A Longboat Key town commissioner and a Bradenton Beach commissioner joined dozens of elected officials across Florida who resigned early rather than file new in-depth financial disclosure forms required by the state this year.
Debbie Murphy left her post as a Longboat Key town commissioner on Dec. 24, although she announced her intention to resign in November.
Jake Spooner left his seat as a Bradenton Beach commissioner on Dec. 28 by sending a one-paragraph email to city officials.
“I have cherished the opportunity to contribute to our city’s growth and to collaborate on initiatives that have improved our residents’ quality of life,” Spooner wrote. “However, due to recent changes in the state law pertaining to financial disclosure requirements for city officials, I find it necessary to step down from my position at this time. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Bradenton Beach. It has truly been a meaningful period in my life.”
The bill mandating the disclosures, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, received wide bipartisan support during the Republican-led 2023 legislative session. Now, officials in areas such as Naples, Daytona Beach Shores, Cedar Key and Fort Myers Beach have stepped down to keep their finances discrete.
In St. Pete Beach and North Palm Beach, the majority of the elected town officials resigned. The town of Reddick in Marion County saw six commissioners and the mayor all resign, leaving just the clerk to run local government.
The form requires information about the official’s net worth, the dollar amounts of their bank accounts, 401k plans, assets worth more than $1,000, and all debt, and requires them to disclose certain clients or specified businesses in which they have investment interests.
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In the city of Anna Maria, three of five candidates vying for appointment to two empty council seats have dropped out of the running because of the new requirement.
Longboat Key Town Manager Howard Tipton said the town board took a strong stance against the legislation before it was passed last year, although Murphy was the only commissioner to resign as a result. The open position is expected to be filled by a commission appointment on Jan. 22.
“The new disclosure requirements were an intrusion into her personal life beyond what she signed up for,” Tipton said. “There were several that were very concerned, and weren’t sure that they were going to move forward with their term.”
“Our commissioners are not compensated for their time,” he said. “They are simply a volunteer board. And to ask them to go into this much of a financial disclosure seems a bit harsh.”
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said he’s familiar with the financial disclosure form from serving two terms as a Manatee County commissioner, so he has no personal concerns. But he too is worried the added layer of scrutiny will discourage a dwindling number of permanent residents from running for local office.
“This will narrow the pool of candidates to draw from,” Chappie said. “I think people are going to start thinking even more so before they decide to run for office … I’m all for transparency, absolutely, but it’s a deeper issue than a disclosure form.” I think in the last several years we’ve had a lot of things hit us.”
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said the city has struggled to find enough candidates to run for office for years. The board is preparing to make appointments in January to fill two city council seats that were not filled during the general election because nobody ran for them.
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Murphy said asking for detailed financial disclosures has a big impact on small-town politics.
“People just don’t want to disclose what they have or what they don’t have,” Murphy said. “When you’re in a small city and you hold public office, it’s like you are living in a fish bowl. Everybody knows everybody. Do you really want all of your neighbors knowing about your debts, or how much wealth you might have?”