We start off this week with a little chat about conflicts of interest.
It’s not unusual at all for county commissioners to occasionally find themselves in a conflict of interest, forcing them to sit out a vote.
I can’t remember it ever happening with a commissioner who's been in office less than two months.
Tuesday’s county commission agenda includes setting a Feb. 7 public hearing for a street vacation request from Commissioner Diana Finegan and her husband, Stephen.
Despite its label, a street vacation is not a block party. It means to vacate, or close, parts of a county roadway.
The Finegans own two lots with homes at the end of South Bluewater Point in Homosassa, not far from the state wildlife park. Their property fronts the Homosassa River and a canal across the street runs parallel to the river.
They’re asking the county to vacate 2,666 square feet of the roadway. Simply, they want the road to end further up the road and not in front of their houses.
The Finegans say there’s no reason for anyone to be driving Bluewater Point out that way unless the live there.
This looks like a no-brainer. The staff report doesn’t highlight any issues; so long as closing that portion of the street doesn’t block someone from accessing the river or canal. And it doesn’t, the report states.
This is a privacy issue for the Finegans, who would prefer not to see cars turning around in that cul-de-sac right outside their front porch.
The two houses sit side-by-side. The Finegans bought them in April 2021 for $1.975 million.
Well. That’s probably the most I’ve written about a street vacation ever. These things usually breeze right through.
And, yes, it’s absolutely true I’m writing about this one because Diana Finegan is a commissioner. That’s the way this works.
It’s a very fine line between public servant and private landowner. The public often thinks the elected official is getting away with something, when that is RARELY the case. I mean…really rare.
Most commissioners I’ve known who find themselves in this pickle follow the process and stay out of it.
I’m sure the last thing Diana Finegan wanted is a conflict right off the bat. The conflict rule for voting is fairly simple: Will this vote result in a special, direct benefit or loss? If so, the commissioner can’t vote.
Seems pretty obvious that an application for a commissioner’s own property would fit the conflict rule.
The public can get riled up when a commissioner is looking for a zoning change or some other land-use arrangement. I never understood that. Why is it any different if Citizen Finegan wants a street vacation than if Commissioner Finegan wants one?
So long as she stays out of it and lets her lawyer do the talking, the only difference between Finegan’s case and any other is there will be one less commissioner voting.
Whenever a commissioner finds him/herself in a personal conflict, it reminds me of something that happened many years ago.
A county commissioner had a silent partnership with a man who wanted to get planning board approval for a construction debris landfill north of Crystal River. The commissioner told no one of his potential windfall should the landfill be approved, and he personally walked his business partner through the permitting process in Lecanto.
I got a phone call at the Chronicle the day before the meeting where this was going to be voted on. The tipster told me all the background information. I called the commissioner who pretty much confirmed what I was told, but said he was only acting as a commissioner — not a business partner — in helping the applicant through the process.
Well, I wrote a story that night and the next day, the meeting was jammed with citizens who apparently read the newspaper and wanted to know just what the heck was going on.
Not only did the planning board say no, this commissioner lost a re-election campaign shortly thereafter.
That situation was rare. Most commissioners will tell the county attorney of their conflict and follow her advice whether they can participate or not.
This is a simple request to lop off the last 2,666 feet of a cul-de-sac so people aren’t turning around outside the Finegans’ front door. If the neighbors are good with it, this should sail through.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.