Buying Influence in Debary

I’m in a foul mood this morning – made worse by an overnight bout with a nasty “stomach flu” or perhaps the Zika virus or another of the virulent subtropical plagues, like Dengue Fever and Chikungunya, that are slowly creeping up the spine of Florida like a Brown Recluse spider – a six-eyed, brutally aggressive bastard who lives openly among us here in the Sunshine State.

Whatever it is, this horrific nausea and pounding head has effectively kept me without sleep and soured my general outlook.  Perhaps that explains why, when I opened the newspaper this morning and turned to the editorial page, I was moved to a blind rage that has driven me back to bed in a dark room to brood.

There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck – it’s probably a duck.  You know, res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself.  In other words, most smart people know that when it comes to Florida’s state, county and local governmental practices its best to trust your own eyes.

Make no mistake – the City of Debary’s proposed land deal is political corruption at its worst.  It is what it is.

For the past several days I’ve followed the public exposure of the City of Debary’s slimy relationship with The Honorable John Miklos, Chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board and President of Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc.

The SJRWMD is a Florida regulatory agency established to protect and preserve our precious and increasingly at-risk water supply.  Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. is a firm that, for a healthy fee, gently sails commercial developers and local governments through the minefield that is the SJRWMD permitting and regulatory process.

One might think that Mr. Miklos’ competing loyalties constitute a conflict of interest?  Not in Florida – here, it’s called an opportunity.

In a place where our collective drinking water is almost exclusively reliant on the hyper-sensitive Floridan Aquifer, one would think a strong and independent oversight board would be all important.

Think again.  We live on a sandy spit of land where our reptilian governor allows the uber-rich to play king, money rules all, laws control the peons, and our state legislators in Tallahassee don’t give a shit about your opinion – unless you pay them for the privilege.

I won’t rehash the machinations of Debary’s attempts to acquire over 100 acres of environmentally sensitive lands in close proximity to the Gemini Springs complex from the SJRWMD for development of “a “river-like” regional stormwater pond surrounded by single and multi-family homes, the centerpiece of a larger project to attract and promote economic development around the SunRail station.”  The Daytona Beach News-Journal has done some truly outstanding investigative journalism on the subject (complete with public records for your review) which explains the situation better than I can.

What galls me is the raw, open and abject corruption at the heart of this sordid matter – and no one who matters seems to give a damn.

When the City of Debary paid Mr. Miklos and his firm $38,500 (plus $155 per hour directly to Miklos for his involvement) to consult on a land acquisition process that everyone knew would ultimately come before the very board that he chairs, the fix was in.

The Florida Constitution, through its Code of Ethics, specifically prohibits public officers from corruptly using or attempting to use their official positions or the resources thereof to obtain a special privilege or benefit for themselves or others. [Sec. 112.313(6), Fla. Stat.]

If this isn’t a textbook example of a sitting public official selling the influence of his office to obtain a special benefit for a client, what is?  Hell, even the ethically challenged and probably legally insane Mayor of Debary, Clint Johnson, knew the approval of the land acquisition was a foregone conclusion when they hired Mr. Miklos’ firm.

According to News-Journal reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver, “Mayor Clint Johnson said the city never would pay out that kind of money without assurances the deal would be approved by the district.”

“Supposedly the chairman of the water management board has already given it the OK.”

Indeed, Mayor Johnson.  Indeed.

This also best illustrates why Governor Rick Scott’s personal involvement in unilaterally dismissing Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey last year set a dangerous precedent, shattered FDLE’s autonomy, and ultimately weakened regulatory efforts across state government.

After all, if Governor Scott can fire the FDLE Commissioner out-of-hand (and apparently he can), who’s going to question – or investigate – Rick’s personal appointment to the chairmanship of the powerful water district board?

Look, we’re not talking about a small town City Councilman who failed to report a steak dinner here.  This is an open cash gratuity, paid from public funds, to the sitting chairman of a highly sensitive regulatory board to effectively ensure a positive outcome for his client, the City of Debary.

Ultimately, Debary benefits from the increased tax revenue, impact fees, etc. – along with whichever speculative developer the City Commission selects for the mixed use project (any guesses on who that might be?)

Did I mention that Mori Hosseini’s sister was also appointed to the SJRWMD board by Governor Scott as well?

I would hope that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and/or the FBI will immediately open a public corruption investigation into the activities of John Miklos, Bio-Tech Consultants, Inc., and the elected and appointed officials of the City of Debary who are complicit in this scheme.

On its face, this is a basic “public official with a greasy-palm” scandal – but at its core, in my view, it is an environmental crime.  The unlawful taking of environmentally sensitive public lands set aside for conservation for commercial development by some greedy little shitheels who no longer deserve the privilege of holding public office.

Welcome to the Turkish Bazaar of influence peddling that best defines the Rick Scott administration.

Find the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s reporting here:

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