ORLANDO — District 1 Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd announced his withdrawal as a candidate for Orange County Property Appraiser at 1 p.m. June 3, at the Orange County Administration Building in Orlando. Boyd discussed mismanagement of tax dollars and other issues regarding that office, and he requested an immediate audit of it from the Orange County Comptroller.
"When you hear something and you don't have the facts or you're looking at various issues that could be problematic, for me as a candidate, it would be very difficult for me to do that, and I don't think anybody would probably pay as much attention to it unless you're engaged in it," Boyd said. "It just opened my eyes on a few things, so I'm going to be looking further into it ... with the county and commission."
Boyd, who represents West Orange County on the Board of County Commissioners, announced his candidacy for property appraiser in February and said he had no intention to run for another office at this time, but that he would continue investigations of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh as part of his remaining 18 months in his last term as county commissioner. He has criticized Singh's decision to purchase a fleet of Prii for property appraiser staff to drive instead of personal cars. These hybrid vehicles prominently feature Singh's name, and critics say the vehicles serve as advertisements for his 2016 re-election campaign.
"One of the things is how much money he's spending on attorneys representing the property appraiser's office and suing the county in regards to the non-partisan (measures) voters have approved," Boyd said. "The fleet of vehicles you could look at one way or the other. I think the messaging on the vehicles, obviously, on the hood, the windshield and the various areas that they plastered it is real questionable, for sure."
Kathy Marsh, director of constituent services, said Singh's name has not appeared on those windshields, and that his office always legally operates in service to the county, striving for accuracy through measures such as technological enhancements.
"Some individuals, perhaps Mr. Boyd being one of them, indicate that he doesn't like a governmental vehicle to have signage on it," Marsh said. "I'm here to tell you, when a 75-year-old widow called my office and said, 'Thank you -- now I know who was at my door at 2 in the afternoon taking a picture of my plan with an iPad,' I feel that's an important picture. The business about the Priuses is such that we've done an independent audit to make sure we're saving. That figure's actually changed from $80,000 a year to $100,000 a year of taxpayers' money being saved. If someone has a problem with that, please request the audit, and you will receive it."
Boyd also said the number of door-hangers the property appraiser's office has handed out would definitely raise a question, and that a former employee said Singh reduced productivity time be 50%. Boyd also mentioned two of Singh's attorneys visiting one of his Value Adjustment Board meetings a few weeks ago to try to remove him, citing a conflict of interest. Boyd said he had checked with county attorneys, who assured him there was no conflict of interest between being a member of the Value Adjustment Board and running for property appraiser.
"It's questionable practices, and I just really felt as an elected county commissioner here going to be approving this budget in July, I found myself in a really awkward position, and I'm the one closest to it because I was paying attention to what was happening," Boyd said. He also said he would look into the looming budget to see possible issues within the property appraiser's office.
Marsh said she has been working in Singh's office for 92 days and did not know what occurred before then, but she assured what Singh is doing now has been legal. She did not believe Boyd had presented any allegations of wrongdoing and said Singh was willing to work with county commissioners, who do not decide the property appraiser budget.
Comptroller Martha Haynie must conduct an annual audit of the property appraiser’s office, Marsh said, with the fiscal year 2014 audit completed in January 2015 by Cherry Bekaert CPAs & Advisors. That report showed no wrongdoing, and Singh has added to tax revenues, Marsh said.
The door-hangers cost 8 cents apiece, and $2,411.70 was spent on 30,000 door hangers in October, she said, and the markings on the hybrids are legal, per Florida Department of Highway Patrol inspection. The hybrids would save taxpayers more than $1 million through 10 years, and labeling aids the safety of all involved in knowing a county official is present on business -- not a random stranger.
These developments are not expected to affect the 2016 election for District 1 Orange County commissioner. Oakland resident Betsy VanderLey, who served as District 1 Planning and Zoning commissioner and chairwoman and has campaigned for Boyd, announced her candidacy for Boyd's seat in January. In March, Dr. Usha Jain, owner of Emergi-Care Walk-In Clinic near Dr. Phillips, also announced her candidacy for Boyd's seat.