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Go around public trust at own peril

Gwen Brown has performed another public service.

The former Manatee County commissioner probably won’t see it that way, of course, and that’s understandable.

Getting taken to task by the Florida Commission on Ethics stings.

Yet it is a lesson, rendered by Brown, a State College of Florida adjunct professor, for some of our town’s newly elected public officials.

Do not conduct private business on the public’s dime.

Take heed, Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, as you settle into the Florida House of Representatives.

Ditto for our new county commissioners, Michael Gallen and Robin DiSabatino.

Although I doubt Gallen needs reminding.

He defeated the incumbent Brown, benefiting from her self-inflicted predicament to win the District 2 commission seat last August.

What’s more, his mother, Linda Gallen, notarized the ethics complaint that led to Brown’s imbroglio.

Hmmm, what a coincidence.

A commissioner for 16 years, Brown has been a vanguard when it came to community issues like gang prevention, teenage violence and generating opportunities for at-risk youth.

She’s street smart.

Which is why this quandary with the state ethics commission is so bewildering.

Using the county’s e-mail system and employees to conduct political and private business is not only improper, but, more importantly, is prohibited by state law.

Since 2008, Brown was accused of utilizing county resources to type, copy and e-mail:

n Quizzes, syllabi and tests for SCF.

n Eviction notices for her rental property.

n Commission election documents.

She reimbursed the county $1,800 for the $812 estimated cost of that work and apologized to staff, but the harm to her reputation as a public servant had been done.

Brown had to be more savvy than that.

Or did incumbency make her believe she was beyond reproach?

Brown’s defenders say this is much ado about nothing.

That this kind of thing goes on everywhere.

You’d be naive to think it doesn’t.

But when the elected official gets caught with the goods, there are repercussions.

The public has a long memory.

In Brown’s case, she got voted out of office.

After the state ethics commission ruled against her last week, Brown faces a maximum $10,000 fine and public censure if the violations are upheld by an administrative law judge.

Maybe she’ll reach a settlement and avoid more punishment.

Whatever the outcome, Brown serves as an example of what happens sometimes when an elected official ignores their public trust.

A harsh lesson, indeed.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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