Sumter commissioner confronts alleged ethics violation at candidate forum

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Sumter County Commissioner Roberta Ulrich faced head-on an alleged ethics violation as her opponent Reed Panos defended two suspended commissioners at a Thursday night candidates’ forum sponsored by the county’s Republican Club of Sumter.

Also in attendance were District 5 candidates Daniel Myslakowski and Don Wiley. Ulrich and Panos face off in District 1.

In the Aug. 23 Republican primary, all candidates highlighted their commitment to the Republican Party and conservative issues. Each candidate had 15 minutes for a speech and questions from the audience.

Ulrich spoke out against the alleged breach, saying it was “under attack and I will defend my honor and reputation.”

Sumter County Commissioner Roberta Ulrich speaks at Thursday’s Candidates Forum.

A complaint filed with the Florida Ethics Commission by villager Gilbert Windsor alleges she committed a violation by voting on three measures related to a proposed distribution center on State Route 44 near Interstate 75. The owner of the land is Carlos Beruff, who donated $5,000 in April to Ulrich’s campaign through his associated companies.

Ulrich said she had never met Beruff, an active GOP donor who gave $400,000 to Republican candidates across the state.

“I’m a small potato in this lot,” she said.

While consulting with a lawyer, Ulrich said she was told it was her obligation to vote if she did not have a conflict of interest.

She also spoke about her background as a federal employee, where she worked cracking codes for the National Security Agency.

Ulrich said increasing impact fees, a goal last year of suspended commissioners, would drive businesses away from Sumter County.

“I stay away from people who live in a world of negativity,” she said.

Reed Panos presents his candidacy at the Thursday candidates' forum
Reed Panos is presenting his candidacy during Thursday’s candidates’ forum.

Panos, addressing what he called ‘the elephant in the room’, defended suspended commissioners Oren Miller and Gary Search, who were charged with perjury during an investigation last year into violations allegations of Florida Sunshine Law. Ulrich was nominated by Governor Ron DeSantis to replace Search.

Panos said Search was not found guilty of anything and did not agree to testify against Miller, contrary to Daily Sun reports.

“Oren’s trial will approach, and we must ignore the Daily Sun’s propaganda and await the outcome of the trial before making any final decisions on the matter,” he said, adding that the suspended commissioners had been elected. by the Republicans “in a landslide”. ”

Panos said Sumter County residents are still paying the 25% county tax rate increase enacted in 2019 that propelled Miller and Search to power. He said businesses must pay their fair share through impact fees.

“We need to consider residents on an equal footing with the business interests that currently control all aspects of governance in Sumter County,” he said. “I pledge to work with these business interests, not for them.”

A retired plastic surgeon, Panos described himself as a lifelong Republican with a 24-year military career who, at age 20, was elected vice president of the student body at the University of California and managed a budget of $13 million.

Panos said a pressing issue for the county is how to improve Morse Boulevard, where two golf cart drivers have been killed and others injured in the past seven years. He said a solution will require a compromise supported by the developer, governor, county and District 1.

Myslakowski focused his presentation on national issues, citing his opposition to critical race theory and sex education.

Daniel Myslakowski
Daniel Myslakowski

Growing up in a family of nine in Michigan, he served as a county commissioner until redistricting put him in the same district as his brother. He said the redistricting was retaliation for his vow not to raise taxes.

“I won’t be a rubber stamp for some special interest,” he said.

Wiley, who is District 10’s community development supervisor and a member of the entire project’s advisory board, described Search and Miller as “dirt.” County Chairman Craig Estep, elected with them, was in the audience.

“These people were elected and where are they now?” He asked. “They have no integrity.”

Wiley said he is known as a “Gold Wing nut” who uses a drone and his building knowledge to keep villagers informed of new projects.

Don Wiley
Don Wiley

He said Sumter County lacks a master plan for growth and, if elected, pledged to improve planning and make the county’s website easier to use.

During question period, a neighbor asked Wiley if he had ever let his dog go off-leash. Wiley said the dog escaped.

When the neighbor continued to confront Wiley, members of the public told the man to sit down. He left the room instead.

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