St. Lucie Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt’s balancing act: private lobbying on county time

By on August 26, 2013
pruitt, ken

In the private sector, companies fire employees for performing private jobs on company time. In the case of St. Lucie County Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt, outside work is proving to be a balancing act worthy of the circus.

An investigation by George Andreassi for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers found Pruitt to be juggling two highly profitable private-sector jobs, while at the same time performing elected duties.  He is the only constitutional officer on the Treasure Coast with such a valuable sideline.

Pruitt’s questionable work habits are raising doubts about his focus and the amount of time he spends devoted to St. Lucie County.

The former Republican state Senate President had used personal email accounts for his job as a lobbyist, as well as travelling several times out of St. Lucie County for meetings — all during county business hours.

There are 15 constitutional officers throughout the Treasure Coast; of which, 14 tell reporters they are simply too busy with their official duties to take on a second job, much less a third. Pruitt does not seem burdened with that.

Pruitt, who received $124,003 by St. Lucie taxpayers in 2012, also took in a total of $356,077 in 2012 for his personal work, according to financial disclosure statements filed with the Florida Commission on EthicsJuly 1.

The 56-year-old made most of his private-sector money from his lobbying firm, The P5 Group of Fort Pierce. State records show the company paid Pruitt $264,776 with another $2,844 in lobbying fees from a law firm.

Pruitt is also a principal with real estate investment firm Magnolia Florida of Maitland. That third job paid him $60,916 in 2012. An additional $27,499 came from a related real estate company.

A six-month investigation uncovered Pruitt’s balancing act in lobbying activity:

  • Trips to Tallahassee, Palm Beach, Martin and Broward Counties during normal business hours to represent lobbying clients in meetings with public officials
  • Dozens of emails from a personal account tied to his lobbying firm, again during official business hours, including delivery of “The Pruitt Report” legislative newsletter

Pruitt began as a lobbyist after stepping down as state Senate president in 2009. That year, the law firm of Weiss, Handler, Angelos & Cornwell paid him $61,538 for lobbying work, with another $355,000 in 2010.

Pruitt won St. Lucie County Property Appraiser in a 2010 special election to complete the term of Jeff Furst, who died in office. Pruitt won a full four-year term in 2012 without opposition.

It is difficult to understand how much time Pruitt – or any other property appraiser — spends on county business. He does not exactly punch a time clock.

In addition, there are currently no state laws that require any elected property appraiser to record their time working on county business, while either during vacations, sick time or on personal business.

The public might never know, since Pruitt — a two-decade veteran of the Florida Legislature — refuses to discuss any independent dealings with reporters. 

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