Despite an audit report finding Brevard Public Schools (BPS) CFO Pennie Zuercher violated both school board policy and management controls by giving her friend a raise last year, no adverse action has been taken by the district.
The original whistleblower complaint was filed July 25th of last year, and was covered by Space Coast Daily.
Despite an auditor’s report clearly stating Zuercher had intentionally thwarted management process and controls, Brevard Schools Superintendent Mark Mullins appeared to blame the process, stating “the auditors’ findings determined there is a problem with the process for salary adjustments. I will immediately seek input and direction from the school board to ensure clarity and will take necessary and appropriate action to change procedures regarding approval of individual pay increases.”
To date no adverse action has been taken against Mrs. Zuercher by BPS, in spite of clear guidance outlined in the whistleblower complaint process. Given the school board’s not-so-great record with things like paying above market rates for painting dumpsters, buying multi-million dollar incomplete, non-functional software programs and putting out RFPs that are written to favor Big Pharma at the expense of employees and taxpayers, I just couldn’t let this one go.
You can view the auditor’s findings here and below. The text of my complaint to the state was as follows:
To whom it may concern:
I was recently made aware the CFO for Brevard County Schools, Mrs. Pennie Zuercher, was the subject of a whistleblower complaint that resulted in an investigation by the school board’s internal auditors, RSM.
In a nutshell, the complaint alleged Mrs. Zuercher gave an employee that was a friend of hers (“Employee #13”) a raise of $8,541.21 per year by circumventing established procedures. Mrs. Zuercher’s friend had been offered a job in Indian River County, and Mrs. Zuercher didn’t want her to go, so she broke the rules to give her the raise so she would stay, which she did. I’ve attached the auditor’s report that details the violations of school board policy to this complaint. From their report:
Employee #13 Market Adjustment – Management Override of Controls
Our testing noted that Employee #13 had received an $8,541.21 annual market adjustment, or pay raise of 12.5%, while remaining in his/her current job position.This adjustment was granted only to this particular employee, not the entire position group. In addition, this is the only market adjustment in the sample we tested. Per our discussions with multiple cabinet members, market adjustments are very rare.
The Deputy Superintendent of HR and the CFO stated to us that this market adjustment was initiated at the request of the CFO, analyzed and recommended for approval by HR, and verbally approved by the Superintendent. As the alleged approval was verbal, there is no audit evidence available for review. Therefore, to confirm the verbal approval, we interviewed the former Superintendent. The former Superintendent stated he did not and would not approve such a market adjustment. Thus, this market adjustment was not approved by the Board or the Superintendent.
Management override of controls occurs when management in an organization utilizes the authority granted to them to circumvent the internal controls in place.
Superintendent approval is an internal control meant to provide monitoring and oversight of the salary adjustment process. This market adjustment was processed without Superintendent approval thus the controls over pay adjustments were overridden. Lack of adherence to the internal controls established at the District results in increased risk of error, fraud, abuse, and poor public perception.
In spite of the whistleblower complaint being validated and blatant violations of school board policies being found, to date no action has been taken against Mrs. Zuercher. To add insult to injury, it appears there is a pattern of behavior here: Mrs. Zuercher, I am told, hired her husband as a subordinate in her department in blatant disregard of the school board’s policies regarding nepotism, and later had him transferred to another department to a position for which he lacked qualifications. From the bylaws and policies of the Brevard County School Board:
3130 – Appointment, Assignment, Transfer & Promotion of Staff
Two (2) or more close relatives shall not work in the same school/department except by permission of the Superintendent. In the event that an instructional staff member, due to some unusual circumstance, may have been placed in the same school/department with a close relative, the instructional staff member may continue in the position until s/he can be reassigned to a position of comparable grade, pay, and reasonable personal convenience.
- A close relative may be employed in the same school when specifically recommended by the principal and approved by the Superintendent on the grounds that it is to the educational advantage of the school.
- Under no circumstances shall a person supervise the work of a close relative.
- Close relatives shall be defined as the first degree of kindred which includes: husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, and in-laws of the same degree.
