February 23, 2024

New law will force local elected officials to disclose finances. Many have resigned.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A new financial disclosure law is causing a wave of resignations across the Tampa Bay area.

More than a dozen mayors and city council members are stepping down.

8 On Your Side investigator Mahsa Saeidi is looking into this unprecedented shakeup.

Right now, many state officials have to reveal detailed, personal financial information: the governor, all lawmakers, county commissioners, school board members and sheriffs. But if you’re a mayor or a city council member, you don’t have to reveal this information.

That is about to change on Jan. 1, and lots of folks are not happy.

It’s a local government shakeup. From Belleair Beach to St. Pete Beach and beyond.

Mayors and city council members are upset, and protesting, a new financial disclosure law.

Jarrod Buchman, an Oldsmar council member, addressed the new law during a meeting on Dec. 19.

“I’ll be resigning as of the 30th of this month,” he said.

“The number of elected officials that have resigned, it’s shocking that this is coming.”

Belleair Beach Vice Mayor Jody Shirley also announced she was stepping down.

“I have resigned my position on the council due to the Form 6 requirements,” Shirley said.

State Rep. Spencer Roach co-sponsored the law. It requires mayors and city council members to file a document called Form 6.

They must list their net worth, assets, debts, income sources over $1,000, real estate, and even jewelry. Something other officials have had to disclose since the 70s.

Roach said even in small towns, these officials have power. They control how millions of tax dollars are spent.

“This is just going to bring a greater level of transparency and sunshine to local government,” Roach said. “Officials who are making procurement decisions, that are letting out millions, in some cases billions, of dollars of contacts using taxpayer money. The public knows whether they have a financial interest in these companies that they’re using taxpayer dollars to use business with.”

Jarrod Buchman will soon be an ex-council member from Oldsmar.

“We’re not career politicians,” he said. “We’re local volunteers that want to do best for our city and this is inhibiting good people from even running or even staying on these councils.”

He said he gets just approximately $8,000 a year.

He didn’t sign up for this scrutiny and he fears it opens him up to predatory lawsuits.

“It’s intrusive, but since you control public money, shouldn’t the public know about potential conflict of interest?” Saeidi asked.

“They’ve already had that visibility for many, many years,” Buchman said. “They already had visibility into all my assets over $10,000.”

Buchman is referring to Form 1, the current disclosure requirement that applies to him and others in small towns.

But Form 6 is much more expansive.

It’s a full disclosure, not a partial disclosure.

“The legislature was spot on in trying to create transparency for these local communities,” said Tara Newsom, a political analyst.

Newsom said the problem isn’t the law, it’s the timing of the new law.

“The legislature made a mistake to implement it not in the natural election cycle, and that’s what’s creating the chaos in community leadership,” Newsom said.

We asked Roach if the legislature would consider a pause.

“Not only would I not consider it, it’s virtually impossible right now,,” he said. “It’s the law of the land. It’s signed into law. This is law.”

Roach points out that this bill passed with wide bipartisan support.

He believes the public will support it as well.

The info must be provided by the summer.

Comment or tip? Email Mahsa at MSaeidi@WFLA.com.

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