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Bussell owes his constituents full explanation

A big rock just crashed through Mike Bussell's glass house.

The state Commission on Ethics this week said it found evidence that the first-term Zephyrhills City Council member broke the law when he failed to reveal ownership of a Lincoln Avenue house on candidate disclosure forms in 2000 and 2001.

Bussell has declined comment since the Ethics Commission complaint became public Tuesday. He owes his constituents a genuine explanation and cannot discard this as an politically motivated accusation overblown by the media. The finding is from an impartial panel.

Bussell's choices are to arrange a settlement and likely fine or to contest the charge at a formal hearing. A fight appears fruitless. He has acknowledged this was not an accidental oversight.

Bussell's interest in the property came to light shortly after the April 2001 election when the mortgage holder filed a foreclosure lawsuit. Records at the time also showed Bussell had never paid property taxes on the house since he bought it in 1998. By not listing his interest in the house, Bussell campaigned successfully for office minus the scrutiny of his deadbeat finances.

It's unfortunate. Deceit isn't the way to earn the public's trust.

Bussell's actions were compounded by his June vote, along with Cathi Compton and Jim Bailey, to ask for an unfounded Ethics Commission investigation of City Manager Steve Spina over a disputed consulting contract. The formal complaint against Spina never materialized, but Bussell's hypocrisy struck a chord with longtime resident Arnold Dittenber, who filed his own complaint against Bussell.

Previously, Bussell he has offered an assortment of reasons for his inadequate disclosures. Initially, he said the foreclosure lawsuit "hit me blind side. Do you think I would have run for City Council if I'd have known all this was going to come out? Absolutely not."

Then, he said he didn't reveal ownership of the property during the 2001 campaign because he knew foreclosure was imminent. That failed to explain why he didn't list the house during his unsuccessful run for council a year earlier.

Still later, he said he did not admit ownership because the property generated no income. We're eager to hear what he'll say now.

Last year, Bussell acknowledged he was worried about his damaged credibility from the episode. He could have mitigated such damage with an upfront explanation.

Instead, his subterfuge, coupled with his support of Compton and Bailey's witch hunt, showed a significant flaw:

Bussell is unwilling to hold himself to the same standards he asks of others.

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