“For me this is all about integrity . . .” – An opinion

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Submitted by Scott Golding
July 24, 2019 8:33 a.m.

There has been quite a bit published recently about the disputes between Nassau County and Raydient. Many of these items have dealt with questions about integrity — right versus wrong. So, for integrity’s sake, I should disclose that I work for Rayonier. Many readers will assume that this is why I am writing this piece. However, I think the following should be shared whether the County and Rayonier are at odds or if they were the best of friends. I acknowledge that Rayonier may appreciate or even agree with my opinion shared here, but I am not writing this because of the paycheck I receive. For me, this is all about integrity; living where I do and seeing what I see, I feel a responsibility to put these facts in front of our community.

So: Reside. Webster says it means “to dwell permanently or continuously” in a place. Florida law requires that County Commissioners must reside in the district they represent throughout the full term of their office. The Florida Constitution provides that a “failure to maintain the residence requirement when elected or appointed” causes a vacancy in office to occur. The meaning of the residency requirement has been challenged more than once over the years, and both the Attorney General’s office and the state’s Election Board have issued opinions affirming this requirement — a copy of the State Election Board’s letter is attached; both letters are available on the offices’ websites. With that backdrop, you should know that if you reside in Nassau County, and especially District One, you are currently represented by Commissioner Leeper in clear violation of both the Florida Constitution and state election law.

In the January 18th edition of the News-Leader, an article was published in which Commissioner Leeper responded to an anonymous letter that questioned his residency and eligibility to serve. The article states “Leeper reiterated to the News-Leader that his home address is on Pirates Bay Drive, in District One, in Fernandina Beach…” Mr. Leeper is quoted as saying “I moved in with my parents some time ago after both were hospitalized… It’s where I still live.” He also says “I have tried to do the right thing according to the law … so I could continue to serve”. A full reading of the article makes it clear that Mr. Leeper understands the requirements of the law, and that he bases his continued service on residing with his parents.

The problem is that he does not reside with his parents. I live across the street from them and have a good view of their home and the comings-and-goings there. Mr. Leeper does occasionally visit them, but that’s all. Since the News Leader article in January, I’ve been watching the neighborhood more closely, and I have only seen Mr. Leeper in the neighborhood a couple of times — and never overnight. His permanent and continuous home is clearly not here with his parents. And does anyone really believe that he resides anywhere other than at his beautiful, half-million dollar riverfront home in District Two, where his wife and her children also live? (Mrs. Leeper has claimed homestead on the property, so we know SHE does reside there.) Mr. Leeper has “painted himself into a corner” with his response to the News-Leader. He clearly understands the residency requirement. He claims no other residence in District One. It is clear that his claim of legitimacy is based on residing with his parents. Since he doesn’t reside with them, the only conclusion I can reach is that he is being knowingly dishonest.

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The District One commission seat is legally vacant because Mr. Leeper has moved outside his district. Nonetheless, he is still voting on the County Commission, and participating in the county’s policy-making. First (and foremost), this is a huge ethical lapse. Second, the ethical lapse seems likely to come back and bite the county: it is certainly plausible that some unhappy party will pick up on this issue and sue the county over a decision they disagree with, because 20% of the Commission’s votes are being cast by an ineligible party. Third, District Two is getting double representation, while those of us that reside in District One are getting none. We can’t get fair representation from someone who lives in a different district that has different perspectives and challenges — which is the very reason that the constitution requires that one commissioner reside in each district.

The BOCC’s integrity problem is big enough that it requires a dramatic course change. It is time for integrity to retake the front seat in Nassau County government. Step one, Mr. Leeper, is your resignation.

 

DE 78-19 – March 21, 1978
Residency Requirement; County Commissioner
ART. VIII, S. 1(3) & ART. X,
S. 3, FLA. CONST. (1968)
SS. 99.032, F.S. (1977)

To: Honorable Neil T. Kinnear, Jr., Supervisor of Elections, Room 212, Hernando County Courthouse, Brooksville, Florida 33512
Prepared by: Division of Elections
You have requested an opinion of this office in answer to substantially the following question:

Does the residency requirement for a candidate for county commissioner continue beyond qualification and through the term of office?

Your question is answered in the affirmative.

A candidate for the office of county commissioner is required at the time of filing his/her qualifying papers to be a resident of the commission district from which he qualifies, s. 99.032, F.S. (1977). This statute was amended by the 1977 legislature to delete a previously mandated six months prior residence which was invalidated by the courts. Wilson v. Newell. 223 So.2d 734 (Fla. 1969). The law was also amended to expressly require residence at the time of qualifying. By doing so the legislature has removed the office of county commissioner from the doctrine that qualification for office are required to be met at the time of election. State ex rel. Fair v. Adams, 139 So.2d 879 (Fla. 1962); Davis ex rel. Taylor v. Crawford, 95 Fla. 338,116 So. 41 (Fla. 1928); Op Atty Gen. 074-293 (September 23,1974). This office is the only one required by statute to be a resident at the time of qualifying.

