Dear FLORIDA TODAY subscribers,
If you’re not paying attention to what’s going on with the Brevard County Commission and your taxes, you might want to *snap* *snap* read this newsletter and some of our recent stories carefully.
Last week, I included a story about Brevard County Commissioner Bryan Lober defending purchases he made with his county purchase card. The card is similar to a corporate credit card that he and his staff use for administrative needs, office supplies, etc.
A portion of the spending on procurement cards attributed to Lober and a member of his staff also purchased items for other county entities and nonprofits. Lober says those purchases were appropriate and stemmed from a $5 million allocation that each commission office was allowed to use at the commissioner’s discretion, after the county received $105 million through statute. on coronavirus aid, relief and economic security in 2020.
In total, some $40,000 has been spent on goods and services over the past two years on Lober’s and a staff member’s acquisition card. Lober said all purchases were authorized by the County Commission.
But his critics have raised questions about the appropriateness of spending by Lober and his team. These critics include a candidate who ran against Lober in the 2022 election and an unnamed individual who made the initial public records request for the commissioners’ acquisition card expense reports.
At last week’s commission meeting, Commissioner Rita Pritchett introduced a motion to limit the use of acquisition cards in the future. President of the Commission Kristine Zonka introduced a motion – which passed 4-0 in the absence of Commissioner Curt Smith – for the Comptroller and County Clerk to verify all purchase card spending through November 2016. That date dates back to the start time of commissioners Pritchett, Zonka and John Tobie.
But this week Lober emailed Clerk Rachel Sadoff demanding that she recuse herself from the audit and raised questions about her ability to remain impartial.
Sadoff in a statement Wednesday defends his impartiality and continues his work on the audit, and that’s where we are in the story as it unfolds now.
Journalist Dave Berman covered the story this week, so I reached out to ask him what’s the most important thing we should know about the story right now.
“Brevard County Clerk Rachel Sadoff and her staff are reviewing purchase card transaction records, dating back to November 2016, related to the use of purchase cards by the five county commissioners. county currently in office,” Dave said via email. “In addition, future transactions by commissioners using these cards will be detailed in the county commission’s agenda records and will be voted on by the full commission.”
Dave told me that a commissioner was specifically planning to highlight all of his county-funded purchases at the next commission meeting.
“Commissioner John Tobia, in an effort to be transparent about his past use of cards, had all of his transactions, including receipts, dating back to his first appointment as commissioner in November 2016. The files encompass 260 pages out of a 778-page program,” Dave said.
That means a third of Tuesday afternoon’s meeting agenda, which you can watch live at floridatoday.com, revolves around Tobia’s spending. If the commissioners decide to discuss it, it could be a very long meeting.
Meetings, says Dave, that sometimes present challenges in bringing news to you, our subscribers.
“It’s sometimes a challenge to separate county commission policy-making from politics,” he wrote. “The five commissioners are Republicans, but they are not always unanimous in their votes or their opinions”
“In addition, two of the five county commission seats are up for election this year, the District 2 seat of Bryan Lober, who is seeking re-election, and the District 4 seat of Curt Smith, who cannot run. re-elect because of term limits,” says Dave. “So some of the candidates for those seats also come to county commission meetings and speak at the public comment portions of the meetings.”
I asked Dave when we thought Sadoff’s audit might be complete and when we might find out exactly what it shows.
“Initially, Sadoff thought the audit could be done as early as the end of March,” he wrote. “But she has now indicated that ‘we hope to complete our work as quickly as possible, but our office will take as long as necessary to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, even if it extends beyond this initial time estimate.’ “
Dave is an excellent journalist. He’s also a great human. He’s had his share of run-ins with officials in the past and never lets any sarcastic comments or personal jabs deter him from a story. As a journalist, I respect that. As a colleague, he facilitates his defense. As a friend, I marvel at his thick skin.
“Just as elected officials need to realize that not all of their constituents will agree with them on issues, journalists need to realize that not all subjects of stories or other readers will like a story” , Dave said of the criticism journalists receive. “What journalists need to do is make sure their story is fair and accurate, as well as hear the concerns of story subjects or other readers.”
I ended our conversation with a simple question: what are you working on next?
“Look for other stories related to this issue, including a deeper look at how the acquisition card system works and more details on what county commissioners have purchased with their cards,” Dave said.
I want to apologize for breaking our usual pattern. I usually start with that. I really appreciate you continuing your FLORIDA TODAY subscription and taking the time to read today’s newsletter. Going back to the format, I’ve added Dave’s story and a few others your subscription has helped us provide below.
If you have been a print subscriber for a long time and have not yet activated your digital access, you can do so at floridatoday.com/activate
It’s all for this week.
Senior Multimedia Editor