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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Jul. 24, 2020 1 year ago

Orange County commissioner admits error in financial reporting

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District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey wrote in an email to constituents that she had made a 'clerical error' in some financial-report documents.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey is facing scrutiny following her revelation of a “clerical error” in her financial reporting to both the county and state.

In an email to constituents Monday, July 20, Betsy VanderLey — who represents District 1 — wrote that she submits her financial reports (Form 6) quarterly to the county and annually to the state to ensure she isn’t being compensated by anyone who might benefit from her vote as a county commissioner.

She added that she has filed timely reports for the past four years and believed she disclosed all that was necessary. However, VanderLey continued, she found late last week that she made the same clerical error on those reports.

VanderLey has a customer in her private business that does some engineering work for the county and the Central Florida Expressway Authority, of which she also is a board member. The clerical error, VanderLey said, was not including her customer’s name on the Form 6 reports. She added that she did include the name on the Form 8B to declare the conflict.

In general, public officers are prohibited by state law from voting on matters they might benefit from financially.

“I misunderstood the nature of ‘secondary sources of income,’” VanderLey wrote in the email. “This weekend, I promptly amended all of those reports and filed them appropriately this morning. ... As a board member for both entities, I have abstained from voting on anything in which they were involved and, additionally, submitted the appropriate forms (Form 8B) disclosing my conflicts as required — every time.”

But on July 22, Steven Meyers —cofounder of local political consulting firm Meyers & Washington — filed an ethics complaint against VanderLey, requesting a formal investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics. Meyers & Washington also is the firm working on the campaign for VanderLey’s challenger, Nicole Wilson, in the upcoming District 1 race. Wilson — an environmental-law attorney — and VanderLey will face off in the Aug. 18 primary election.

In the complaint, Meyers wrote that VanderLey failed to disclose with the Commission that she had received substantial income from her former employer and current client, DRMP. The ethics complaint maintains that as a member of the CFEA, VanderLey also had a statutory obligation to disclose her financial dealings with DRMP.

Additionally, Meyers wrote, he was concerned about the District 1 race being moved to August as a result of 20-year-old Hannah Burns filing as a write-in candidate. Burns is the stepdaughter of former county commission Scott Boyd, a friend and supporter of VanderLey’s.

VanderLey said it was a clerical error, not an error in ethics, citing her disclosures of any conflicts of interest and adding that she recused herself from such votes.

“Why is this important?” VanderLey wrote in her reason for sending the email. “Because people make mistakes — all of us. But not all mistakes are ethical challenges. Some are just simply mistakes. I made a mistake. You deserve to know that and you deserve to know the facts. It is important for me to be accountable to you, the voters.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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