From The Tampa Tribune
Rob Turner, who made $153,000 last year as Hillsborough County property appraiser, earns extra money teaching appraisal classes around the state but hasn't reported any of it on financial disclosure forms.
Turner taught at least two classes last year, receiving $2,800 from the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser's office and $2,500 from the state Department of Revenue.
Turner did not list either class as a source of income on 2011 financial disclosure forms he filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics. According to the form's instructions, elected officials are to list all income more than $1,000 within a calendar year.
In a written reply to questions from The Tampa Tribune, Turner said these classes — and one this year at Hillsborough Community College — are the only ones he recalled teaching in the past five years.
But Lazaro Solis, deputy appraiser in Miami-Dade, said be believes Turner has taught others, using material developed by the International Association of Assessing Officers.
"He teaches many courses throughout the state; this is not an isolated incident," Solis said. "He's very active with the IAAO."
Turner said he did not break the ethics law because he earned less than the threshold at which reporting of income is required. He works through a company called Assessment Services LLC, which he created to provide general mass appraisal services and advice.
He said in his email response, "the net income (that is, after taxes) for each reporting period was less than $1,000."
Instructions on the state's disclosure form say the amount listed should reflect the "net" income of the business activity, "as calculated for income tax purposes."
But the instructions also say that even if income derived from a business activity is less than $1,000, the name of the business should be listed with a notation that income fell below the reporting threshold.
Tom Scarritt, who served on the state ethics commission for four years, said an explanation like Turner's "defies a plain reading of the statutes."
"If you are listing income from a job, you have to list that income," Scarritt said. "You don't list the income minus the gas in your car or the food you bought for lunch. Anyone who is not listing that income is not complying with the law."
Turner, once thought a shoe-in for re-election to a fifth term as property appraiser, now faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Ronda Storms of Valrico.
Storms entered the race after it became public in May that Turner admitted exchanging sexually charged text messages and emails with his human resource manager and former girlfriend, Carolyn Filippone.
"I think this indicative of the behavior and the leadership at the property appraiser's offices; that the rules don't apply," Storms said. "There is no reason in the world not to report income."
Turner is president-elect of the IAAO, the organization that developed the classes he teaches. He attends group conferences each year, with taxpayers paying the bills.
During the past three years, Turner has spent $8,610 in public money attending the conferences, including $1,296 spent on an instructor training session in October 2009. Turner said he attended the training session so he could offer IAAO courses to employees in his office without incurring travel expenses.
The organization provides its courses for property appraisers through a state coordinator. In Florida, the state Department of Revenue schedules the courses for employees of county property appraisers.
But local chapters of the organization also can schedule classes, said Debbie Asbury, IAAO president.
Most property appraisers around the state require employees to take the courses for certification in different areas of appraisal.
In some cases, the employees pay the fee to the property appraiser, who pays the instructor. In other counties, the property appraiser pays for the course. But the instructor always keeps the entire fee, IAAO president Asbury said.
For the course Turner taught in Miami-Dade, each attendee paid $350 to the local property appraiser's training account. The office paid Assessment Services, Turner's company, $2,800 for teaching 25 students during a five-day course and $6,750 to the IAAO for course materials.
Turner taught courses for the Department of Revenue last October and in December 2010, receiving $2,500 a course. He did not report either course on disclosure forms.
He also earned $2,200 for teaching fundamentals of real estate appraisal at Hillsborough Community College in March. This income is to be disclosed next year.
Scarritt, the former ethics commissioner, said officials failing to disclose assets or outside income was a problem every year he served on the commission.
On Friday, the state Ethics Commission said it will lobby Florida lawmakers to increase the commission's power to collect fines from state and local officials who fail to file required financial-disclosure reports.
To emphasize the extent of the problem, Commissioner Morgan Bentley read a list of officials from throughout the state who owed tens of thousands of dollars for failing to file financial disclosures.