There appears to be a coordinated effort by some members of staff to cover up Mrs. Zuercher’s actions, as none of the statutes governing whistleblower violations have been followed to date, despite pressure from at least one of the elected School Board members. As it appears the School Board’s counsel has effectively buried the findings of the audit report, I hereby request the Commission on Ethics investigate Ms. Zuercher pursuant to Florida Statutes 112.3173:
Florida Statutes Chapter 112.3173
6. The committing of any felony by a public officer or employee who, willfully and with intent to defraud the public or the public agency for which the public officer or employee acts or in which he or she is employed of the right to receive the faithful performance of his or her duty as a public officer or employee, realizes or obtains, or attempts to realize or obtain, a profit, gain, or advantage for himself or herself or for some other person through the use or attempted use of the power, rights, privileges, duties, or position of his or her public office or employment position;
Incumbent Chairman Rick Lacey defeated challenger Matt Nye 95-59 in last night’s closed Brevard Republican Executive Committee meeting. Josiah Gattle, a previously announced candidate for Chairman, dropped and threw his support behind Nye.
The Executive Board of the BREC is now:
Chairman: Rick Lacey*
Vice Chair: Mark Hutchins
Secretary: Paul Oddo*
Treasurer: Sharon Rose
District 1 Chair: Cindy Roberts*
District 2 Chair: John Weiler
District 3 Chair: Joanne Solley-Hansen
District 4 Chair: Susan Hammerling-Hodgers
District 5 Chair: Patricia Fowler
State Committeeman: Mike Thomas**
State Committeewoman: Cheryl Lankes**
**Not up for re-election until 2020
Vice Chairman Nick Tomboulides attempted to raise a point of order at the beginning of the meeting regarding last minute additions and removals to the membership roster, but was ruled out of order by Chairman Lacey. Forty-five members were removed and eight were added just five days before the elections.
Of the local August 28th primary election races, perhaps none was more contentious than the District 4 County Commission race which pitted incumbent Republican Curt Smith against former District 3 Commissioner Trudie Infantini.
Local WMMB radio host Bill Mick put Smith on a pedestal and accused Infantini and her supporters of numerous conspiracy theories and just plain lying. Florida Today Editor Isadora Rangel accused Commissioner John Tobia of meddling in the race from the dais, and Florida Today Government Reporter Dave Berman described the race as a struggle for the “heart and soul of Brevard’s GOP”.
As someone who sat next to then-candidate Curt Smith as a fellow candidate in 2014 and listened to him misrepresent his positions to voters on issues like the Economic Development Commission of the Space Coast, and someone who has since filed numerous ethics complaints that were found to have merit, I have a different take on the race.
The race was a contest between the corrupt political establishment and the grassroots taxpayers. The corrupt establishment won. Here is their prize:
On Tuesday, September 4, 2018, District 4 Brevard County Commissioner sent two members of his paid commission staff to a Brevard Republican Party general election campaign strategy meeting at Perkins Restaurant at 8200 N Wickham Rd, Melbourne, FL 32940. The meeting ran from 8:30am until sometime after 10am. According to Brevard Republican Party Vice Chairman Nick Tomboulides and other attendees, the sole purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Republican strategy for the general election. Both employees were on the clock.
A photo taken by another attendee shows employee Pat Woodard in the white shirt center right, and employee Molly Tice center rear with the glasses. The Brevard Republican Party Chairman (standing, left of Tice), Vice Chairman and State Committeewoman were all present at the meeting.
Copies of the employees’ time cards show they were not on holiday or flex time that day. They were on the clock, at taxpayer expense.
It is my belief by sending taxpayer paid county staff to a meeting whose sole purpose was to discuss his (and other Republican officials) re-election in the general election, Commissioner Smith has violated Florida Statute 112.313, subsection 6, which states:
(6) MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself, or others. This section shall not be construed to conflict with s. 104.31.
As a resident of Brevard County District 4, a precinct committeeman for the Republican Party of Brevard and a former candidate for office, I believe it is important for both Republican candidates and elected officials to follow the law and act in good faith when it comes to Florida Statute and the use of taxpayer resources.
This is not the first time Commissioner Smith has used county resources to promote his campaign for re-election. At a July 10th commission meeting Smith took the time to brag about his performance at the Republican Party of Brevard straw poll that took place a few days prior. Rep Randy Fine submitted a letter to State Attorney Phil Archer asking him to investigate the matter. Archer declined, and later issued a letter of his own, defending Smith and attacking Fine.
