City Manager Rick Fernandez, in a letter through his attorney, threatened individual members of the City’s Independent Ethics Board with possible legal action weeks after the Board voted to send a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics.
The letter was first reported on by the Tallahassee Democrat.
The letter, drafted by attorney Steve Andrews, stated that “I do not believe that the Ethics Board or its members enjoy the defense of qualified immunity as it relates to Brian and Delia Finnerty and they acted in an ultra vires manner and had no jurisdiction as it relates to the Finnertys.”
The letter then went on to accuse the Ethics Board of defaming the Fernandez family. Andrews wrote, “the allegations impliedly made against Brian and Delia Finnerty were false and defamatory per se, and which I believe constitute a per se invasion of their privacy.”
Mr. Andrews also warned the Ethics Board members about cooperating with the Florida Commission on Ethics. Andrews stated any communication with Florida Commission on Ethics “would act to republish the defamation and again act in a manner which would constitute an invasion of Mr. and Mrs. Finnerty’s privacy.”
Andrews closed the letter by writing, “At this point, I believe it would be prudent that each and every member of the Ethics Board provide the Finnertys with a public apology, and that such apology be submitted to each and every member of the City Commission and be made a permanent record of the City Commission.”
Ben Wilcox, Research Director of Integrity Florida told TR that “the Ethics Board clearly has the legal authority under the 2014 charter amendment to ‘refer ethics and corruption matters to appropriate enforcement agencies.’ The citizens of Tallahassee voted overwhelmingly to create the independent Ethics Board to act as an ethics watchdog in our community and the idea that the Board should apologize for doing its job is absurd.”
The complaint lodged with the Ethics Board over the transaction with the Edison resulted in Dr. Erwin Jackson, a local businessman, filing a separate complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Dr. Jackson’s complaint addressed the Edison restaurant transaction and also included an allegation about Mr. Fernandez receiving FSU football tickets during the 2016 season from Adam Corey, a city lobbyist and owner of the Edison.
TR reported that Mr. Fernandez accepted several football tickets in Adam Corey’s “Old School Box” at Doak Campbell stadium – valued at $350-$400 – and gave them to family members and City of Tallahassee employees.