The ethics charges allege that Revels did not properly document her income and assets on state forms.
Former County Commissioner Barbara Revels — a Democrat who served as commissioner for eight years before being ousted in the last election by Republican David Sullivan — has agreed to pay $4,500 to settle state Ethics Commission charges over allegations that she had improperly reported her income and assets on financial disclosure forms.
"That’s the only way you make it go away, is you have to admit it," Revels said of her decision to settle. "I certainly have many things that I could have gone and argued in (the Ethics Commission's) report — that I did not hide anything, and their reports are confusing. But I did not want to drag it out and pay more attorneys' fees. I wanted it to be over with."
The Ethics Commission, responding to a complaint filed by John Ruffalo, found probable cause against Revels on three charges: That she had failed to accurately disclose her financial information on state disclosure forms for three successive years, in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Revels had amended the forms in question, but the amendments were often also incomplete, according to a state Ethics Commission advocate's report.
Among other things, according to Ethics Commission documents, Revels had failed to disclose a 36-foot boat properly as an asset, and had listed "rental properties" as a second source of income, without specifying tenants or her income from the properties.
Revels said she had disclosed the boat, but, "They didn’t like the column I put it in. They wanted it as a 'household asset,' rather than just 'an asset.'"
Revels also failed to accurately report her liabilities, simply listing a total amount rather than listing the name and address of each creditor, according to a Commission Advocate's recommendation.
Revels said the form was confusing. "The question they ask is, 'Who do you owe more than $1,000 to. ... I put the lending institution down. But it covered more than one loan, and they didn’t like that it covered more than one loan. They wanted each of them broken down, with the same lender."
Other errors, according to the Ethics Commission, included failing to notarize a form and failing to disclose a car as an asset.
Revels' "errors on her 2013 Form 6 and revised Form 6 are not immaterial, inconsequential, or de minimis because the original filings were so vague and incomplete there was not sufficient information for the public to identify potential conflicts of interest," the advocate's recommendation states.
Revels said that the errors the Ethics Commission had charged her with were honest mistakes, and that she would have corrected them if she'd been made aware that she'd filled the forms out incorrectly. "They never, ever, ever look at anyone’s filing unless someone complains, and they estimate that probably 90% of the people that file do them wrong," she said.
If someone has a simple financial picture, she said, they can probably fill the form out on their own, "But if you get into something slightly more complicated, then you better hire a professional who does that all the time — and there are plenty of people across the state who pay attorneys — to get it right. It’s a shame that it has to be that way."
Revels said she had recommended that the Florida Association of Counties train new commissioners on how to properly fill out their financial disclosure forms. "That ought to be the first thing they do, is sit with them … to train people on how to do it properly," she said.