DUNEDIN — Julie Ward Bujalski, a member of the City Commission since 2006, hasn't filed an annual financial disclosure statement since 2010, resulting in an ethics breach and $3,050 in fines from the state.
Bujalski accrued a $50 fine for filing two days late in 2010, which she says was a rough year for her. Her parents died 12 days apart in mid-to-late April, then she was left incapacitated for months by a Mother's Day boating accident.
Bujalski said she has no excuse for failing to file at all in 2011 and 2012. Records show the Florida Commission on Ethics as well as the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office sent multiple notices to Bujalski via her city email and certified letters at home, but she says she did not receive them. She owes the maximum $1,500 fine for each of those years.
Approached by a Tampa Bay Times reporter Tuesday, Bujalski said it was the first time she'd ever heard about the violations. She said she accepted responsibility and would contact the state immediately.
When you lose your parents so close together, then break your back a week later, "there's a certain amount of stress involved with that and things are going to fall through the cracks," she said in explaining the 2010 filing delay. "That's going to happen. I'm human."
However, Bujalski said that despite that, she still had a job to do. "Whatever it takes to rectify the situation immediately, I will do," she said.
State law requires elected leaders, as well as some appointed officials and public employees, to file financial disclosures annually. The forms list income streams, liabilities, business interests and intangible personal property such as stocks, bonds or retirement accounts.
Disclosures for the previous calendar year are due every Sept. 1. Government officials who file late or not at all are automatically fined $25 a day, up to $1,500 per filing year.
"The forms enable the public to evaluate potential conflicts of interest, deter corruption and increase transparency for people to be able to know more about their government and their government officials," said ethics commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman.
Florida lawmakers will address legislation this session aimed at enhancing enforcement against more than 1,000 government officials who owe the ethics commission fines.
Bujalski's forms for calendar years 2006-09 list a 401(k) and a state retirement account, a home mortgage and an auto loan, which she said in an interview is for her husband's vehicle.
The forms for subsequent years, she said, wouldn't list anything different except her late parents' mortgage, which she briefly took on before selling their home around May 2011.
Bujalski said her $8,000 a year City Commission salary remains her only personal source of income. Before she was elected, she worked as an economic forecaster/planner for clothing retailer Patchington,
Bujalski was elected in March 2006 to the two-year commission seat vacated by Bob Hackworth, who successfully ran for mayor. She was re-elected to three-year terms in March 2008 and March 2011.
New and incumbent candidates are required to submit the financial disclosure form each time they run for office. Ethics officials say Bujalski, who submitted her 2009 form on Sept. 3, 2010 — two days late — likely qualified for the 2011 race using that form.
Bujalski isn't the first of Dunedin's current commission to face fines from the state.
Ethics officials say Commissioner Julie Scales was fined $1,500 for 2003, her first year in office. However, the fine was waived after Scales, formerly an attorney for Pinellas County government, appealed and submitted the document late.
And the Florida Elections Commission fined Commissioner Ron Barnette $3,500 for mishandling a campaign contribution and signs during the first-time candidate's unsuccessful 2006 run.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or email@example.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.