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Florida's new financial disclosure rules get praise, even as city leaders resign in protest

 St. Pete Beach city commissioners applaud Chris Marone as he prepares to leave a special meeting after announcing his resignation
City of St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach city commissioners applaud Chris Marone as he prepares to leave a special meeting after announcing his resignation

A new financial disclosure law has resulted in some local government officials resigning.

Senate Bill 774, ethics requirements for public officials, took effect Jan. 1. It requires elected officials in local municipalities to file much more detailed financial disclosures than before- on assets over $1,000.

Cities like St. Pete Beach, Anna Maria island and tiny Eagle Lake in Polk County are among those seeing resignations.

Explaining his reason for stepping down from the St. Pete Beach city commission at a meeting last December, Chris Marone called the new rules "so personally intrusive and invasive that it would require me to disclose financial information that I wouldn't disclose to my kids."

Mark Grill, who also resigned, called the law another example of government overreach, and said it would make it harder to find candidates for local office — positions that demand a lot of time but sometimes pay very little.

But the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Jason Brodeur, said taxpayers deserve transparency.

"If a simple disclosure that hundreds of other elected officials already do makes someone quit, then voters should be glad," said the Seminole County Republican in a statement emailed to WUSF.

Here's Sen. Brodeur's full statement:

To discuss the issue further, we spoke with Barbara Peterson, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability; Caroline Klancke, executive director of the Florida Ethics Institute; and Joshua Ceballos, local government accountability reporter for WLRN.

Klancke called the new rules "an incredibly beneficial step forward for Floridians in terms of accountability of their elected public officials on the city level."

The publicly searchable electronic database for financial disclosure filings brings a greater level of transparency to city government, said Klancke.

Municipal leaders have a lot of spending power, said Peterson.

"They're spending our money. And I think it's critically important for the public to be able to reassure themselves that our elected representatives at the local level are representing our interests and not necessarily theirs. So this in terms of accountability and transparency is a huge leap forward."

Ceballos said a council member of Miami Shores Village, Dan Marinberg, called the new rules "a gross invasion of privacy" in a Facebook post where he explained why he was resigning from the council.

"I think, kind of reading between the lines, he was saying that people who are against a certain commissioner, a certain elected official, will now be able to see their personal financial information, basically, and maybe use that against them in some kind of mudslinging," said Ceballos.

"And I think that's kind of the fear there from local officials."

Ceballos said recent reporting about city of Miami Mayor Frances Suarez is a good example of why it's important to have more transparency around elected officials.

"Not because of this law, but because he was running for president, he had to do more detailed disclosures," said Ceballos.

"And we were able to see how wealthy he became after becoming mayor, and we wouldn't have known that without some intense disclosure. So I think this kind of database can lead to even more stories like that, finding out more about our most powerful elected officials."

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Matthew Peddie
Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.