School Board Chairman Betty Burney
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- She's the head of the Duval County School Board. A district that is one of the largest recipients of our tax dollars. Now, some people are wondering why she is not paying money she owes.
Her title, The Honorable Betty Burney. Chair of the Duval County School Board. The same Betty Burney who has not paid thousands of dollars in state ethics fines. Fines she's owed since May. May of 2002, more than 10 years ago.
Burney failed to file multiple financial statements while she was a member of the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council in the late 1990s.
Burney was a no-show at her own hearing. That's when they concluded Burney violated a Florida statute twice for failure to disclose financial assets.
They slapped her with a $4,000 dollar fine, plus attorney's fees and other costs. Add 10 years of interest, and as of today, she still owes nearly $7,000. Both the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Attorney General's Office, the group that prosecuted the case confirm, more than 10 years later, Burney has still not paid her fine.
Now, the Attorney General's office has filed a lien against a home Burney owns in Jacksonville.
We wanted to find out why Ms. Burney never paid her fine. We called her multiple times over a period of a few weeks. We left a message on her cell phone. We also called her school board office and spoke with an assistant, and explained it was very important Burney called us back.
Left with no other option, we caught up with her at school board headquarters. When we asked her about the fine, she said she did not know about it.
A state ethics investigator interviewed Burney about this case. She even wrote a letter to the commission. But since she doesn't seem to remember, we took her case to Matt Carlucci, a current member of the Florida Commission on Ethics.
"Betty is a friend of mine, I know Betty, and she's done a lot of good for our community. If I had any advice to give to Betty, my friend, I'd would say, might want to get in touch with the Ethics Commission, and see what it is that is owed and then try to work out and negotiate a settlement with the Florida Ethics Commission on that. That would be my advice to her, or to anybody really," Carlucci said.
Carlucci said Burney is not above the law.
We also asked State Representative Lake Ray to look at Burney's unpaid fines.
"We're asking for good role models for our students. School board is the one setting policy for our schools. Certainly, they should at least be adhering for the policies that are being set for them," he said.
After this case and others like it, we ask lawmakers if the Florida Commission on Ethics really has the power to enforce the law. First Coast News found nearly $1 million in ethics fines that expired. On Friday, the Commission will be working on a plan that could change the law.
First Coast News