The City’s independent ethics board is experiencing growing pains.
The recent announcement of Chair Lila Jaber’s resignation after revelations of possible conflicts of interest with her law firm and the board’s controversial hiring of Julie Meadows-Keefe as the Board’s Ethic’s officer, has raised the level of scrutiny of the Board.
And now, as ethics complaints are filed, the Board’s actions and the actions of Meadows-Keefe, are being questioned.
For example, last week the Tallahassee Democrat reported that Meadows-Keefe referred an ethics complaint to the City’s auditor for investigation, rather than begin an investigation herself.
The complaint, filed by the executive director of the Big Bends Air Conditioning Contractors Association, Luther Council, “questioned whether energy auditors were doing contract work in city clothes and, in addition, kicking work to friends after telling city customers their air conditioning units needed replacing.”
There were immediate questions about why Ms. Meadows-Keefe would refer the work of an independent board to the government entity which is the target of the complaint.
Mr. Council theorized the move was to “quiet the whole thing up” since the City’s Auditor can withhold information from the public while the audit is in process.
Also the Tallahassee Democrat reported that Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said she was puzzled about why the complaint became the subject of an audit. She called the city’s decision a “perversion of the process.”
However, Tallahassee Reports contacted Cara Miller, the veteran Ethics Officer for the City of Jacksonville and she provided a rationale for the decision made by Meadows-Keefe.
When told about the specifics of the complaint filed, Miller responded:
“I do that sometimes, too. Some situations need an audit; attorneys are not qualified to do them. If you had a huge ethics/IG staff it could be done in an independent fashion.”
Supporters of the Ethics Board told TR this situation is one of the reasons they opposed the hiring of Meadows-Keefe as the Ethics Officer.
The supporters said that given her previous relationship with the City Commission, City Attorney, and the City Auditor, any decision to involve the City with an “independent investigation” would be met with suspicion, even if there is a rationale for such a decision.
TR will continue to follow the audit process and seek whatever information is available about the ethics complaint.