TITUSVILLE, Florida - Clerk of the Circuit Court Scott Ellis is embroiled in another legal tennis match – this time with the City of Satellite Beach and its Community Redevelopment Agency. And this match might just end up in court.
Ellis claims his office has the authority to audit the CRA since it receives funds from Brevard County. Attorneys for both the city and the CRA are questioning his right to audit and have called him “prosecutor, judge, and jury of one.” Ellis has responded, “It is up to the Courts to decide whether money has been misappropriated or not, until such ruling is made we each have our own opinions.”Ellis says “the root of the issue is the City of Satellite Beach tapped their CRA for more than $5 million to use for general municipal expenditures. Since the county’s share of the number (about $1.5 million) was to fund CRA operations, the CRA must repay the county funds. CRA money cannot be used for general government expenditures.”
The conflict has culminated in a series of back-and-forth letters and has even reached the County Commission.
“We have been looking at the Satellite Beach CRA for many months,” Ellis told Brevard Times. “In response, they ran to the County Commission with an ‘interlocal agreement,’ which deceptively claimed returns on future revenues as returns of past revenues unlawfully spent.”
On July 9, Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker sent a public records request to Ellis, asking for legal standing to “audit the City of Satellite Beach.”
On July 10, staff counsel for the clerk’s office, Kevin McBride, responded that the Clerk’s Office was not “auditing the City of Satellite Beach, but rather the misappropriation of funds due Brevard County by the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency.”However, according to Ellis, the letter from his attorney contained a mis-statement regarding the “misappropriation of funds,” which he says he promptly corrected with his own letter to Barker.
In that letter, Ellis said, “The Clerk serves as the “auditor…and custodian of all county funds.” See Article V, Section 16 and Article VIII, Section 1(d), Fla. Const. Emphasis added. See also Section 125.17, F.S.“The Satellite Beach CRA receives funds from the County. The Clerk has a vested interest on behalf of the public to conduct audits of the uses of those County funds. To deny the Clerk the ability to conduct such postpayment audits would compromise the Clerk's duty and power to guard against the illegal use of county funds. See Brock v. Bd. of County Com'rs of Collier County, 21 So. 3d 844, 847 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009).”
On July 16, attorneys for both Satellite Beach (James P. Beadle) and the CRA (Clifford B. Shepard) sent nearly identical letters to Ellis requesting legal authority for the audit.
In part, the letters said, “please provide the legal authority upon which the Clerk bases its right to perform this current ‘audit’ of the CRA, as the Clerk’s authority to perform postpayment audits is generally limited to determining the validity of payments made by the County.”
The letter also noted that the CRA expenditures in question were over three years old and questioned Ellis’ constitutional authority to “second guess how other local government entities expended funds simply because those entities received funds from the county.”
In letters to the city and the attorneys on July 18, Ellis referred them to the Clerk’s website , which Ellis says highlights past expenditure reviews of CRAs and “multiple post-spending audits.”
Ellis concluded his letter with the following, “The strange statement of the Clerk as ‘prosecutor, judge and jury of one’ is interesting. I don't recall such a prior characterization of math and accounting issues in my lifetime, but I look forward to more such colorful comment.”