Commissioner Smith has also violated Florida Statute in the past by failing to properly complete his Form 6 financial statements. Smith stipulated to the violations and paid $1,750 in fines.
With this latest revelation, Commissioner Smith has now clearly established a pattern of behavior that shows he has either no understanding of the law and the ethical responsibilities that come with his office, or a complete disregard for them.
While Smith’s behavior comes as no surprise to those who opposed his re-election, you have to appreciate the irony he was endorsed by the two top law enforcement officials in Brevard County: Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, and State Attorney Phil Archer. Archer even closed his letter defending Smith’s promotion of his campaign from the dais with the following: “I will leave it up to the citizens of this community to decide if I have made the right decision.” I already knew the answer to that question, but what say you?
Will Archer now investigate Smith for this blatant violation of Florida statute? Will we see WMMB’s Bill Mick, who repeatedly made the District 4 race about character, condemn Smith’s latest ethical violations, or will he simply gloss over them and say it was just a simple mistake because Smith didn’t read the fine print, as he did with the Form 6 violations? Rather than continuing to attack Commissioner Tobia and Representative Fine for following through on their campaign promises, will Ms. Rangel pen a column about how elected officials shouldn’t be using taxpayer resources to get themselves re-elected?
I’m not holding my breath for any of the above. Neither should you.
On Monday Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled to remove Amendment 8 from the ballot. The Amendment included three proposed changes to the Constitution, one relating to charter schools, and two relating to term limits.
“The Constitution Revision Commission did a grave disservice to voters by bundling three items together, but that decision was within the scope of their authority,” Nye said. “This was the wrong decision, because the role of a judge is to interpret law, not make it.”
Nye is currently challenging State Representative Thad Altman in the Republican primary for House District 52. Nye also signed the U.S. Term Limits pledge vowing to defend Florida’s 8-year term limits; Altman opposes term limits and refuses to sign the pledge.
“If elected to the Florida House, one of my first priorities will be to file a joint resolution to put 8-year term limits for school board members on the ballot,” Nye said. “The people of Florida deserve a vote on term limits and I will work to secure it for them.”
Last week I was given the opportunity to debate my Republican primary opponent Thad Altman and the Democratic challenger Seeta Begui at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Florida Today.
In my opening statement, I went after Representative Altman for drawing more than a million dollars of taxpayer money during the last six years through his sweetheart, do-nothing job as the President of the Astronaut Memorial Foundation (AMF). Rep. Altman wasn’t allowed to rebut my opening statement, but he responded in his closing statement with an absolute whopper.
Please fast forward to 1:56:53 of the video below to hear Rep Altman’s proclamation, then scroll down in this email and decide if his closing statement displayed a stunning lack of knowledge, or a shameless display of dishonesty:
That’s right – you heard that correctly. Altman actually closes with “I don’t get paid a penny from taxpayer funds… not a dime.”
In fact, the non-proft Astronaut Memorial Fund is funded in part by the proceeds of Space Shuttle specialty license plates from the state. Below is the most recent copy of their audited financial statement I could get through Florida’s public record laws – which, by the way, I could only use because the AMF is funded by taxpayer dollars! Scroll down to page 5 to see the proceeds from the state license plate fees.
As you can see, almost half of the AMF’s funding comes from the sale of Space Shuttle license plates – $512,025 to be exact. That means Altman personally consumes a third of the AMF’s state funding with his $169K annual salary!
So, this begs the question: is Thad really so dumb he doesn’t know where his bread is buttered? Or did he just flat-out lie to the voters? I think we both know the answer.
The Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) announced last Friday evening they are endorsing Matt Nye in his run for the Florida House District 52 seat currently occupied by career politician Thad Altman.
The endorsement is part of a new strategy YAL is pursuing this cycle called “Win at the Door”, where the organization focuses on state races instead of congressional races. YAL will deploy a team of 10 activists to flood the district and knock on 35,000 doors.
“This is an absolute game-changer in terms of my race,” Nye said of the endorsement. “The YAL activists will knock more doors to spread the message of liberty than all of the candidates in all four Brevard houses races combined.”
The Young Americans for Liberty is a 501(c)4 based out of Arlington, VA. According to its web site, “Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the largest, most active, and fastest-growing pro-liberty organization on America’s college campuses. With hundreds of chapters and 308,927 youth activists nationwide, YAL seeks to identify, educate, train, and mobilize young people committed to winning on principle.”
