Panel says Chestnut violated ethics law

The ruling stems from her acceptance of tickets to a fund-raising event from a local developer.


Published: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 1, 2004 at 12:23 a.m.

Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut violated state ethics laws by accepting tickets from developer Clark Butler to a University of Florida fund-raising event, the Florida Ethics Commission ruled Thursday.

The commission recommended Chestnut pay a civil penalty of $750. In an interview Saturday, the commissioner said she has already sent a check to her attorney, and expected the fine to be processed now that a final order has been issued.

"It was a learning experience, and I'm sure it will serve as a learning experience for other politicians as well," Chestnut said.

"People in public service are there because they love to give to their community. No public servant wants to or willingly violates ethics of their office."

A UF political science graduate student, Charlie Grapski, filed the complaint against Chestnut in October.

Grapski's complaint stemmed from the Sept. 19 Party on the Plaza, a fund-raising dinner to benefit the Harn Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Butler is the developer of a strip of shopping centers on Archer Road and has pushed for the four-laning of SW 24th Avenue to expand his development. He donated $100,000 for a table at the UF event. Chestnut and her husband, Charles, were his guests.

The County Commission has taken various votes on the road issue, and Chestnut has voted in favor of Butler's proposal.

Under Florida law, elected officials cannot accept gifts with values of more than $100 from someone lobbying for a benefit from the elected official's agency.

On Saturday, Grapski said he was pleased with the commission's decision.

"I hope that this sends a warning to everyone in local government that the ethics laws are there, and that they need to be adhered to strictly," he said.

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