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Would you consider it perfectly ok if Mack Busbee, the Okaloosa Property Appraiser, owned a title company and thus made money on real estate transactions in the county while responsible for setting their valuations?
Think about that while reading the following.
Okaloosa County's Commission just voted to raise its millage by 11% next year. For having the temerity to speak against such an increase I was personally attacked by Commissioner Boyles who read into the record the details of my property ownership, implying that I was a "fat cat" who should not complain.
Yes, Mr. Boyles, I can afford it. I can also attend a 5:01 PM meeting 30 miles from where working people and our military had just gotten off work 1 minute prior -- and thus couldn't protest personally.
A bit of investigation leads me to believe there may be more motivating Commissioner Boyles than being called out by a voter for promoting a tax increase -- and a 47% budget increase over the last five years.
Commissioner Boyles owns a title company and personally profits from increased real estate churn. Ad-valorem tax increases hurt renters more than homeowners as rental property does not enjoy either homeowner's exemption or valuation escalator caps.
Millage and valuation increases thus fall disproportionately on service industry employees who earn lower average wages and our military who are subject to involuntary reassignment on a rolling 2-year basis, a fact that makes buying real estate risky for them but very profitable for title companies.
That would be bad enough as an indirect conflict of interest. But it gets worse because Commissioner Boyles is also listed as the County Commission's liason to the Appraiser's Office and Valuation Adjustment Board.
The property appraiser sets values of the real estate in the county, while the Valuation Adjustment Board is who you appeal to if you think the appraiser screwed you.
So Commissioner Boyles, who owns a title company in Crestview not only has influence over setting the millage (rate of tax charged) he also has influence over both determining value against which that rate of tax is charged and, arguably worse, adjudicating disputes should you have the temerity to argue you were unfairly appraised!
That's not a "thumb on the scale" of justice it's both thumbs and a big toe.
Florida Statutes say the following:
(5) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state that no officer or employee of a state agency or of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state, and no member of the Legislature or legislative employee, shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect; engage in any business transaction or professional activity; or incur any obligation of any nature which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest.
Please remember that beyond legal requirements in the Florida Statutes there is an overarching issue: The key principle of sound government ethics policy is that government employees and officials must refrain at all times from even the appearance of impropriety.
Irrespective of whether the letter of law was shaved or flagrantly broken in my opinion Mr. Boyles' participation in the setting of millage and real estate value assessment smells like week-old dead fish. That Commissioner Boyles is also involved in the dispute resolution process should people believe they got screwed adds crawling maggots all over said week-old dead fish.
Absent Mr. Boyles' "Yea" vote, since the commission passed the millage increase 3-2, the motion to jack the millage up by 11% on all Okaloosa County residents would have failed. The Commission still has a final vote on said millage coming up and can choose to reject it at that time.
Given all of the above the Commission must void said vote, void all contaminated actions taken since Mr. Boyle's ascension to office and act decisively to bar future conflicts.
But whether the Commission acts or not effective means of redress remain with the voters of this county aimed not just at Mr. Boyles but at the entire Commission in the next election and, one hopes, via investigation by the State Attorney General's office.