The Brevard County Commission on Tuesday reversed its controversial decision made months ago to deny financial assistance to people involved in litigation with the county.
Members voted unanimously at Tuesday’s committee meeting to remove the language “to exclude from the housing assistance program individuals who are actively engaged in litigation against Brevard County.” The exclusion requirement included those who has sent a letter of demand or a notice of intention to bring an action.
Under the new wording, people who are under investigation by law enforcement for fraud or who have pleaded or been convicted of fraud relating to a federal program will be excluded from the program.
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The commission unanimously adopted the original rule during a budget meeting on September 21, at the request of District 2 Commissioner Bryan Lober.
“I didn’t want to end up disbursing funds that, directly, indirectly or otherwise, would be used to pursue lawsuits against the county,” he said. “The logic being that even if we paid the landlord rather than the actual tenant, it would free up that amount of money that they would otherwise have paid for rent to be used to fund the lawsuit against the county.
His proposal stemmed from an incident nearly two years before the start of the pandemic when Robert Burns, a well-known political operative, freelance journalist and Lober critic, threatened to sue the county after he was kicked out of a conference. county press. by a Brevard County Sheriff’s Deputy, at Lober’s request.
Lober said the event was only open to accredited media organizations such as TV stations and newspapers, while Burns and other county officials maintain it was an open event to the public. public.
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“Lober had me physically removed from the press conference by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office,” Burns said. “It was a big deal. … I basically sent them a letter the next month saying I was going to sue for violation of my civil rights.
Burns said at the time he was unaware of the policy change proposed by Lober and approved by the commissioners at the September meeting. He applied for housing assistance in July 2021.
“The way it was explained to me and my landlord is that you’re approved for up to a year in three-month increments,” Burns said. “Every three months they are supposed to re-evaluate your application to see if there have been any changes.”
In October, he received an email from county staff advising him that he had received his most recent application, but since it was a duplicate of his previous application, it would need to be updated with new information. He told them that nothing had changed.
Months passed without a word, he said – and without a rent check.
“In December, I received an email from the county saying I was no longer eligible for the rental assistance program,” Burns said. “They could no longer process my request because I fall under this new policy regarding ongoing litigation,” Burns said. “I said, ‘What policy are you talking about? “”
It was then that he watched the video of previous board meetings and learned of Lober’s proposed change.
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In his defense of the restriction, Lober singled out a person who he claims committed fraud when applying for housing assistance, but did not publicly identify the individual.
“It’s basically 100% clear that he lied in his housing assistance application,” Lober said of the unnamed person. “What he wrote was absolutely not accurate. It could not have been accurate for various reasons.
Burns denies falsifying information on her rental application, saying the form asked how many people make up the household. He has 50% custody of his two children, which puts him below the income threshold for receiving assistance.
“Nobody called me,” Burns said. “I didn’t receive any calls from law enforcement or even the rental support people. No one questioned me about anything on the request.”
Ian Golden, the county’s director of housing and social services, told FLORIDA TODAY in an email that he explained the application issues directly to Burns.
From Lober’s perspective, he was not targeting anyone, but simply protecting the funds of those who had fraudulently applied for housing assistance by misrepresenting the financial situation on the application.
“The fact that I think this guy is beyond a jerk, I think he’s a reprehensible person, that doesn’t mean I’m doing anything different in how I approach him,” he said. Lober said. “It just means I don’t lose sight of him being who he is, but he’s not getting better, special or worse treatment.”
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Despite some reservations, Lober accepted amendments to this proposal because other commissioners were willing to change the wording to his satisfaction.
“My goal was to make this section as clear and concise as possible,” said District 3 Commissioner John Tobia. “In doing so, I looked federal assistance programs for advice on eligibility and disqualification issues. These were food stamps and temporary financial assistance.