CEO 13-17 - October 30, 2013
DISCLOSURE OF FINANCIAL INTERESTS
FINANCE DIRECTOR OF A COUNTY, MUNICIPALITY,
OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION
To: Sheriff Susan Benton (Highlands County)
A finance director of a sheriff's office is not a "finance director of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision" within the meaning of an amendment to the financial disclosure law. Thus, a finance director of a sheriff's office is not, by virtue of that position, a "local officer" required to file financial disclosure (CE Form 1, Statement of Financial Interests).
Does the amendment to the definition of "local officer" contained in Section 112.3145(1)(a)3., Florida Statutes, via Chapter 2013-36, Laws of Florida (CS SB 2), to include a "finance director of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision," encompass a finance director of a sheriff's office, such that by virtue of that status he or she is required to file financial disclosure?
Question 1 is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry, you cite the recent amendment, via Chapter 2013-36, Laws of Florida (CS SB 2), of the definition of "local officer" (a portion of the persons required to file CE Form 1 financial disclosure) to now include "finance director of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision," asking whether the new language includes finance directors of a sheriff's office. Further, you point out that neither the term "political subdivision," nor "finance director," is defined in the new law.
Section 112.3145(1)(a)3., Florida Statutes, as amended (emphasis supplied), provides:
112.3145 Disclosure of financial interests and clients represented before agencies.-
(1) For purposes of this section, unless the context otherwise requires, the term:
(a) "Local officer" means:
3. Any person holding one or more of the following positions: mayor; county or city manager; chief administrative employee of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision; county or municipal attorney; finance director of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision; chief county or municipal building code inspector; county or municipal water resources coordinator; county or municipal pollution control director; county or municipal environmental control director; county or municipal administrator, with power to grant or deny a land development permit; chief of police; fire chief; municipal clerk; district school superintendent; community college president; district medical examiner; or purchasing agent having the authority to make any purchase exceeding the threshold amount provided for in s. 287.017 for CATEGORY ONE, on behalf of any political subdivision of the state or any entity thereof.
And, as you note, in amending the law, as set forth above, the Legislature did not also provide a definition of "political subdivision" or "finance director." Further, nowhere in the Code of Ethics (Part III, Chapter 112, Florida Statutes) is there a definition of either term.
For the reasons set forth below, we find that a finance director within a sheriff's office is not a finance director of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision, within the meaning of the new law, and, thus, that such persons are not required, by virtue of such status,1 to file financial disclosure.
While the Code of Ethics, as newly-amended, does not define "political subdivision," Volume 1, TITLE I, CONSTRUCTION OF STATUTES, CHAPTER 1, DEFINITIONS, in Section 1.01(8), Florida Statutes, provides:
1.01 Definitions.-In construing these statutes and each and every word, phrase, or part hereof, where the context will permit:
(8) The words "public body," "body politic," or "political subdivision" include counties, cities, towns, villages, special tax school districts, special road and bridge districts, bridge districts, and all other districts in this state."
It is apparent that the definition in Section 1.01(8) should apply to any and all statutes where a more specific definition is not provided, as is the case with Section 112.3145(1)(a)3.2 Further, it also is apparent that the definition of Section 1.01(8) does not mention a sheriff's office; rather, it encompasses portions of government of a different nature--portions of government headed by collegial bodies, not unitary officials like sheriffs--and, unlike a sheriff's office, portions of government almost always possessed of taxing powers. In contrast, a sheriff's office, while undoubtedly a unit of government, is more appropriately seen as an "office" headed by an elective Constitutional officer, not as a "political subdivision" in and of itself. Additionally, our staff informs us that they are aware of no Florida caselaw or opinion of the Florida Attorney General determining that a sheriff or a sheriff's office is a political subdivision akin to a city, town, county, or special district, for general purposes or for purposes of the definition of "local officers" required to file financial disclosure.3 Also, our staff informs us that there is no Legislative history (extrinsic evidence) of the intent of the new law which would aid in our determination as to whether the amendment was meant to encompass finance directors within a sheriff's office.
Question 1 is answered accordingly.
If the duties of the finance director are equally divided among two or more persons, rather than one individual assuming primary responsibility, would each employee be considered a "finance director" required to file financial disclosure?
In view of our response to Question 1, we decline to answer Question 2.
If an employee performs multiple duties, such as human resources management, in addition to those tasks traditionally associated with a finance director, would this employee be considered a "finance director" under Section 112.3145(1)(a)3.?
In view of our response to Question 1, we decline to answer Question 3.
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on October 25, 2013, and RENDERED this 30th day of October, 2013.
Morgan R. Bentley, Chairman
 Of course, each employee's position should also be evaluated to make sure that it does not trigger a financial disclosure obligation based upon another definition of "local officer," such as a purchasing agent whose authority exceeds a certain threshold.
Our staff informs us that research in the Florida Statutes reveals over one hundred definitions of, or references to, "political subdivision," but that none of these defines the term for purposes of Section 112.3145(1)(a)3., and that none is more pertinent to our instant task than that of Section 1.01(8).
In construing Section 112.3145(1)(a)3., we have not overlooked Beard v. Hambrick, 396 So. 2d 708 (Fla. 1981), which held that a sheriff was a "county official," and, as such, was an integral part of the county as a "political subdivision," for purposes of determining applicability of a statute (Section 768.28, Florida Statutes) making a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for negligent or wrongful acts. However, we do not find that case to be controlling in the very different context of your inquiry.