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