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Brock bucks county-led audit, county vendors suffer under Brock's refusal to pay

City Desk Naples-Marco Island, Florida
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Gina Edwards
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Naples City Desk - News and In-depth coverage in Naples and Collier County

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Subscriber's Only Extra -- View the latest court filings in Brock v. Ochs et al. 

Brock bucks county-led audit, county vendors suffer under Brock's refusal to pay

By Gina Edwards

Naples City Desk


In the escalating feud between Collier Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock and Collier County government, Commission Chairman Tim Nance called a time out and said he would speak privately with Brock to understand how Brock spends the $6 million the county allocates to him and then report back to the elected board.

That move headed off a request by Commissioner Georgia Hiller Tuesday in which she asked her colleagues to authorize the county to hire an external auditor to audit Brock’s spending of $6 million in county tax dollars he receives to provide accounting services to the county.

Brock, appearing in public for the first time in months, on Tuesday said he had no problem with an external auditor looking at how he spends the county’s $6 million, but he said he’d be the one to hire the external auditor.

“You cannot go out and hire an auditor to audit the Clerk of the Circuit Court. You can however request that the Clerk of the Circuit Court go hire an auditor and you pay for it. And I’m happy as a lark,” Brock said.

Brock, in 2008, refused to allow his staff to speak to external auditors hired by the county to review Brock’s handling of interest income earned on the county’s investment portfolio, according to a timeline Hiller presented to her colleagues on Tuesday.

County staff and commissioners at that time said they didn’t need Brock’s cooperation and that the information needed to conduct an audit was public record. Brock assessed the county $16,998, or $1 per page, a fee the county refused to pay as an illegal charge. The county said the fee should be 15 cents a page for county public records, but Brock refused to turn over the records for months unless the county paid the higher charge.

Naples City Desk challenged a $1 per page charge by Brock assessed to Naples City Desk for electronic public records on a CD in a public records lawsuit in February 2014. The case is pending before Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal.

Hiller, a former Brock ally, raised questions about Brock’s handling of the county’s investment portfolio and banking contract last fall.

In April, Brock filed a lawsuit challenging the county’s purchasing policy as illegal and in June he stopped paying hundreds of bills now totaling more than $800,000 owed to county vendors, many of them local small business owners. County Manager Leo Ochs says the purchasing policy is in-line with policies in place at all of Florida’s 67 counties and Brock has paid under the same system for 15 years.

Brock contends that the County Commissioners cannot delegate any spending authority under their purchasing ordinance to the county manager and that commissioners must vote to approve every purchase in advance. Brock has refused to pay a purchase as small as 16 cents until he could verify it was approved in advance by commissioners. In neighboring Lee County, commissioners there don’t see any purchase decisions by the county manager or his staff if they are under $100,000.

Ochs said Brock is forcing a level of micromanagement by elected commissioners that will grind Collier County government to a halt, particularly while commissioners are on summer break. More than 90 percent of county spending is approved by commissioners in advance under larger contracts that are above $50,000.

Brock, in the lawsuit he filed in April against Ochs and the county’s purchasing director, has asked the courts for broad discretion to block any payment he doesn’t believe has a valid public purpose.

On Monday, attorneys for Ochs filed an emergency action asking the court to compel Brock to pay county vendors.

Commissioner Donna Fiala asked Brock about his $6 million budget on Tuesday: “The lawsuits where you sue us … where does that money come from?”

Brock answered: “From my fees.”

On Tuesday, two vendors told commissioners about the hardships they are facing because they aren’t being paid for work already done for the county.

“These are single mothers with kids who are not going to get their commissions because this has all been held up right here,” said Debra Greenfield, who told commissioners she has 90-day-old invoices now totaling $24,000 for services she provides to the county’s Solid Waste Department. Under the local government prompt payment act, vendors are required to be paid in 45 days.

Commissioner Penny Taylor and Tom Henning pushed for the board to add an agenda item to vote to pay Greenfield on Tuesday.  

Brock’s Finance Director Crystal Kinzel said if commissioners would only vote to approve the purchase order then Brock’s Office would pay it. But Ochs supporters on the commission called that, in effect, a legal game.

Ochs said no advance vote by the board is needed under the county’s purchasing ordinance, which allows the county manager and purchasing director to sign off on smaller spending items under $50,000.  

Commissioner Penny Taylor chastised Ochs for commenting about the matter. “Isn’t your argument self-serving because you’re in litigation with the Clerk,” Taylor said.

Ochs said “It’s not self-serving because it’s your law.”

Brock contends in court filings the county’s purchasing ordinance violates state law. “We’re interpreting (state law) the way every other county in the state is,” Fiala said.

Henning said elected commissioners can’t delegate their authority to county staff and that Brock can refuse to pay. “He holds all the funds of the county. It’s the law,” Henning said.

Nance said the county and Clerk have conducted business this same way for 15 years but only recently has Brock stopped paying. He said Brock is using vendors to get something he wants in the lawsuit he initiated.

“Our policy already calls for you to get paid,” Commissioner Nance told a small business owner who provides entertainment for summer camps through the county parks department. The business owner questioned whether he should cancel upcoming performances for kid campers.   

Hiller said: “It’s the Clerk’s fault.” She said Brock is hurting business owners who expect to get paid for work done. “The Clerk by his actions is hurting this community … It’s reprehensible,” she said. 


Date: July 8, 2015

Story Reporting by Gina Edwards for Naples City Desk




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