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The members of the board of county commissioners are elected by the voters of the entire county, but one commissioner must reside in each of the commission districts. Art. VIII, s. 1(3), Fla. Const.
(1968). It was to insure compliance with this constitutional requirement that the legislature enacted s. 99.032, F.S., described above.

It is clear that the statute imposes a residency requirement at the time of qualifying as a candidate for county commissioner. This is a continuing requirement as the constitution provides that a “failure to maintain the residence requirement when elected or appointed” causes a vacancy in office to occur. Art. X, s. 3, Fla. Const. (1968). The Supreme Court has held that the failure of a school board member to maintain residency during her term of office created a vacancy. State ex rel. Askew v. Thomas, 293 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 1974).
Accordingly, it seems clear from the state constitution and Supreme Court’s decisions that an initial residency requirement is a continuing one and the failure to maintain throughout the term of office creates a vacancy.

A county commissioner must maintain residence in the district from which elected for the duration of the term of office, otherwise a vacancy in office is created.

Editor’s Note: Scott began his career doing technology work for a Rayonier pulp mill in Washington State. Starting in 1991, his work often brought him to Rayonier’s Fernandina mill, and he moved to Fernandina full-time in 1997 when the company offered him a permanent position. He is a graduate of the American Institute for Computer Science and a technology leadership program of Columbia Business School. He is an Eagle Scout and spends his free time as a father of 4 boys, as a Scoutmaster, and as a youth pastor.

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16 Responses to “For me this is all about integrity . . .” – An opinion

  1. Douglas Adkins says:

    Mr. Golding appears in my opinion to be part of the political machine that our friends at Rayonier have decided to put together ( Citizens for a Better Nassau ) the recent public records request by a top shelf Tallahassee opposition research company is all part of the frontal attack that this corporate giant seems willing launch against any politician that dares to defy them. Make no mistake that there is a lot at stake in the 2020 election, they need to secure majority control of the County Commission to get those “public parks” referenced in Rep Cord Byrd’s HB 1075. They need the local taxpayers to fund the operation of those pesky parks so they can proceed with the bonding people in New York on the $600 million in infrastructure dollars. The new leaders at Rayonier in my opinion see Nassau County as the company town they own and the people they put into office need to adhere to their demands in my opinion from what I can see. Every public official should be careful with Rayonier and its political machine as it continues to see increasing control over the lives of the people who call Nassau County home. Danny Leeper is a fine and outstanding public official, we should be fortunate to have local leaders like Danny Leeper and his willingness to stand up for the taxpayers. The fact that Mr. Golding wants to draw in his parents and family is absolutely wrong, you can disagree with Mr. Leeper but his family should be off limits. By the way his parents are tremendous people and should be given the respect and dignity they deserve. It has been said “this is no longer your grandfather’s Rayonier”, in my opinion that rising sentiment seems to be on track with the growing concern around a corporate takeover of Nassau County’s local government. Thank you Commissioner Leeper for your public service and dedicate to the people of this community.

    • Scott Golding says:

      Mr. Adkins, if you read the articles, Mr. Leeper drew in his family by saying that he lives with them (when he doesn’t). If they are off limits, then he shouldn’t have pulled them in. I’m just calling Mr. Leeper out on the obvious dishonesty. This is, as the title says, all about integrity for me, and since he doesn’t live in the district he represents, he would appear to be violating the law.

      I never said, by the way, that I disagree with Mr. Leeper, though you’ve decided that I do. I am just pointing out one specific lack of integrity, and asking him to follow the law. You have turned that into an attack on Rayonier, to which you are entitled, but you have not, I notice, defended his (undefendable) residency, which is the crux of this matter.

      The BOCC chairman wrote an article published here last week defending their Commission’s integrity. I am just pointing out that there is more to the “smell of putrifaction” in our county leadership than just the Rayonier disputes. If the BOCC wants to be viewed as credible by the rest of the county, especially around the Rayonier disputes, they need to be acting with integrity — and they aren’t right now.

    • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

      The fact that Mr. Leeper doesn’t reside in his District hasn’t dogged him at all, despite the News-Leader revelation. The rumble will more likely come when developer Steve Leggett’s south end proposal goes to the county commission for various approvals when Mr. Leeper won’t be able to deny a conflict of interest since he’s Director of Real Estate Sales and Marketing for Omni Amelia Island Plantation Real Estate. Since he/AIP would stand to profit materially from the sales of Leggett’s homesites and condos, he would have to recuse himself from voting/participating on the developer’s requests/proposals, or not seek re-election next year.

