The Chair of the City of Tallahassee Ethics Board, Lila Jaber, asked the recently hired counsel to the Board, Mr. Gerald Currington, “whether the Ethics Board has the discretion to hire an Ethics Officer without advertising.”
Noting that the current Ethics Officer was hired under City policies, Mr. Currington wrote “it is my opinion that the independent Ethics Board may and should adopt its own bylaws or procedures for the administration of matters under the Ethics Board’s exclusive jurisdiction, including the employment of staff, if it is to be truly independent.”
He added, “it seems self-evident that the Ethics Board cannot truly discharge its duties and responsibilities independently if it is bound by the City’s hiring policies and procedures.”
At the next Ethics Board meeting, on August 20th, members are scheduled to discuss the hiring of an Ethics Officer.
Chair Jaber has previously indicated that she wanted to retain the current Ethics Officer, Julie Meadows-Keefe, who was hired by the City Commission before the establishment of the City’s Ethics Board.
Mr. Currington’s opinion, included in a four page memo sent to Ms. Jaber on July 30, 2015, was based on the Charter Amendment provisions passed by the citizens of Tallahassee.
Mr. Currington wrote, “it is unambiguous from these Charter Amendment provisions that the citizens of Tallahassee voted for an independent Ethics Board and directed that the Ethics Board would adopt bylaws and procedures for its administration, including the employment of staff; which bylaws and procedures would ensure its independence and impartiality;…”
He added, “if there were any ambiguity in the Charter Amendment on this question, which there is not, the Charter Amendment must be liberally construed to effectuate its clear purpose of establishing an independent Ethics Board.”
The full memo can found here.