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City Ethics Board Hires Law Firm Doing Business with City of Tallahassee

Posted on July 26, 2015

City Ethics Board Hires Law Firm Doing Business with City of Tallahassee

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.

Lila Jaber

Lila Jaber

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?

8 Responses to City Ethics Board Hires Law Firm Doing Business with City of Tallahassee

  1. jack Reply

    July 26, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    We never know when this “Ethics Board” meets. When is the next meeting?
    As a side note: The addresses and names on the Charter Referendum forms are public information and were filed with the Supervisor of Elections Office. My understanding is the City could acquire the names and addresses on these Forms via a Request for Public Information. Somebody tell me Im wrong. I wouldn’t put it past the City political machine to acqure this information.

  2. Hope & Change Reply

    July 26, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    This is how you buy the legal opinion you want.
    Independence? What is that, and do not tell me that this award was done because it was a “single source”.

    As Capitol City, we have a boat load of attorneys here and the only firm that Ethic Board hires behind closed doors is the firm that the City Commission has on a short $800,000 leash.
    Where is the The Florida Bar? Ethic? What is that? I mean that as a joke. This whole ethic thing is a joke. The taxpayers are being fleeced once again.

    Thank you TR. You can not make this stuff up.

  3. Curtis

    Curtis Reply

    July 26, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    The committee is scheduled to meet again at noon on Thursday, August 20. Check the meeting place. It will probably be on the second floor of City Hall in the Tallahassee Room.

  4. Mark Meadows Reply

    July 27, 2015 at 8:58 am

    With the police department finding it proper an necessary to send officers to Chicago (ChIraq) to learn how to combat gun violence, perhaps the Ethics Board should be sent to New Orleans to learn how to fight corruption.

    • The Village Idiot Reply

      July 29, 2015 at 10:40 pm

      I thought Chicago was a good choice because as we all know, gun violence has been eradicated in the Windy City.

  5. The Village Idiot Reply

    July 29, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    I wish we could revote on this. Had I known how this would play out, I would not have been in support of the ballot initiative. All we have done is increase the cost of government without solving anything. The mayor is still unethical, only the name has changed. We should have seen this coming, our commissioners will do anything to ensure nothing impedes their ability to do whatever they want whenever they want however they want. They manipulate the city employees so they can pass off on them the blame, and play the “innocent commissioner” routine. I would say we should have set the ballot initiative so we would have an elected ethics officer, so that person could investigate the commissioners, but there aren’t enough of us who vote for the right person, so the entire voting population would end up electing someone exactly like the folks we have in office now.

  6. howard eisenman Reply

    August 10, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Sadly, it looks like “Business as Usual” at City Hall. Really hard to believe that a decision as hiring the Legal Counsel to the Ethics Board was apparently made without the consultation and approval (vote) of the full ethics board. Yikes!

  7. Luke Brown Reply

    August 11, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Evidently, all involved overlooked or chose not to consider, the “appearance of impropriety” standard by which Ms.Jaber and the Ausley firm are bound. Mr. Eisenman is right that things are status quo at City Hall. But what more could one expect from a continuation of the Marks dynasty?

    It could be that Ms. Jaber is relatively young and inexperienced. But Audley, the Tallahassee stalwart? Come on guys, you really should know better. If you don’t, at least stop taking taxpayer money.

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