Article VIII, Section 1. (d), of the Florida State Constitution, provides for the election of certain county officers including a Clerk of the Circuit Court. The latter part of this section specifies that, "...the Clerk of the Circuit Court shall be ex officio clerk of the board of county commissioners, auditor, recorder and custodian of all county funds". Article V, Section 16, of the state constitution, also specifies that the Clerk shall have the duties quoted above.
The Florida Supreme Court upheld the Second District Court of Appeals (DCA) decision in the Collier County Clerk v Board of County Commissioners of Collier County issued on September 23, 2009 reaffirming the role of the Clerk of the Circuit Court as auditor and custodian of all county funds.
The DCA concluded “to the extent that the Clerk is the custodian of all county funds, he necessarily can only be the custodian of those funds to which he has been given custody, which would presumably encompass all County funds.”
The DCA ruling stated “A public officer with the right and responsibility to maintain custody of public funds necessarily has the authority both to investigate circumstances in which public funds have wrongfully been withheld from the officer’s custody and seek to obtain custody of the withheld funds. Restricting the Clerk’s authority to do so is inconsistent with the goal of protecting public funds from misappropriation, and it is inconsistent with the effectual and complete exercise of the Clerk’s authority as custodian of all county funds.”
The Nineteenth Statewide Grand Jury Report, A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions dated December 17,2010, identified the role of the Clerks of Court as the first constitutional check on local spending in the State of Florida.
The check and balance system established by our founders at the national level is applied in various methods at Florida’s state and county level as well. The Auditor General is a state constitutional officer who has fiscal auditing duties for state government. Likewise, each county has a clerk who is responsible for the disbursement of proper expenditures. It is this constitutional check on spending that serves our counties’ citizens as a fiscal watchdog.
While we see the value and importance of inspector’s general, the first constitutional check on local spending comes from our state’s clerks. Their efforts may be supplemented and assisted by inspector’s general, sheriffs, local police and other fraud-fighting components of government, but their role is fundamental, and because of this, their liability is personal. This is an important area of government that should be more fully utilized in some areas of our state.