Hillsborough Commissioner cries "uncle" on ethics charges

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has pleaded the equivalent of "no contest" to Florida Ethics Commission charges that he failed to provide full and complete disclosure of his financial assets since he began serving as a county commissioner in 2002.

Hagan has signed off on what is referred to as a Stipulation Order, which basically means he admits he did not follow the law in his annual financial disclosure filings. Florida law requires that elected officials file forms each year providing full and public disclosure of all of their financial holdings.

(DISCLOSURE: This journalist is the complainant in the Hagan case.)

The intent of the law is to maintain public trust in those making decisions that affect our daily lives, as well as, our taxes; without knowing what their financial holdings are, we would have no way of knowing if a public official has any conflicts of interest when they make key governing and policy decisions.

The Stipulation Order holds Hagan accountable for failing to follow the law. As such, he must resubmit his filings with full disclosure of his assets. Unfortunately, he will only have to resubmit his filings back to 2009. The statute of limitations limits prosecution to the last 5 years. He also commits to providing full disclosure in all future filings, and he must pay a $2,000 fine as punishment.

Yes, the fine is relatively small, considering that he has violated the law and kept us in the dark for the last 12 years. Florida's ethics laws do leave a lot to be desired, not the least of which are the minor fines that get levied for offenses. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Guess who wrote the laws changing ethics violations from criminal to civil and making the penalties inconsequential? Yep, you guessed it: public officials. Writing laws to keep themselves in line has really worked out well ... for them, that is.

Many officials know that and, as such, take their chances knowing that if they get caught they will pay a small fine and will rarely if ever suffer the penalty of being removed from office.

The Stipulation Order will be submitted to the Ethics Commission on December 12, 2014 for final approval.

It will be interesting to see what Hagan's financial ties will reveal.

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