“I am both humbled and grateful to receive the endorsement of such a fantastic organization,” Nye said. “I’ve worked with YAL for many years in my capacity as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, and I can tell you with certainty the gifted young people involved in this organization are not just the future leaders of this country, but its very salvation.”
Outsider watchdog Matt Nye bested incumbent career politician Thad Altman in the Brevard Republican Party Picnic and Straw Poll for the Florida House District 52 race on Sunday at the Melbourne auditorium. Of 555 votes cast, Nye received 284 (51%) and Altman 271 (49%).
“Today’s results are significant,” Nye said, “because this is traditionally establishment friendly territory, and for at least the last decade, Altman has won the straw poll at this event.”
Nye is campaigning as a citizen watchdog on a platform of fiscal conservatism, transparency and accountability. He has repeatedly attacked Altman as a career politician that used his elected office to get a job as the Executive Director for the Astronaut Memorial Foundation, a position Nye contends Altman is unqualified for. Altman draws a $159K annual salary plus 401k benefits from the taxpayer funded non-profit.
“Voters are sick and tired of Republicans that campaign as fiscal conservatives and then vote for every tax and spend bill that comes along,” Nye said. “The fact Altman has drained a million dollars of taxpayer money in the form of a do nothing job he isn’t even qualified for just adds insult to injury.”
During his stump speech Nye pledged to follow through on his campaign promises if elected, and promised he wouldn’t sell out the voters if they send him to Tallahassee.
“If elected, I will fight to reduce the size and scope of state government,” Nye said. “I will work to ensure state government fulfills its primary responsibilities, while reigning in spending and keeping taxes low.”
About Matt Nye
Matt Nye, 46, is a native Floridian and a nine-year resident of Suntree, where he lives with his wife, Natalia, and their two dogs Lily and Cookie. Since 2007, Matt has worked to expose waste, fraud and abuse in local government. In 2012, Matt filed the criminal complaint that led to the arrest and conviction of former Clerk of Courts Mitch Needelman. Matt works as a Regional Director for Verteks Consulting, a leading provider of voice and data networks and serves in numerous volunteer capacities, including Chairman of the National Republican Liberty Caucus, Treasurer of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, and Treasurer of the Rotary Club of Suntree.
MELBOURNE, FL – Brevard Clerk of Courts and local conservative icon Scott Ellis has endorsed Matt Nye for the District 52 Florida House seat currently held by incumbent Thad Altman.
“I’m pleased to announce my support of Matt Nye in the State House District 52 race. I’ve known Matt for nearly ten years beginning with his efforts to put on the massive Tea Party rallies we had in Brevard County,” Ellis said.
“Matt is a long-standing proponent of limited government and will not be swayed nor bought by any interests seeking special favors or the expansion of government control over our lives,” said Ellis. “Matt has consistently fought for us at the local level to encourage practical spending, not ribbon cutting funding designed for back slapping publicity photos.”
“After my predecessor, Mitch Needelman, took office Matt worked to determine the extent of the various financial shenanigans occurring in the office. Mr. Needelman singled Matt out by name publicly as someone he felt was breathing down his neck and onto the deals being done. Matt was able to meet with FDLE’s Public Corruption unit out of Tallahassee which eventually led to the arrest of Mr. Needelman,” said Ellis.
“On the issue of overreaching government and taxation, one would be hard pressed to find two more polar opposites than Matt Nye and Thad Altman,” Ellis said. “I highly trust Mr. Nye to work against expanding the reach of government in Tallahassee while assessing State expenditures and directing them to priorities, not pork barrels.”
“Although Republicans hold the reins of the majority in Tallahassee, not all elected GOP members are believers in limited government. In Brevard County in 2018 we have the opportunity, by voting for Matt Nye, to exchange a tough proponent for less government for a patsy for heavy regulation and expanded spending,” Ellis said. “It’s an important vote we cannot afford to miss. I can’t think of anyone in our County I would rather see in the legislature than Matt.”
In 2014 when then-candidate Curt Smith was asked by the Florida Today what he hoped his legacy would be if elected, his answer was when other future Commissioners were faced with difficult decisions, they would ask “what would Curt Smith do?”
