During his two years as TDC director, Mark Bellinger used TDC and BP settlement money to buy an eight hundred-thousand dollar house in Kelly Plantation, a brand new SUV, a forty-eight thousand dollar porche, forty thousand dollars worth of furniture, two custom chopper motorcycles, and more. He also committed the TDC to an expensive lease for office space in Destin. All without TDC or county commission approval. During a special meeting of the Okaloosa County Legislative Delegation Wednesday night, a state auditor said Bellinger was able to pull off these deals because of either of poor oversight procedures in-place, or because he had help.
"Well I think the auditor general's report very conclusively says that in Okaloosa County government we either had people who were complicit with criminal behavior or we had people who were so woefully incompetent that they don't need to be anywhere near public money again" said Representative Matt Gaetz.
There were several items on tonight’s agenda to be discusses but perhaps the one that was most agreeable to everyone was the fact that more than one person needed to be held accountable for the county's mishaps
"What I was hoping to hear tonight was that the county government would take responsibility and say that the people who made these mistakes would be gone and there would be acknowledgement that laws were broken" said Matt Gaetz.
After they discovered Bellinger's embezzlement, Okaloosa County commissioners enacted new TDC spending limits and oversight procedures. But Gaetz believes there should be more restrictions in place to keep something like this from happening again.
"My hope is that the first bill that the Legislature sends to the Governor is ethics reform that includes state officials and local officials" said Matt Gaetz.
If Gaetz introduces a bill in the house, he may have a powerful allie in the Senate...his father, Senate President Don Gaetz.
"We need to make sure that we don't have a repeat performance and I think as a member of the senate i have a responsibility to make sure they're kept on a short leash when it comes to public funds" said Senate President Don Gaetz.
Local, state and federal investigators are all examining the state audit to see if any other laws were broken. If so, more people could be charged.