OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - 9 Investigates learned of a decision by a top, local elected official to dole out Christmas bonuses. Questions about the bonuses came up after clerk of courts were asked to make severe budget cuts this year due to overall decreases in revenue.
Channel 9 anchor Jorge Estevez spoke with Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez on Tuesday. Ramirez told Estevez he was just trying to express gratitude toward his employees.
Estevez told Ramirez that several people contacted 9 Investigates with tips about the raises. Ramirez said he is being targeted for something he says is not only legal -- but something he felt he had to do.
Ramirez has had his share of controversy during his time as Osceola Clerk of the Court, but this latest round has him in trouble for being in the Christmas spirit.
The gesture from Ramirez comes at a time when Channel 9 found out clerks in surrounding counties are making cutbacks. Ramirez sent out a letter in July announcing layoffs.
“It is with great regret that I must inform you that because the Budget Committee of the Florida Clerk of Courts Operations Corps. approved a mandate that all clerks must reduce their current budgets by five percent, I must reduce my workforce,” Ramirez wrote in the letter.
But during his conversation with Estevez, Ramirez said the bonuses are a way to show his gratitude.
“I feel as though I am the general in this office and my employees are the army, and I feel we need to always reward our soldiers,” he said.
When Estevez asked how the clerk allocated the money, Ramirez said, “It is a disbursement that I am entitled to do as the executive officer at the Clerk of the Courts office.”
When Estevez checked with clerks offices in other counties, including Orange, Volusia, Brevard and Lake, they all said they were strapped for cash and doing their best to just not fire people after years of budget cuts.
As for Osceola County, Ramirez reiterated that he broke no laws.
"I do not do anything without checking with my team of lawyers to make sure everything is in accordance with Florida statute,” he told Estevez.
9 Investigates is still working to find out how much money Ramirez spent on these bonuses and who received them.
Meanwhile, the treasurer of the state Clerks Association, Bob Inzer, said Florida's clerks offices are strapped due to declining revenues. Bonuses this year, he said, could only be awarded with widespread vacancies and turnover.
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