Thursday, August 30, 2007

Playing Footsie as Usual

Michael Stewart of the Pensacola News Journal drives another dart in county administrator George Tuart's ample rear end today.
Less than a week after promising "full disclosure" of all his personal business ties George Touart has acknowledged a business relationship with a company that does millions of dollars of work for the county.

Touart is a partner in Global Employment Services Inc., an employee-staffing firm which has provided labor for R.W. Beck Group Inc.

After Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005, R.W. Beck was paid by Escambia County and reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to monitor debris removal.

The company also was the top pick to manage a pending cleanup of Escambia's coastal waterways. A decision on that matter will come before the Escambia County Commission for a vote on Sept. 6.
* * *
Touart, who has been county administrator since 2002, did not inform commissioners that his outside company had begun work with the Beck subsidiary.
The short of it is that George Tuart as county administrator, is overseeing county business that bring profits to a company owned in part by George Tuart, the county administrator. And he didn't tell anyone until investigative journalist Stewart confronted him with the proof.

What's more, it now appears that as recently as two years ago Tuart was business partners with a sitting county commissioner (presumably one of his own bosses) as well as others who had business before the county. Stewart identifies these 'others' as including such notable land developers as Cliff Mowe and the late Alan Levin.

George Tuart's response to these new allegations strangely echoes the bizarre complaint of that Idaho senator who was caught playing footsie with a male undercover policeman in Minneapolis: blame the newspaper. Tuart claims that he's "done nothing improper" and resents "the News Journal's queries into his financial dealings."
"I've tried to be cooperative," he said. "Enough is enough."
No, George. It will never be enough until you come completely clean and divest yourself of all business relationships that could compromise your alleged integrity.

Today's news follows last week's disclosure that Tuart enjoys a private business relationship with businessmen who are about to sell land to the county for $1.4 million. Tuart didn't disclose that relationship, either, until confronted by reporter Stewart. (Today's News Journal editorial page throws up its hands and says let's cancel the land deal. It smells too awful. Sunday's editorial called on Tuart to resign and retire.)

Tuart says he sees " nothing wrong in going into business with local developers and a county commissioner." That view of a public official's duty might be called the W.D. Childers syndrome.
It's usually discussed around a cooking pot filled with cash.

Former commissioner and Tuart business partner Bill Dickson has standards only slightly broader. He told Stewart that when he was in office "he did not feel it was a conflict of interest to invest in out-of-state property with developers who do business in Escambia County and may have business before the commission."

That crabbed view of public official propriety is the core of the problem. Tuart and too many of his county commissioner bosses give the appearance of being in public office for their private gain, and not for the public good. Prominent businessmen and county commissioners invite top administrators like Tuart into their financial bed and -- Joila! Suddenly the administrator is in a position to scratch their financial backs and play financial footsie with them, under the covers as it were. Tuart knows they'll keep tickling his toes so long as he continues to reciprocate.

One commissioner left mostly in the dark about these goings-on , Grover Robinson (who represents District 4 including Pensacola Beach) says it creates at a minimum "the appearance of misconduct."

Local yokels like Tuart and Dickson may not be aware of it, and they probably wouldn't care much anyway, but it's this kind of stuff that has long given Escambia County government its terrible reputation beyond the county borders. Self-dealing, undisclosed partnerships, government property purchases that channel profits into closely-connected hands, and similar shady shenanigans are fuel for the good ol' boy system.

But it's all the fault of the media, don'cha know.

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