“One Cannot Serve Two Masters”. Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:24
This week, the City of Tarpon springs narrowly endorsed the Greenlight Pinellas 14% sales tax hike, 3-2. The Mayor of Tarpons Springs, David O. Archie, cast the swing vote by the Tarpon Springs City Commission to support creating the highest sales tax for the state right here in Pinellas county at 8%. Tarpon Springs commissioners Banther and Tarapani voted “no”. The question arises: should Tarpon Springs Mayor David O. Archie have recused himself from the vote based on his well defined conflicts of interest? The City of Tarpon Springs has clear cut law that states City officials may recuse themselves from votes when they have a Conflict. Some officials are required to do so, but the Mayor is not subject to that mandate. Maybe it is time to change that.
Fiduciary: “An individual in whom another has placed the utmost trust and confidence to manage and protect property or money. The relationship wherein one person has an obligation to act for another’s benefit.”
“..“conflict of interest” means a situation in which regard for a private interest tends to lead to disregard of a public duty or interest.” Florida statute 112.312.
Mayor, David O. Archie, is the chair of the Pinellas Planning Commission and serves on the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Both are separate entities with separate responsibilities. As such, the Mayor is in a position of having a conflict of interest on the matter of Greenlight Pinellas when he is acting as Mayor. As Chairman of the Pinellas Planning Commission that is creating the “Transit Oriented Development” blue print for Greenlight Pinellas, he has a fiduciary responsibility to that separately incorporated entity to successfully advocate for their agenda. If he does not do that effectively, he is risking his position and his position as chair. That creates conflict of interest number one. He is also a member of the Metropolitan Planning Council which main purpose is “to improve transportation in the county for all principal modes of travel, including mass transit, walking, and bicycling, as well as automobile.” Again, a separately incorporated entity that requires its members to have a fiduciary responsibility in serving its mission. That is conflict of interest number two. If he does not support their missions, he is risking his position and the many political benefits that come from it including political donations to run for future office by the wealthy interests pushing Greenlight Pinellas. He is clearly conflicted in the matter.
It is common and appropriate for elected officials to serve on such bodies. They certainly do gain great knowledge and experience in doing so. However, when serving different entities with different missions, the citizens expect those people to recuse themselves from voting on matters when a conflict of interest arises. Even if the letter of the law would allow Mayor Archie to avoid “Conflict of Interest”, morally the conflict is clear and public trust requires the Mayor to abstain from votes on this matter. Sadly this is hardly the case throughout Pinellas county where the inbred nature of all these planning commissions and organizations is common with elected officials appointed (by law) to these organizations that have a huge impact on the public (best Examples are Ken Welch – Chair of County Commission/PSTA, Jeff Danner – Past PSTA member/St. Petersburg City Council).
The Mayor may want to review the Ethics Code of the of the City of Tarpon Springs that he signed in 2012. The Ethics code states that the Mayor and other elected officers and agents “are public servants of the people and hold their positions for the benefit of the public.” That is the Public that is supposed to benefit, not the MPO or the PPC or the Greenlight Pinellas campaign. It further states that “e)No City representative shall transact any business in their official capacity with any business entity of which they are an officer, director, agent or member, or in which they own a controlling interest.” Mayor Archie is definitely working as an “officer” and “director” or the MPO and the PPC. They are entities separately incorporated under the laws of Florida. They have a substantial impact on business with the PPC creating a “Transit Oriented Development” template that is based on public-private partnerships. The Ethics code of Tarpon Springs, and the natural ethics of humanity, should raise enough red flags for Mayor Archie to recuse himself from supporting Greenlight.
Perhaps the Mayor should read the ordinances of Tarpon Springs. The ordinances (*excerpts from text below) require that members of the Board of Adjustment, the Planning and Zoning Board, the Historic Preservation Board and Public Art Committee “disqualify themselves from the vote on and discussion” on matters where a conflict exists. The Mayor should follow that example. Tarpon Springs Ethics codes signed by Archie indicate that they should exhibit the same behavior. Florida law states that public officials should not vote when a Conflict exists, but does give an exception for Agencies like PPC and MPO. This is another example of how politicians and governments beleive they can serve with no conflicts of interest and set a different standard for themselves than for those outside of government (the governed). The voters may want to get that law or those officials who abuse conflicts changed but in the meantime, responsible public servants should voluntarily recognize these conflicts and recuse themselves. As Jesus Christ said “One cannot serve two masters”.
Tarpon Springs citizens should expect that Mayor Archie would declare his Chairmanship of the PPC And memberserhip of the MPO as a conflict of interest on Greenlight Pinellas and recuse himself from the vote to endorse the Greenlight 300% tax revenue hike for PSTA. However, Mayor Archie, as is often the case on Greenlight issues, declared he is the “most informed” on the matter and therefore should vote. That would be like the CEO of Duke Energy saying he is the most informed on electricity and then voting on a project to send millions of dollars of electrical business to his company (BTW Duke Energy has contributed $50,000 so far to the Greenlight campaign). David Archie should bring this matter back before the commission. He should ask for the commission to move to reconsider the vote and then ask for another vote from which he abstains. If he did that, the vote would be 2-2 and the City of Tarpon Springs would not endorse Greenlight Pinellas.
* Excerpts from Tarpon Springs City Ordinances
If any member of the Board of Adjustment finds that he has a conflict of interest as defined by state statute on any matter coming before the Board then that person shall disqualify themselves from the vote on and
If any member of the Planning and Zoning Board finds that he has a conflict of interest as defined by state statute on any matter coming before the Board then that person shall disqualify themselves from the vote on and discussion of that matter. Appropriate forms shall be filled out and filed with the City Clerk and Collector.
If any member of the Historic Preservation Board finds that he has a conflict of interest as defined by state statute on any matter coming before the Board, that person shall disqualify himself or herself from the vote and discussion on that matter.
Conflict of Interest. If any member of the Public Art Committee shall find that his or her private or personal interests are involved in the matter coming before the Committee, he or she shall disqualify himself or herself from all participation in that matter.