Judge halts law requiring city officials share financial information as cities still feel effects

A state law requiring local city officials to disclose more of their finances is now on hold after a federal judge's ruling.

The law, commonly called ‘Form 6,’ resulted in more than 100 resignations from public officials statewide, creating upheaval for local governments.

In St. Pete Beach, the effects are still being felt. All four commissioners resigned in December over Form 6. Only the Mayor was left standing.

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The law was passed with the intention of creating more transparency at the local level, but a federal judge said it goes too far and is likely unconstitutional.

"I don't like to gloat, but it reinforces what I felt was right. I always felt what I was doing was the right thing for me," said former St. Pete Beach Commissioner Mark Grill, who resigned over Form 6 in December. He said a federal judge’s ruling echoed his position.

"It crosses the line. It's an invasion of privacy and the First Amendment. By telling everybody your financial status, how will that improve transparency at the local level?" he said.

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A total of 45 cities filed suit over the law, and while that plays out in court, the judge has halted all enforcement of it, meaning officials do not need to turn the form into the Ethics Commission. The judge said the law likely violates the First Amendment and the state failed to demonstrate how it would increase transparency and root out corruption.

It is worth noting it is the same financial disclosure form required of state and county officials.

"Municipal officials have a lot of power, and they make decisions that make a major impact on people's lives. How does it impact development? How does it impact neighborhoods? How does it impact traffic? Parks? Beaches?" said attorney Jane Graham with Sunshine City Law firm.

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In St. Pete Beach, the fallout resulted in a group of citizens suing the city for how it went about replacing the commissioners who resigned. Graham represents those residents.

"The Form 6 debacle, if you want to call it that, was kind of the flame that started the situation to begin with," said Graham.

The new commissioners went on to approve two contentious hotel projects, the Sirata and the TradeWinds, who have also filed lawsuits to reverse those hotel approvals.

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"They wanted to have someone sitting up there making decisions that impact their community based on someone who they voted for. And so the fact that you have four people out there who are or were appointed and not people who are actually elected, that's where the heartburn is," said Graham. 

Across the state, at least 125 city officials resigned over Form 6. Grill said that has long lasting impacts on communities.

"Those who resigned, many had that institutional knowledge, whether it's St. Pete beach, Pinellas County or around the state. And that’s not something that is easily replaced and it doesn’t get replaced quickly," said Grill.

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