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Nancy Smith

Sarah Heard, Martin County Commission Chair, Ripped in Second Ethics Complaint

August 7, 2014 - 6:00pm

A Martin County resident has filed a second ethics complaint against County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard, this one citing Heard for a string of violations, from failing to disclose ownership interest in a private plane to establishing a pattern of filing fraudulent expense reports.

John McAuliffe of Palm City signed the complaint Wednesday, then sent it with supporting documentaton to Morgan Bentley, chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics.

He gave a copy to Sunshine State News on Thursday and said he would also share a copy with The Stuart News before posting it onhis website,

"This has taken me months of working in my spare time to get everything together -- I'd say more than 60 hours," said McAuliffe, a 47-year-old computer technology salesman. "I didn't want to lodge a letter of concern without the paperwork to back it up. And I have everything."

He has a video clip on his website of Heard at a candidates forum claiming, "Public officials must be held to a higher standard. That is why my ethics, my integrity are absolutely unimpeachable."

"Well," insists McAuliffe, "her ethics are completely impeachable. Sarah Heard is holding herself to a lower standard, her actions show it and I think the people of Martin County deserve to see their commission chairwoman as she really is."

The complaint centers around three allegations:

-- Personal property not disclosed on the 2013 Form 6. Namely, an ownership interest in her husband Jeffrey's private aircraft: a seven-seat Piper Navajo PA31 325. McAuliffe attaches a copy of the 2006 bill of sale and a recent advertisement for a similar Piper in age and model going for $625,000. "Commissioner Heard has survivor rights to that aircraft, it needed to be disclosed and she must have known that when she was completing the form," said McAuliffe.

-- Improper acceptance of a gift and failure to recuse from votes with a clear conflict of interest.In December 2011 Heard accepted (and declared) a gift of a watercolor painting valued at $425 from 1000 Friends of Florida. The gift disclosure is attached.

The conflict arises, says McAuliffe, when 1000 Friends and The Martin County Conservation Alliance, of which Heard is a member, lost its appeal of a lawsuit against Martin County that dragged on for years. The 1st District Court of Appeal found the appeal of the land-use case "frivolous" and ordered the plaintiffs to pay court costs -- which amounted to some $32,000.

"Rather than recusing herself from a vote that would follow the court order to reimburse taxpayers," the complainant tells Bentley, she failed to recuse herself from the vote and "violated the public trust by voting in favor of a proposal to drop any claim to the legal fees and court costs."

The motion failed until it was revisited in a private commission meeting Dec. 3, 2013, after Heard became part of the commission majority. She was chairwoman in that private meeting when she and her friends from MCA and 1000 Friends worked out a settlement,according to the complaint. And in that fashion, the commission opted to receive a pennies-on-the-dollar return of the court-ordered legal fees.

McAuliffe cites the statutes he believes are applicable: FS 112.313(2) and FS 112.3148(4) for improper acceptance of a gift, and FS 112.3143 for Heard's conflict of interest -- her failure to recuse herself from votes on whether to pursue legal fees.

-- Alleged pattern of fraudulent expense declarations/submissions in violation of Florida Statutes.

By far, the largest stack of documents to support the complainant's case fall in this category. "I have no idea why Sarah feels the need to do it," McAuliffe told SSN, "God knows, she's rich enough. But she's nickel-and-diming taxpayers to death, even recording phony trip-return times so she can get more per-diem expense money. Maybe it's because she can, so she does. But it's right here in black and white and it sure looks like fraud to me and anyone else who looks."

In his letter to Bentley, McAuliffe claims Heard "has developed a pattern over her 12 years in elected office of expensive hotels with a government rate, padding her travel time to collect additional per-diem, billing for valet parking instead of self-parking and failing to declare a clear public benefit to the residents of Martin County when traveling to some conferences."

He told SSN, "(Heard) has had 12 years to learn the system and figure out how to scam it."

McAuliffefiled his first complaintagainst Heard June 18. It contended that the chairwoman undervalued her homesteaded, waterfront propertyin the Rocky Point subdivision by more than $400,000 and deliberately excluded details of property she owns in Illinois and North Carolina.Records show Heard received her copy of the complaint by certified mail at the County Administrative Center on June 20.

On July 14, Heard told SSN she knew nothing about the complaint, and if ethics matters are confidential, she said, then "I have nothing to say about this."

McAuliffe denies he's part of the campaign of Heard's Republican opponent, Martin County Currents publisher Barbara Clowdus. "Sure I support her," he said. "I offer to help when I can, but I don't work for her campaign. I would support anybody who isn't Sarah Heard. Luckily Barbara happens to be an excellent candidate."

McAuliffe told SSN in a July interview, "I don't have a dog in the hunt: I don't own a business, I'm not a developer. I'm just a concerned dad with an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, a dad who wants his kids to be able to come back to live in Martin County some day if that's what they want. But this commission majority doesn't want families.

"They vote against churches and poor people, they vote against parks, they even voted against the Boy Scouts," he said.

McAuliffe said Thursday he was told his first complaint has been fast-tracked, but he received no assurance the ethics commission would conclude its scrutiny of either complaint by Aug. 26.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at 228-282-2423.

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