News-Press

September 09, 2016

 

Political influences may impact River Hall decision

Paul Asfour

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/2016/09/08/political-influences-may-impact-river-hall-decision/89993044/

 

The second step in the River Hall density increase appeal process is before the governor and cabinet.  The first step was an appeal by East Lee County residents before an administrative law judge, who ruled in favor of the residents and determined that the county’s decision was illegal.

The second step is not only flawed, it borders on corrupt.  It takes an overruled decision of elected officials, who are easily swayed by political contributions, and places it back in front of more elected officials, who are also easily swayed by political contributions.  One of those elected officials is state Attorney General Pam Bondi who, according to news reports, decided not to investigate Trump University after receiving a campaign contribution from Trump’s foundation.

It is well documented that the River Hall developer has contributed substantial sums of money to both the county commissioners involved in the original decision, and the governor and cabinet members who will soon vote on whether to affirm or overturn the judge’s ruling.  Is that a conflict of interest?

Although it is not illegal to make campaign contributions, it stretches the bounds of credibility to believe that elected officials receiving the contributions are not swayed by those contributions. Furthermore, developers who contribute to elected officials will usually come before those elected officials and ask them to cast a vote that will increase the developer’s bottom line.

The person charged with making a recommendation to the governor and cabinet, to either accept or reject the judge’s decision, is an attorney who works in the general counsel’s office of the governor.  Could the attorney feel pressure to recommend overturning the judge’s decision, since he works for the governor, and the governor has received political contributions from the developer, who now wants him to vote to increase his bottom line by tens of millions of dollars?

One may question how the attorney could recommend overturning the judge’s decision, especially since the judge, and not the attorney making the recommendation, is the one who heard witness testimony and thoroughly reviewed the evidence presented at the hearing.  Don’t forget that attorneys are experts at putting favorable spins on things that are unfavorable, and vice versa. Therefore, if the attorney makes a recommendation to overturn the judge’s ruling, he will put his spin on why that decision should be overturned. The governor and cabinet will rely on that opinion and vote accordingly.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Aug. 2, but was delayed, since the residents’ attorney was not informed of it.  The developer and county attorneys asked that it be re-scheduled for Oct. 4.  However, the residents’ attorney has another hearing on that date. Therefore, he asked that it be re-scheduled for Oct. 25, but the developer and county refused to cooperate.  Therefore, the hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4. Is one side getting preferential treatment?

 

It may not be a conflict of interest for the governor and cabinet to vote on an item that favors one of their primary benefactors, but if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…