“Conflict Of Interest” or just “The Future Of Fundraising”?

Every bit as troubling as the questions regarding conflict of interest and residency that plague Janet Hooper’s candidacy for Safety Harbor Commission Seat 1 is how she answered.

Hooper claims she is being opposed only because she’s a woman.

That’s disappointing.

“Let’s call it what it really is; it is a personal attack,” Hooper posted on Facebook. “The ‘boys’ do not want a woman on the Commission – period. I am a resident of Safety Harbor; it is my home. In 1776, only property owners could vote and only men could own property. We have come a long way since then, or have we?’’

Oh, pull-eeeze!

Conveniently omitted by Hooper (along with the fact Safety Harbor has a history of female city officials, including, most recently, popular commissioner Nancy Besore) is that no one questions her right to run. What is up for serious debate is Hooper’s ability to govern and represent Safety Harbor citizens without perception of bias and self service.

First, and most troubling, Hooper is director of the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, a non-profit organization that annually receives money –$45,000 last year — from the city. At a recent commission meeting, Hooper was even in attendance to accept a check and took the opportunity to lobby current leaders for continued financial support.

And now she, too, wants to be a city commissioner.

How convenient.

At present, Safety Harbor city attorney Alan Zimmet has offered no public opinion on the potential conflict of interest, indicating he will address the issue only if Hooper is elected. He has, however, acknowledged potential issues.

Simply enough, should Hooper defeat Chris Logan in the March 10 election, any item going before the commission that could benefit or be detrimental to MWNFC would demand Hooper’s recusal. That could even include the city budget — which is kind of a big deal for the commission.

If raindrops are dropping from the heavens, you do not need a weatherman to confirm the probability of showers. When the Courtney Campbell Causeway turns into a 5 p.m. parking lot, it does not take Florida Highway Patrol to know traffic is backed up.

So, if you are an impartial voter, you do not need to wait on a city attorney ruling to know Hooper’s candidacy has conflict.

In addition to accepting money from the city, MWNFC takes donations from businesses and individuals. Hooper has held her position at director for close to 10 years. That’s a lot of donation money — and a lot of favors owed to the individuals who have given.

Would Hooper allow her commission vote to be swayed by favors owed as a result of her position with MWNFC? Certainly, everyone would hope not. But even with honest intentions, does anyone really believe Hooper can disqualify all favoritisms she formed during 10 years of asking for favors as director of MWNFC?

From there, the perception of conflict only spreads. Scheduled on March’s Safety Harbor City Commission meeting agenda, is a discussion on waiving fees for non-profit organizations. If you ask most independent voters, no commissioner who has accepted campaign donations from either directors and officers of a Safety Harbor non-profit operation should be involved in that vote, period. But Hooper’s election would make that conflict pale: Imagine a director of a non-profit group in position to dictate how the city would deal with non-profit groups.

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

Then, there’s her residency.

Hooper, who moved into Safety Harbor around a year ago, is not a property owner. As a renter, she is a resident and absolutely qualifies to seek public office.

Still, as a renter she would not be burdened by any pesky property taxes that she might vote to alter or add. She would not shoulder the responsibility of her own votes on property taxes.

Personally, I like my commissioners to face the same tax burdens that they decide I must carry.

None of this, of course, is breaking news. Quite honestly, this was a blinking red light on Hooper’s candidacy from the day she announced. Yet, when the issue was spotlighted, Hooper feigned shock and surprise, telling the Tampa Bay Times she was “scratching my head,” as to why anyone would even ask about conflict of interest when the newspaper asked her about conflict of interest.

It’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s also such an obvious issue that the idea of Hooper claiming to be astonished by such questions is more than a little frightening.

If a candidate is so short of foresight and savvy that the obvious comes as a shock, then that’s another reason to question their qualifications.

Man or woman.


~~ by Mick Elliott ~~

mick elliott - author

Mick Elliott – Safety Harbor Resident Blogger

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