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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Is the TBRC one big conflict of interest?



The Florida Education Association thinks it looks that way following last week's voucher-related vote by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

In a letter to be delivered to Chairman Allan Bense tomorrow, the FEA's Andy Ford questions whether seven* of the 25 members should disclose conflicts of interest and not vote the voucher proposal when it comes up again and related one to be debated Friday.

For example, the letter notes that Julia Johnson and Susan Story serve on the advisory board of Step Up For Students, a voucher funding organization. And Darryl Rouson, as an active candidate for State House, got a $500 contribution from the president of Step Up.

Writes Ford: "Aside from the fact that the commission is exceeding its constitutional authority by considering educational policy issues beyond the scope of the commission's constitutional charge, it appears that these members  ... are disregarding the ethical standards established by the commission's rules and Florida law, as modeled by your own action in recusing yourself from voting on an issue which had the potential to benefit your business, and instead are proceeding to vote on these matters despite their conflicts of interest."

Prior to a vote on a transportation measure, Bense said he would not participate because he is in the construction business.

The letter notes that Brian Yablonski serves on the boards of voucher advocacy organizations. But it does not point out that the St. Joe employee also got approval for a ballot measure that would provide significant property tax break to his employer and other large land holders provided they do not develop open land.

On the flip side, the FEA ignores the fact that commissioner Jade Moore, Pinellas teachers association executive director, could fall under the same conflict scrutiny. How about John McKay, whose name graces the McKay Scholarship Program?

*The union also goofed by stating that the newest TBRC member, Richard Corcoran, was a lobbyist. In fact, that's his brother, Michael. The FEA corrected the letter Tuesday evening.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:48am]


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