State Probes Allegations Against Property Appraiser

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement preliminary felony investigation involving Bay County Property Appraiser Rick Barnett is underway.

Wednesday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted a search of some of Barnett's record at his downtown offices.

Barnett's deputy Dan Sowell confirmed the search and Barnett issued a written statement saying in essence, the anonymous complaint that prompted the search was baseless and politically motivated.

F-D-L-E officials confirmed there was a preliminary felony investigation, but refused to give any details.

Thursday we received a portion of the anonymous complaint, accusing Barnett of lowering property assessment values for some of the county's mover and shakers to lower their tax bills.
The complaint also accuses Barnett of using his employees to campaign for him during the 2004 election, while they were on county time.

A knowledgeable source pointed out a Tuesday, May 18, 2004 campaign event, held on Barnett's property off north Harrison Avenue, near the Bay County Sheriff's Office.

The source claims Barnett threw a campaign fish fry for members of the Bay County Sheriff's Office.

His campaign expenditure statement lists the costs, including a reimbursement to one of Barnett's employees for gas. Sowell clarified the expenditure as propane gas, for the fish cookers. He also said the employee had the day off from work while participating in the campaign event.

Sheriff's officials also confirmed the event, but said they couldn't remember the exact date it took place.

Barnett issued a statement saying the tax breaks in-question are not necessarily the parcels the F-D-L-E is investigating. He also says any of his employees who campaigned for him, did so on their own time, not the county's time.

Barnett also said he will not comment on anything regarding the complaint until the F-D-L-E completes its inquiry.