At the July meeting of the City’s Ethics Board, the General Counsel position was filled by a lawyer who is employed by a law firm that has been awarded contracts by the City Commission totaling approximately $800,000.
The action, initiated by Chair Lila Jaber, is raising questions about the independence of the Board, which was established by a voter referendum. Also at question is the transparency of the process that resulted in the hiring of a law firm currently doing business with the City of Tallahassee.
How did this happen?
The City’s Ethics Board minutes from the May 21st meeting stated that “by consensus, it was agreed that Ms. Jaber (Chair of Ethics Board), working together with Ethics Officer Meadows-Keefe, would bring back, for board consideration at the June meeting, a proposed process for obtaining the services of independent legal counsel to represent the Board.”
Based on official minutes from the June meeting of the Ethics Board, this never happened.
Instead on July 14, 2015, the Chair of the Ethics Board, Lila Jaber, signed a contract with Jerry Curington of the Ausley McMullen law firm to be the General Counsel for the City’s Ethics Board.
Peter Butzin, chair of Common Cause Florida and a member of Citizens for Ethics Reform told the Tallahassee Democrat that “it was all done behind closed doors. We don’t even know who made the decision.”
Now consider this.
Approximately four months earlier on February 25, 2015, the City Commission voted 5-0 to award a $300,000 litigation contract to two vendors, one being the Ausley McMullen law firm.
This was after the City Commission had already appropriated $500,000 to the Ausley McMullen law firm in three previous votes over the last three years.
This is the same Ausley McMullen law firm that employees the new General Counsel of the Ethics Board.
The concern voiced by supporters of ethics reform is that the General Counsel could be put in the position of rendering a legal opinion involving City Commissioners that voted to give his law firm a litigation contract worth a significant amount of money.
TR is seeking answers to the following questions:
Did other board members know about the relationship between the Ausley McMullen law firm?
Did the current ethics officer, Okeefe, know about the relationship?
Why wasn’t there a vote of the entire Ethics Board?