City officials have told TR that the decision to move the Ethics Board operations out of City Hall had the blessing of former incoming Ethics Officer Keith Powell. However, it appears the Ethics Board members were not informed about the decision.
Dennis Sutton, the City Auditor, told TR that the decision was prompted by space issues at City Hall. The City Auditor’s Office, which housed the Ethics Office staff, is being moved to another area in City Hall with limited space.
It has been noted that these broadcasting options may not include WCOT, the City of Tallahassee’s government access channel, which airs on Comcast Cable and CenturyLink.
Sutton said Powell was on board with the location at the Renaissance Center because of the available parking and easy access for citizens. In addition, Sutton said that there are plenty of options to broadcast the meetings live from the conference room at the Renaissance Center.
Ethics advocates told TR that they would still prefer to have the meetings held at City Hall. The advocates believe that the City Hall location sends a signal to citizens that ethics are a priority for the City of Tallahassee.
At the last Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board meeting it was announced that the Ethics Officer’s work space would be moved from City Hall to the Renaissance Center in Frenchtown.
In addition, it appears that the Ethics Board meetings will also take place at the Renaissance Center. The meetings had previously been held in commission chambers which allowed for live broadcasting.
Ethics Officer Julie Meadows-Keefe, who was presiding over her last meeting, informed the Board that the move would be effective Friday, February 21st, and that the new location will allow meetings to be videotaped but not broadcast.
Meadows-Keefe emphasized that she was not involved in the decision.
Incoming Ethics Officer Dwight Floyd, said that he would inquire about broadcasting the meetings at the new location.
The Board, which seemed to be surprised by the decision, is drafting a letter to send to city officials opposing the move.
Meadows-Keefe told the Board that the decision was based on the availability of meeting space in City Hall.
TR has reached out to the City of Tallahassee for an official comment.
Catherine Baer, with the Citizens for Ethics Reform, who advocated for the creation of the Independent Ethics Board, told TR that the move out of City Hall sends the wrong message. She said, “The Ethics Board has been meeting in commission chambers for approximately five years with televised meetings. This move makes it look like the City of Tallahassee is putting ethics at the back of the line. We need to do better.”
City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow was quick to respond to the news on Twitter. On Thursday night, Matlow wrote,
“We cannot allow a broadcast blackout of the Independent Ethics Board. I raised this concern weeks ago with the City Manager. We’ve made huge strides in the last year expanding access and transparency to local government— this is a step in the wrong direction.”
Check back for updates to this story.