Another lesson from Joel Greenberg: give counties authority over tax collector spending

As Joel Greenberg plundered taxpayer dollars throughout his tenure as a tax collector, only one government entity acted as if it cared: the Seminole County Commission.

The county – as well as private citizens – tried to denounce Greenberg time and time again as he hired his best friends, who often didn’t work, and awarded millions of contracts, often resulting in no product.

But unlike other constitutional offices, counties have no authority over the budget of the tax collector; state The Ministry of Revenue does not.

This must change. The county, which was paying attention to Greenberg, should have more say in the collector’s budget than the tax department, which was sleeping on the switch.

We should have learned a lot from Greenberg’s disastrous period in power. And one lesson is that a bureaucracy based nearly 300 miles away in Tallahassee was not very good at monitoring the Seminole County tax collector.

This government office deserves a closer home review, although we are not sure whether the idea pitched at Seminole – a charter referendum to provide such a review – is the best option to achieve it.

We prefer to see Florida law amended to give state counties more authority over how local tax collectors spend public money.

It may all seem like a tedious bureaucratic debate until you factor in the mind-boggling daring of Greenberg’s crimes and the lack of interest on the part of state budget watchers (not to mention enforcement of the state laws).

A county-commissioned audit found about $ 384,000 in questionable spending of public money, including thousands on sports memorabilia that included an autographed photo of Michael Jordan. The audit also found that one of the friends Greenberg hired used a credit card issued by a tax collector to purchase “antiques, sporting goods, knives, batteries and equipment,” according to a recent Sentinel report.

Greenberg also handed over contracts to politically connected Republicans such as State Representative Anthony Sabatini, former Election Supervisor Seminole Michael Ertel and Longwood City Commissioner Matt Morgan, who ran for the county l ‘last year.

Complaints of irregularities in spending were referred to the Revenue Department on several occasions during Greenberg’s tenure, but it is not clear whether the agency ever did anything about it. In one case, the DOR said that a complaint could be a criminal matter and that it did not have the power to investigate crimes.

The DOR has taken action against Greenberg on several occasions – once in 2017 to cut its bloated budget and the other time to deny one of its plans to sell branches and use the money to buy struggling malls. .

In both of these cases, however, the DOR acted after Seminole County pressured them to do something about Greenberg’s spending. To prevent Greenberg from selling branches, a county attorney was forced to travel to Tallahassee because the DOR was not answering phone calls from the county.

Greenberg’s replacement as collector, JR Kroll, recently told a Sentinel reporter: “The solution is to make sure we elect honest stewards of county funds.

This is part of the solution, of course. The other part is having financial watchdogs that we can count on to make sure that the people who are elected are, in fact, honest stewards. And these watchdogs are accountable to local voters, as are county commissioners, not to irresponsible state bureaucrats.

It is human nature for politicians to resist more surveillance. This seems especially true at times with Florida constitutional officers, who are well paid and are generally a lock to stay in office unless they mess things up in a meaningful way.

Pity. The people of a county deserve good government, even if it hurts the feelings of an elected official.

Kroll is correct that Seminole’s idea of ​​a charter amendment to provide more local oversight of the collector’s office is not the best solution.

The best answer is a statewide law that transfers budgetary oversight from the revenue department to each county. But hey, we’re fully aware that the mood in Tallahassee these days is towards less local control, not more.

Sentinel reporters couldn’t even ask state lawmakers who represent Seminole – Sen. Jason Brodeur and Representatives David Smith and Scott Plakon – to answer questions about whether they would support a law giving counties more. power over the budgets of tax collectors.

If a change in the law isn’t in the cards, then Seminole had better try a charter amendment to help protect the county from Greenberged again.

Better that than crossing your fingers and hoping the state will do a better job next time.

Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of our members or designate. The Editorial Board is made up of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick and Editor Julie Anderson. Send emails to [email protected].

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Esther L. Steinbach

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