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Saturday, July 30, 2022

Sumter commissioner confronts alleged ethics violation during candidate forum

Sumter County Commissioner Roberta Ulrich confronted an alleged ethics violation head-on while her opponent Reed Panos defended two suspended commissioners during a candidate forum Thursday night sponsored by the Sumter County Republican Club.

Also appearing were District 5 candidates Daniel Myslakowski and Don Wiley. Ulrich and Panos are competing in District 1.

Running in the Aug. 23 Republican primary, all candidates stressed their commitment to the Republican Party and conservative issues. Each candidate was given 15 minutes for a speech and audience questions.

Ulrich came out swinging against the alleged violation, saying that she is “under attack and I will defend my honor and my good name.”

Sumter County Commissioner Roberta Ulrich speaks at Thursdays candidate forum
Sumter County Commissioner Roberta Ulrich speaks at Thursday’s candidate forum.

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

Ulrich said she did not know Beruff at the time of the donation. Beruff is an active GOP donor who gave $400,000 to Republican candidates across the state.

“I am a small potato in that batch,” she said.

Consulting an attorney, Ulrich said she was told that it is her obligation to vote if she does not have a conflict of interest.

She also discussed her background as a federal employee, where she worked deciphering codes for the National Security Agency.

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

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

Reed Panos outlines his candidacy during Thursdays candidate forum
Reed Panos outlines his candidacy during Thursday’s candidate 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 of alleged Florida Sunshine Law violations. Ulrich was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Search.

Panos said Search has been convicted of nothing and has not agreed to testify against Miller, contrary to stories in the Daily Sun.

“Oren’s trial will be coming up, and we need to ignore the Daily Sun propaganda and await the outcome of the trial before making final decisions about the matter,” he said, adding that the suspended commissioners were elected by Republicans “in a landslide.”

Panos said Sumter County residents are still paying for the 25 percent county tax rate increase enacted in 2019, which propelled Miller and Search into office. He said businesses must pay their fair share through impact fees.

“We need to consider the residents equally with the business interests that currently control every aspect of governance in Sumter County,” he said. “I pledge to work with those 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 student body vice president at the University of California and managed a $13-million budget.

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 over the past seven years. He said a solution will require a compromise supported by the Developer, the governor, the 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 children 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 will not be a rubber stamp for any special interest,” he said.

On Friday, it was announced that Wiley had been appointed to the District 5 seat by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Wiley, who serves as a Community Development District 10 supervisor and member of the Project Wide Advisory Committee, described Search and Miller as “filth.” County Chairman Craig Estep, elected with them, was in the audience.

“These people got 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 construction knowledge to keep Villagers informed about new projects.

Don Wiley
Don Wiley

He said Sumter County is lacking a master growth plan and, if elected, pledged to improve planning and make the county web site easier to use.

During the question period, a neighbor asked Wiley if he had ever let his dog out without a leash. Wiley said the dog had escaped.

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

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