to different districts. Of the seven city commissioners, only one (Hayes-Santos) clearly owns property in the city, based on his Form 1.
In Parts D (Intangible Personal Property) and E (Liabilities), candidates list assets and liabilities worth more than $10,000 but are not required to disclose the amounts. They also have the option of reporting by “comparative (percentage) thresholds,” in which case assets are only listed if they exceed 10% of total assets and liabilities if they exceed the candidate’s total net worth. Of the seven city commissioners, only Mayor Lauren Poe chose the comparative thresholds option. He listed no real property, no liabilities, and nebulous assets at “Bank” (no name or address) and “American Funds.”
At the Racial Justice Town Hall, Alachua County NAACP President Evelyn Foxx referred to the city and county commissioner as “our leaders.” That shouldn’t be the role of elected representatives in a constitutional republic, but if we view them as “leaders,” we should expect more of them. Sadly, we used to look for the highest standards of integrity, maturity, and stability in candidates. Now we vote on 10-second sound bites and whatever the biased media tells us to think about a candidate.
We need a more thorough vetting of candidates. The City of Gainesville employs 2,200 people and has an operating budget of $126 million. While the city has professional managers, the city commission oversees the managers and is taking a more active role in management. The commissioners, therefore, should have similar qualifications. Candidates who do not have “skin in the game” or who can’t manage their personal finances probably aren’t qualified for the job. We should demand more than what’s required on the Form 1. Many employers run credit reports (with the applicant’s permission). We should expect the same from our potential employees, especially those who brag about “transparency.”