On the Mark: Brock wins and so do the taxpayers

MARK STRAIN

Finally, after a wasteful six years and combined spending in excess of $4 million, Collier County Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock has won the final court battle against the Collier County Commission. Now he can proceed with the job the citizens elected him for.

Six years and an equal number of lawsuits have been wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars in an effort to get to an answer that no elected official should have objected to. The clerk is simply a check and balance that makes good common sense and as the courts have agreed, it is a required part of his duties.

The Florida Supreme Court last week dismissed the county’s appeal of a district court ruling that is in Brock’s favor. Brock appealed to the district court to overturn a previous decision by the circuit court that had found in favor of the county. By the action taken in the Supreme Court last week, the matter is finally settled and the muzzle that Brock has been forced to operate under for the past many years is finally off.

From the very beginning, all that Brock was attempting to do was account for how tax dollars are being spent. This task requires the ability to make sure the funds are held within accounts under the clerk’s purview and that access to the necessary explanations and supporting documentation for activity in those accounts is readily available for review.

The claim that money was turned over to the clerk when he discovered discrepancies is an insufficient response, equally important is the need to know how the money got there in the first place and if any laws were broken. We don’t stop investigating robberies just because the money was recovered; the law continues to apply on how it was illegally taken in the first place. The clerk must do nothing less. The fact of the matter is that the clerk has one prime task: follow the money.

Not only does this include accounts where public funds have been deposited, it also includes other groups or organizations that have received public funds. The clerk’s job is to make sure those public funds are being spent for a valid public purpose and he can only do that with the auditing authority his elected office legally has and which has been stifled since the court room antics started.

It is curious that four of our five commissioners have encouraged the expansion of the court process to stop Brock and it happens to be those same four who support the use of $130 million of our tax dollars for a bio-medical village without allowing voters to weigh in on the expenditure. The only commissioner consistently against both of these actions has been Commissioner Tom Henning. Time and time again, Henning is the lone vote against issues that involve questionable use of taxpayers’ dollars. At least one elected official is not playing follow the leader.

The court has agreed that the powers provided to the clerk encompass doing everything needed to get the job done: “A statutory grant of power or right carries with it by implication everything necessary to carry out the power or right and make it effectual and complete.” The court concluded that the clerk is not limited to investigating just those funds placed in his authority, but anywhere public funds are kept.

In addition to winning the right to seek and audit all public funds no matter where they are kept, the court also reaffirmed the clerk’s right to review expenditures after-the-fact. The courts concluded that post payment audits are necessary to verify the legality of the payments.

There is a billion dollars going in and out of our county budget and for six years Brock’s hands have been tied. There is a lot of catching up to do.

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