Tallahassee Reports has been told by city staff that a portion of audio recording from the March 26th Ethics Advisory Panel meeting was accidentally deleted.
One of the major issues addressed at that meeting was if the oversight process for a new ethics code would be handled by the city attorney’s office, as is the current practice, or by an independent committee free from potential influence of elected officials. The city attorney is appointed by the five city commissioners.
At the March 26th meeting, the Ethics Panel heard testimony from the former executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics, Phil Claypool. His comments were summarized in the minutes of the meeting as follows:
In order to be independent and impartial, Mr. Claypool indicated a separate ethics board comprised of citizens was needed, and that this board would then hire an executive director to oversee the day-to-day operations.
At the same meeting, City Attorney Shelley’s remarks on the issue were summarized in the minutes as follows:
City Attorney Shelley noted that internal discussions occurred relative to where within in the City government an Ethics Officer could be placed in order to mitigate any conflicts and to prevent influence by the City Commissioners or Appointed Officials. City Attorney Shelley indicated one proposal was to have the Ethics Officer be appointed by unanimous decision of 2, 3, or all of the Appointed Officials. However, City Attorney Shelley questioned whether or not there would always be some subtle amount of influence present upon an Ethics Officer in this model. ( Hear the audio.)
City Auditor Sam McCall, who has since retired, spoke at the meeting on the subject of influence from the elected officials and stated that he felt independent decision makers would be needed to implement ethics rules that applied to the elected officials.
Mr. McCall’s comments were not included in the minutes of the March 26th meeting. In an attempt to verify specific comments, Tallahassee Reports requested the audio recording from the meeting. Tallahassee Reports was told that a portion of the audio from the March 26th meeting was accidentally deleted. The portion deleted includes Mr. McCall’s remarks.
Why is this important?
Since the March 26th meeting, City Attorney Shelley seems to have changed his original position on the need for independence in the ethics process. In fact, during the last meeting Mr. Shelley indicated that the city attorney’s office could maintain the independence required to implement the new ethics code without influence from elected officials. This is different from the view expressed by Shelley at the March 26th meeting.
The Panel members rely on minutes of the meeting to clarify points and make decisions. Given Mr. Shelley’s change in position, Mr. McCall’s comments would be a valuable source of information. However, his comments are not currently part of the record.
Tallahassee Reports is waiting on the minutes from the last meeting to verify the exact comments made by Mr. Shelley.