Ethics Board Retains City Appointed Ethics Officer with 4-2 Vote

Ethics Board Retains City Appointed Ethics Officer with 4-2 Vote

The City’s Ethics Board, during a four hour meeting today, voted to retain the City appointed Ethics Officer, Julie Meadows-Keefe who has been a city employee for almost a year.

Ms. Keefe was hired by the City Commission last year.

The meeting began with public testimony, which at times was contentious.  A number of citizens spoke and asked questions, which unlike in most other government venues, were answered in a refreshing give and take between citizens and Board members.

Supporters of the charter amendment spoke in favor of re-advertising the Ethics Officer position and hiring an individual under Ethics Board policies. The counsel for the Board, Mr. Currington, recommended such an approach. However, in the end, his recommendation was ignored.

Charter amendment supporters argued that the City appointed Ethics Officer would lack the independence required in the language of the amendment that was passed with approximately 70% of the vote.

The issue of hiring the Ethics Office became more visible over the last month when Board Chair, Lila Jaber, made it clear her desire to retain Ms. Meadows – Keefe.

After discussions about compliant forms and a presentation by representatives of the Florida Commission on Ethics, the issue of the Ethics Officer was before the Board.

With Julie Meadows-Keefe sitting next to Chair Jaber, an uncomfortable discussion about retaining Ms. Meadows- Keefe began.

Chair Jaber was clear in her support for Meadows-Keefe, as was Board member Tom Friedman.

However, Board member Davis, appointed by State Attorney Meggs, commented that “we are in an awkward spot.” He said the intent of the amendment was clear to him and to ensure public confidence he could not support Meadows-Keefe.

Board member Ojetayo, admitted struggling with the issue and was clearly uncomfortable. He said he was not ready to vote.

However, Chair Jaber moved forward.

Board member Friedman made the motion to retain Meadows-Keefe, but a second did not materialize.

As an awkward silence fell over the room, with Ms. Meadows-Keefe still seated next to Chair Jaber and her status hanging in the balance, Chair Jaber passed the gavel and seconded the motion. (The chair cannot second a motion unless they pass the gavel to another member.)

The final vote was 4-2. The roll call is listed below.

Supporters of the charter amendment were visibly distressed after the vote.

One commented that the “independent Ethic’s Board just hired a City employee to be the Ethics Officer.”

Others were disturbed by the way Chair Jaber, who opposed an independent Ethics Officer just last year, had influenced the process.

Roll Call to Retain Ethics Officer 

Ms. Lila A. Jaber   Yes
Cecil L. Davis, Jr.    No
Richard Herring      No
Funmi Ojetayo       Yes
Tom Friedman       Yes
Renee McNeill        Yes

24 Responses to "Ethics Board Retains City Appointed Ethics Officer with 4-2 Vote"

  1. So if the city had hired Rammage or Faircloth, would you even be having this discussion? Seems like what you are upset about is not having who you want in the job. And no matter what the City is on the hook to pay for the Board by Charter and whoever hired is an employee of the City as long as City pays. So anyone in the job is a City employee! The only way you have an independent board is to fund it some other way. Having the person paid by the City is a conflict right out of the gate! You are depending on the City to adequately fund an office to investigate itself. What office will be first to be cut in budget, do you think? Why not stop and see how the Board performs? A lawsuit will cost more tax dollars for lawyers. And an assistant for the Ethics Office was identified as an item to be cut by Hawks. So on one hand, you want office to be independent, but Hawks want it to continue to use City staff to perform is administrative work. Can’t have it both ways. Charter along with the refunds is a budget black hole.

  2. Simply outrageous.. The arrogance of the business as usual folks that are running our city government is off the charts. Yes, legal action should be considered. 70% of the voters should not have to settle for a sharp poke in the eye!

  3. UPDATE FYI: If you are reading this, whether you agree with my politics on issues or not, you care. This is an issue that not Dem/GOP; it is right and wrong. There are discussions underway to organize a response(s) of some kind. Thank goodness for the investigative, fair, and accurate reporting done by TR. Take heart, more and more people are getting involved – consider the recently gathered “Budget Hawks”. The fight is always the toughest before a breakthrough.

  4. Seriously? This is clearly one of 2 things. Either this is the most uneducated, incompetent city commission to ever walk the earth or they are behaving extremely defiant. I tend to believe it is the latter.
    This disrespectful, smug behavior angers me enough to say YES, take every last one of them to court. Let a judge assist them in understanding and embracing the definition of INDIVIDUAL ETHICS OFFICER. They expect the citizens to give up and look the other way. I say, fight em. Nothing will change until someone is held accountable.

  5. Looks like the City of Tallahassee Commission has enough problems that maybe they should
    Get their own house in order before they start
    Meddling in Walton County.

  6. You can not make this stuff up.

    Along with the fraud in the Solid Waste billing to this.

