Image: – Gaetz accountability bill signed into law – On Point Broadcasting
By TOM McLAUGHLIN | Daily News
State Rep. Matt Gaetz has crossed another item off the AccountabilityOkaloosa to do list.
A Gaetz-sponsored bill that requires judges to order restitution and 250 hours of community service for public officers caught taking bribes or misusing their office was signed into law last week.
“We can now hold public officials financially responsible when they use their position of power to defraud our citizens,” Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said in a news release.
The idea of making public officials more accountable was proposed by Laurie Bartlet on the AccountabilityOkaloosa website Gaetz created last October.
The proposal, “Require every criminal sentence for every public official convicted of corruption to include mandatory restitution to tax payers,” received 62 thumbs up and no thumbs down on Gaetz's Facebook-powered website.
Bartlet, the vice-chairman of the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee, said she was “thrilled” to have her suggestion made law.
“It only makes sense,” she said. “We've lost sight of common sense all the way around.”
Okaloosa County has seen its share of public corruption over the years, but in nearly all cases where justice was served, restitution was part of the punishment.
Each of six employees of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office caught up in a bonus kickback scheme uncovered in 2009, including former Sheriff Charlie Morris, were ordered to pay thousands back to the county.
Former Okaloosa County Commissioner James Campbell agreed to perform 400 hours of community service and pay a $4,000 fine when he accepted a plea deal to avoid prosecution on official misconduct charges.
His AccountabilityOkaloosa also arose out Gaetz's stated commitment to stamp out corruption in his home county.
But Gaetz said H.B. 115 wasn't focused so much on cleaning up Northwest Florida as it was on fixing other areas of the state where judges don't hold politicians accountable for corruption.
“The lessons we've learned in Okaloosa County should be applied everywhere and applied always,” Gaetz said. “We still have the memory of Charlie Morris and the way he let us down. We need to codify that memory in law so that we never forget.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.