One thing future Commissioners won’t be looking to Commissioner Smith to be an example of is how to complete their financial disclosures.
Last Thursday Commissioner Smith stipulated to numerous violations on his financial disclosures before the Florida Commission on Ethics, making him the second sitting Brevard County Commissioner this year to admit to violating Florida Statutes. Commissioner Jim Barfield, who has since said will not be seeking re-election, stipulated to similar violations in January. Both Commissioners paid $1,750 in fines.
“I claim ignorance. I didn’t know any better. I just didn’t know it was that critical that everything be itemized.”
– District 4 County Commissioner Curt Smith
The ethics violations are ironic given Commissioner Smith’s vocal dissent and derisive comments toward District 3 Commissioner John Tobia last year when Tobia proposed an ordinance to require lobbyists to register with the county. In spite of being the recipient of several campaign donations from lobyists, Smith opposed the ordinance as unnecessary, and boasted about how ethical the current commission was. He mocked Tobia’s proposal as “a solution in search of a problem.” The ordinance mirrored one already in place in the state legislature.
In addition to his hypocrisy on the lobbyist ordinance and subsequent ethics reform proposals put forth by Tobia, Smith has reneged on numerous campaign promises since being elected, including his promise to defund the Brevard Economic Development Commission, his promises to cut spending and taxes, and his vow to support former District 3 Commissioner Trudie Infantini, whom he said would think “she had died and gone to heaven” should he be elected.
Smith routinely voted against Infantini, sat by silently while she was repeatedly bullied by former District 1 Commission Robin Fisher in spite of his campaign promises to bring civility to the commission, and publicly belittled her as not being leadership material.
Smith’s failure to follow through on campaign promises led one prominent local grassroots group, the Republican Liberty Caucus, to rescind its endorsement of Smith. Former Commissioner Infantini is now challenging Smith in the District 4 County Commission Republican primary.
Both Commissioners Barfield and Smith have claimed the ethics complaints were “politically motivated”, and conservative radio show host Bill Mick went so far as to describe local political activist Matt Nye, who filed the complaints early last year, Commissioner Tobia’s “lackey” in his on-air defense of Barfield and Smith.
Mick failed to mention Nye filed an ethics complaint against John Tobia regarding the inclusion of prepaid postage on mail pieces containing petitions during his last campaign for re-election as a state representative. The Commission on Ethics found the complaint to be without merit.
“The fact is, these are elected positions, so by definition, anything related to them is political,” Nye said. “To say the violations are unimportant because of who filed them or why, is to turn the notion of objective law on its head.”
Nye filed to run for the District 52 state house seat currently occupied by Thad Altman in September of last year.
The Brevard County Commission controls an annual budget of around $1 billion, of which approximately $250 million is discretionary spending. Both Barfield and Smith admitted they didn’t exercise care when completing the financial disclosures, with Smith stating “I claim ignorance. I didn’t know any better. I just didn’t know it was that critical that everything be itemized.”
The instructions regarding how to disclose assets are clearly articulated on page four of the Form 6. The instructions state, in part:
How to Identify or Describe the Asset:
— Real property: Identify by providing the street address of the property. If the property has no street address, identify by describing the property’s location in a manner sufficient to enable a member of the public to ascertain its location without resorting to any other source of information.
— Intangible property: Identify the type of property and the business entity or person to which or to whom it relates. Do not list simply “stocks and bonds” or “bank accounts.”
For example, list “Stock (Williams Construction Co.),” “Bonds (Southern Water and Gas),” “Bank accounts (First National Bank),” “Smith family trust,” “Promissory note and mortgage (owed by John and Jane Doe).”
“If these two can’t or won’t follow simple instructions like these, do you really want them voting on things as important as taxes, spending and infrastructure?”, Nye asks. “What else do they gloss over or ignore in their roles as County Commissioners, and at what expense to the taxpayers?”
According to the Florida Commission on Ethics, since 1987, and prior to Nye’s complaints against Barfield and Smith, there were 14 ethics complaints filed against Brevard County Commissioners, three of which resulted in penalties or fines. All three of those were in the last 13 years.
“Now there have been two complaints against Commissioners serving on the same board within the same year, both resulting in fines.” Nye said. “Yet Commissioner Smith would have us believe the taxpayers of Brevard have nothing to worry about.”