    As Stalin said, “it is not the vote count that matters, but who counts the votes that matters”.

    The pattern of corruptions continues.

    I am waiting to see if the US Attorney will open an investigation into Mail Fraud at the City for misrepresenting the billing for solid waste collection.
    If I, as a small business, knowing sent out inflated and misrepresented invoices for the cost of service in the US Mail, I would be indicted for Mail Fraud in a heart beat.

    Lets see if our “new ethics” officer does anything!
    This should be test for her.

    Is it ethical for the City to commit Mail Fraud and hide the true level of taxation from the public?
    Is it Ethical to use this money form the Solid Waste overbilling in other areas that are unknown to anyone but the City Manager.
    Is it unethical to accumulate funds in a reserve account and then use those funds without any transparency?
    Should I go on?

    Hope & Change

  7. A private contractor has manipulated the system with the full support of the city commission and city attorney’s office. The contractor has taken control of a public citizen’s advisory board.
    With that control, city funds are being selectively distributed to buy more control. The apparent ethical violations by the city commission, the city attorney and the Architectural Review Board are extreme.

    See the article from June 3, 2011 in Tallahassee Reports:

    With this now-cemented tie between the city attorney, the city commission and the new Ethics Board, there can never be any hope of integrity and honesty coming in the distribution of these funds.

    Has the Ethics Board committed suicide, and been replaced by a puppeteer group?
    If you are a member of the new Ethics Board, your first act has besmirched your character enormously.
    What are you going to do about it?

  8. The rules say the chair can’t second a motion but the chair can pass the gavel to the person who made the motion then second the motion. That may be within the rules but is it ethical? I know, let’s ask the ethics board if such a tactic is with in the bounds of ethical behaviour.

  9. To summarize: The voters amend the city charter to provide for an independent ethics board and officer. The one person most in opposition to the creation of the board is elected to be the board’s chair, hires as the board’s counsel one of the highest paid law firms contacting with the city, and then hires a city employee who herself is arguably ill-qualified for the nature of the work and who saw no potential threat to the board’s independence by hiring a city contractor to be their counsel. It sounds like business as usual to me; what’s the problem?

  10. In my opinion, this situation is little different than the city appointing “hearing officers” to hear red light camera cases they would benefit from financially via guilty verdicts. At least the citizens eventually won that battle. This one appears to be far more uphill.

  11. Was there ever a doubt this would happen. Our city government operates without fear of public out cry. Even when faced with it, it turns its nose up at it. Legal action should be taken, but will never happen. The circle is to big in this town.

  12. Hard to believe and even harder to accept that this issue is
    so blatant.Not surprised that City is trying to undo the citizens’ mandate but never thought they would be so bold.Had I been there I would have left in disappointment.

  13. Did anybody really expected a different outcome? These people are brazen in their lack of regard for what is right.

  14. Having attended the beginning of the meeting, offering remarks, and seeing how Chair Lila Jaber was intent on protecting the City’s hired hand, Julie Meadows-Keefe, I left in disgust. Before the vote in 2014 I predicted this exact scenario and outcome. The board hired the least qualified of the candidates for the City ethics position and did so without even seeking the resumes of others. Look at today’s Throwback Thursday story in TR and look at the resumes. This is disgraceful. My question for readers of TR is this: Would you support efforts to file a lawsuit to force the Ethics Board to follow the clear mandate of the referendum and hire an independent ethics officer versus someone who was hired by the very people she is charged with overseeing?

      1. Bringing a lawsuit to force the City’s hand costs money and most would see it as fighting a losing battle. The Council has the deck stacked un its favor and will continue busines as usual. It’s time to throw snake in the hen house and expose these criminals!

      2. Clearly, the Ethics Bored is trying to outdo the City Commisars & staff on unethical behavior.
        And the local rag, also to no one’s surprise, is asleep at the wheel. Maybe they’ll mail it in tomorrow?
        What about getting the Governor involved in appointing an investigative counsel? Is there precedent for rhat? The voters have been effectively disenfranchised, if not nullified, by the powers that be.
        I voted FOR an independent ethics officer.
        When the vote was counted the referendum passed with 70% approval.
        Seems to me the elected leaders are obligated to implement the law as approved.

        Not break it.

    1. If the ethics board is going to continue operating this way, can we get an amendment to the city charter to rescind the ethics board amendment we voted in last year. There’s no point in wasting the money on the ethics officer and her staff plus the political donation reimbursement if we aren’t going to get anything out of it.

      What we really need to do is get people outside those who read TR to vote for someone other than the morons we keep electing. Until we change the type of elected leaders, nothing will ever change.

      1. Initially I was a huge proponent of the ethics initiative, but now that I see it in action, I realize I was so wrong about it. We are no better off now than we were before it was enacted.

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