Supporters of financial disclosures for local elected officials in Florida push back amid resignations

'If you can't take the heat, don't come in the kitchen,' state Rep. Spencer Roach says
Posted at 6:32 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-20 18:32:26-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A new state financial transparency law has sparked a wave of resignations from local government officials in Florida. Now, those who support the bipartisan policy are pushing back.

It comes as four of the five city commissioners in St. Pete Beach announced their resignation earlier this week. At least three more city officials across Fort Myers Beach and Naples— also told Scripps News they're mulling or planning to step down.

It's an issue that has also impacted municipalities in Palm Beach County.

"It's an attack on home rule," St. Pete Beach Vice Mayor Mark Grill said during a special meeting held Monday. "It pulls away from local municipalities to be in charge of their own future."

Starting Jan. 1, the new law requires commissioners, mayors, and other local elected to file what’s known as Form 6, or face fines, even impeachment. Leaders have to disclose their net worth, the value of each asset, liability and income sources over $1,000, plus their most recent federal tax returns.

"It truly pains me to step away," Naples Vice Mayor Mike McCabe said Monday. "But, when a Legislature changes the game and stacks the deck to the point where the assault is too great, you need to make a decision."

Those stepping down, like McCabe, have called the new rules invasive, tedious, and state overreach.

"There may be a disconnect," state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said. "For someone who's never done this form before, I mean, it could be a little bit of a learning curve, but I think largely those are excuses.”

Roach handled the bill in the Florida House — and stands by it. The Republican noted a long list of officials are already required to do Form 6. That includes the governor, Florida Cabinet, school board members, sheriffs and the entire Florida Legislature.

The policy was also a goal of the bipartisan state ethics commission for years. It received wide support from both chambers of the Legislature, with only seven lawmakers voting down on the bill. The new law also provides deadlines to file disclosures that can reach into July.

For Roach, transparency is the price of admission into Florida politics.

"Look, when you serve in public office, it's an honor but it also comes with a higher level of transparency and public scrutiny than you would otherwise," he said. "And you know, to borrow an old adage — if you can't take the heat, don't come in the kitchen.”

There is pressure for the Legislature to roll back the new law during their upcoming legislative session in January. At this point that doesn't seem likely. No bill exists and time is quickly running out to file one.