VIERA, Fla. — Former Brevard County Clerk of Court Scott Ellis will run for his old office again. Ellis, who had been this County’s Clerk of Court for ten years, decided not to run during the last election in 2010.
Although he had bought a farm in West Virginia after leaving office, Ellis told BrevardTimes.com that he was willing to give up his summers on his farm to challenge current Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman after Needelman made drastic changes to the Clerk of Court’s office. Ellis filed his candidacy papers yesterday.
Ellis believes that Needelman has engaged in political cronyism ever since he took office due to Needelman’s creation of two chief deputy positions in the Clerk’s office salaried at over $100k each, the hiring of unqualified consultants and additional friends of Needelman placed on the Clerk’s payroll, a no-bid contract to outsource a large amount of the Clerk’s staff, a no-bid contract for employee health insurance, and a lack of financial auditing of the Clerk’s office detailing expenditures.
Needelman made local headlines last year when he fired a large portion of the Clerk of Court’s staff, then immediately offered to rehire the fired staff through an outsourcing company. The mass firing resulted in a lawsuit being filed by some of the fired employees against the Clerk’s office. The litigation is still pending.
Needelman’s outsourcing actions came under fire because he did not let the outsourcing contract go out for a competitive bid. There also remains the question of whether Florida Constitutional employees such as deputy clerks can be outsourced to a private company. Needelman later said that he would let the contract go out to bid by July 2011. However, the contract still has not gone out for a competitive bid nearly a year later. Ironically, Needelman, while a state legislator in 2005, criticized the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for not using competitive bids for a contract to privatize behavioral treatment of troubled youths.
Needelman stated in a press release dated March 2, 2011 that the outsourcing would save $896,000 during the first year alone which would bring the total savings made by his office up to $2 million. Needelman credited his newly created position of Chief Deputy, occupied by Sean Campbell, for the idea.
Ellis questions the $2 million savings figure because it is not reflected in Needelman’s current budget projections.
Ellis also points out that the $896,00 outsourcing savings were due to cuts in employee benefits and retirements. The reduced funding from the State of Florida to the Clerk of Court’s office became a near wash when state employees were required to contribute 3% to the Florida Retirement System last year.
Beyond alleged cronyism and no bid contracts, Ellis is critical of Needelman’s management style. Ellis compares Needelman to Hitler because Needelman drew up a new oath for employees where they pledge their allegence to Mitch Needelman by name, rather than just benignly to the Clerk of Courts office. Upon taking power in Nazi Germany, Hitler required military personnel to pledge their allegence to the Fuhrer rather than the state of Germany.
Ellis also points out that Needelman does not use e-mail. Ellis asked rhetorically, “How can you effectively manage an organization as large and geographically dispersed as the Clerk of Court’s office without using e-mail?” Ellis had written around 1.5 million emails during his ten year tenure as Clerk. When Ellis had requested copies of his own emails which comprise only seven DVD discs, Needelman’s office told Ellis that he would have to pay $155,000 for the e-mails. The Clerk of Court’s office only charged $1.15 per DVD for a public records request under Ellis.
Mr. Needelman’s office issued the following response to Ellis’ announced run:
“Mr. Ellis quit as Brevard County’s Clerk of Court half way through his third term in the midst of what was discovered to be the worst financial crisis ever faced by any Clerk’s office in the State of Florida. Due to legislative changes, Mr. Ellis was unable to continue to borrow money from the Clerk’s Trust Fund as he had in past years to cover the Clerk’s office financial problems. Faced with potential layoffs and office closures, and nowhere to turn for funding, he chose to abandon his duties, his employees, Brevard County, and its citizens who had loyally supported him for over 10 years, and “retire” out of state. The phrase “cut and run” comes to mind.
Now, after a year of observing Mitch Needelman revamping and restructuring to achieve financial security in the Brevard County Clerk’s operations, Mr. Ellis wishes to recoup his self-proclaimed position as Brevard’s “watchdog” and continue the facade of being fiscally responsible.
Mr. Ellis’ opinion of the current Clerk’s operation is just that, his opinion – and has no basis in fact. Since he resigned office Mr. Ellis has relentlessly attempted to interfere with the everyday operation of the Clerk’s office from as far away as West Virginia.
Mr. Ellis should focus his efforts on enjoying his retirement and leave conservative fiscal values that are actually practiced and not just talked about to our present Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts, Mitch Needelman, a community leader who has resurrected the Clerk’s Office operations and continues to deliver sound and practical conservative leadership.”
Following Mr. Needelman’s response, Mr. Ellis issue the following reply:
“The Big Lie was shown to be false by Mitch himself. Stupid, Dishonest, and Arrogant are a bad combination.
Let’s knock Big Lie Number One, the alleged deficit. It never happened and was just a smoke screen to issue the no-bid labor contract.
Once you expose the Big Lie all the other lies fall apart.
Reed still allows Needleman to lie without question.
You have to admire the gall on the final Needlman quote about cradle to grave.
The man was born to two career government employees. Upon high school graduation he became a government employee. He is now about 60 year olds, got two retirements from the State of Florida, and has NEVER been anything but a state employee. He is the LITERAL cradle to grave person.”
Mr. Ellis is referring to the following quote in a Florida Today article:
“It’s what I always talked about — smaller government with the best possible service,” Needelman said Wednesday. “The days of having a career in government from cradle to grave are over.”
UPDATE: Mr. Needelman’s office has taken issue with Mr. Ellis’ comparison of Mr. Needelman to Hitler. In the interest of fairness and disclosure, pasted below is Mr. Needelman’s oath that was provided to BrevardTimes.com by Mr. Ellis:
CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT AND COUNTY COURTS
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA
APPOINTMENT AS A DEPUTY CLERK
I, _________________________________, a citizen of the State of Florida and a citizen (or permanent resident alien) of the United States of America, having filed a State of Florida Oath of Loyalty, and being appointed as a Deputy Clerk by Mitch Needelman, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Brevard County, Florida, do hereby solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully perform duties assigned me as a Deputy Clerk in the offices of Clerk of Circuit Court. I am aware that my loyalty as a Deputy Clerk is pledged to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and that I serve at the pleasure of the Clerk, and that this appointment can be terminated at any time, at the sole discretion of the Clerk. I also understand that when I leave the Clerk’s employment my appointment as Deputy Clerk is terminated.
Employee’s Signature Date
The signature below attests to the fact that the employee above has read, understands, and by his/her signature agrees to adhere to the tenets of his/her appointment as a Deputy Clerk by Mitch Needelman, Clerk of the Circuit Court.
STATE OF FLORIDA
COUNTY OF BREVARD
Subscribed before me this _____________ day of _________________________, 20________
Mitch Needelman, Clerk of Courts