      • Dave Lott says:

        Mrs. Hunter, I am not sure where I see a conflict of interest as I have not seen anything that ties Mr. Leggett’s plans to the Omni AIP other than it is adjacent land as I don’t believe there is any common ownership.
        I do think Mr. Golding raises a valid question of residency and I would hope that Danny would resolve quickly.Otherwise it will come down to a legal challenge if there is a 3-2 vote with Danny in the majority.

        • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

          Omni being contiguous is in a superior position to structure an exclusive real estate relationship w/ that development, but you’re absolutely right, I got out over my skis!

          • Dave Lott says:

            There have been stranger bedfellows in the Island’s past for sure. However, if Leggett still wants to push the hotel, one would think that the Omni would not be in favor since it would be a direct competitor. If just the residential development currently allowed, that could be a different story.

  2. Gerald Decker says:

    I guess this really comes down to the definition of “reside” in law, and whether Leeper meets that definition. In general legal terms: “A bona fide residency requirement asks a person to establish that she/he actually lives at a certain location and usually is demonstrated by the address listed on a driver’s license, a voter registration card, a lease, an income tax return, property tax bills, or utilities bills.” So does Mr Leeper meet this requirement?

  3. Steven Crounse says:

    As the 2020 National election is extremely critical to the future of the United States, and our democratic republic. The local elections at the County level needs to be watched very closely. Understand who is running, and what are their objectives. I happen to believe as Mr.Adkins, that Rayonier and there propaganda arm, (Citizen for a Better Nassau) are working extremely hard to load up the County Commission with “Company People” Dark Money is going to be flooding our County this election cycle. Vote carefully. “Knowledge is Power” Know your Candidates.

    • Dave Lott says:

      Steven, you may absolutely be right about trying to get a slate of candidates sympathetic to their perspective. But same thing is happening by others in the City regarding conservation. Perfectly acceptable to do so. I don’t see Mr. Golding’s opinion piece as a “smear campaign” but one that offers his take on the facts regarding Danny’s residency and posing the legal question. That is the core issue here and discussion about the relationship between Wildlight development and the county is separate – IMHO.

  4. RM Fenn says:

    Rayonier and Rayonier Advanced Materials are now two different and distinct companies. People should get their facts and nomenclature straight.

    • Douglas Adkins says:

      The lawsuits and SEC investigations into Rayonier should give everyone pause for concern in my opinion. The company settled by paying $73 million in March 2017. You have to wonder why they demanded $5 million from the school board in an interest free loan to build the road that also serves to feed traffic into their development. I will be interested to see when this $5 million in public funds is paid back to the School District and whether interest is paid.https://www.courthousenews.com/rayonier-not-woods-excessive-timber-harvesting-claims/

  5. Terry Jones says:

    danny leeper ‘may’ be wrong about his residency status but there is no ambiguity about how wrong radient is with their attacks against elected county officials & their intentions to saddle the citizens of nassau county with the burden of providing care & expense for “wildlight” landscaping——-i do believe mr.scott golding’s integrity but i also do believe that he is being blinded by loyalty to a company that is no longer the same that he went to work for many years ago but is now just powerful & simply greedy

    • RMFenn says:

      MS. Jones, perhaps you should get your facts straight. Radient isn’t trying to get the county to provide care and expense for landscaping for Wildlight.
      If the county had been doing its job instead of allowing all the development off the county to happen without charging proper impact fees (despite the fact that many of been telling the county for more than 12 years, including their own study which they chose to ignore), it would have been providing the citizens of Nassau County with paved roads and parks and there would have been no tax increase. Instead, it is the county who is trying to hold a good corporate citizen hostage., You call them greedy, Yet, This company has brought numerous high paying jobs to the area, donated acreage for county services and right of ways for evacuation routes, and much more. It has provided an over whelming abundance of money both in donations and in tax dollars to the county. They are among the best corporate citizens around. Just ask any non-profit organization..
      I have read and re-read the disputed special act that created the Stewardship District that contains Wildlight and tin the Webster dictionary he word “May” does not mean MUST.
      Please get your facts straight..

  6. Gerald Decker says:

    Mr Golding raised a fair question, it deserves a fair answer….not a lot of bombast.

    • RM Fenn says:

      Ditto. Mr., Adkins gets off on tangents not concerning the issue Mr. Golding raised. We need clarity from Mr Leeper; Does he live in the district he represents? Or, does he live with his wife on the Plantation?

      • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

        Commissioner Leeper does not live on OmniPlantation. He WORKS for OmniPlantation as Director of Real Estate Sales, but he and his family live on Florence Point in District 2, represented by Commissioner Aaron C. Bell.

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