Our investigation found that all 25 municipalities in Pinellas county fail to comply with a state law requiring them to notify the property appraiser’s office of real estate they own. The offending government agencies include the municipality within the county with the largest budget, namely Pinellas County itself. There is no indication that the statutory requirement has ever been adhered to since it was introduced in 2010.
Florida Statutes 193.085(3)(a) states that all “municipalities shall provide written annual notification to the several property appraisers of any and all real property owned by any of them so that ownership of all such property will be properly listed.” The word “shall” is highlighted in bold and red for our readers’ convenience.
Legal experts told the Guardian that when a statute says that something “shall” be done, it means it must be done. Not so fast, according to attorney Amanda Coffey in the Pinellas County attorney’s office, representing Property Appraiser Mike Twitty.
“The intent of that Statute is to ensure [sic] that government-owned properties are properly identified on the assessment roll,” Coffey told the Guardian in an e-mail, without referencing a source for the legislative intent she referred to. “As assessment roll ownership derives from recorded official records, a list of municipal property ownership would be redundant and unnecessary to the performance of the Property Appraiser’s statutory duties.”
Coffey also stated that the Property Appraiser “believes the current process best achieves the desired result” and that “the Property Appraiser is not charged with enforcing the Statute against municipalities.” In fact, there is no enforcement mechanism of any kind in the statute in question. The Property Appraiser’s office can’t enforce compliance, and neither can anyone else.
This isn’t the only state law “requiring” something of government agencies, but with no enforcement mechanism. FS 286.0105 requires notices of public meetings to contain certain information, but there is no penalty if they don’t. Many more examples exist
As Abraham Lincoln observed: “laws without enforcement are just good advice.” That’s why there is enforcement when government makes requirements of its citizens. It exists to insure citizen compliance. The enforcement may be in the form of fines, confiscation of property without a proceeding (a.k.a. “civil forfeiture“), arrest, prosecution, and/or other coercive measures.
Arguing that a law is “redundant”, as the Pinellas County attorney’s office did, is just another way of saying that they are above the law. It’s an argument that a citizen would not be able to successfully make to a government agency, especially not to a court of law.
Government agencies expect citizens to comply with all laws, as well as the multitude of ever-changing requirements those agencies impose on citizens. Therefore, it’s only reasonable for citizens to expect that government agencies to also comply with the multitude of requirements that the law imposes on them.
This article came as the result of a tip from a government employee. The Guardian invites the public to contact us if they have information they believe is of interest to the public.
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