On November 16th, John Reid, the legal counsel fort City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board (Board), published a memo in response to a request related to the jurisdiction of the Board.
At the Board’s September meeting, Board Member Ernie Paine sought an opinion regarding whether certain boards operating for the benefit of the citizens of Tallahassee fall within the jurisdiction of the City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board.
In November 2014, the electors of the City of Tallahassee voted to amend the municipal charter, creating the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board and requiring a municipal ethics code.
The charter amendment established the City of Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board, directed the City Commission to enact an ethics code, and granted jurisdiction to the Ethics Board over public officers and city employees as well as over city boards, commissions, and committees.
In December 2019, the Tallahassee City Commission adopted significant amendments to the municipal ethics code, which included definitions of terms. The term “public official” was created to mean members of the city commission and commission-appointed aides, mayor and mayor’s appointed assistants and aides, city manager, city attorney, city auditor, city treasurerclerk, members appointed by the city commission to serve on any advisory, quasi-judicial, or any other board, commission or committee of the city.”
The City of Tallahassee has numerous advisory boards, partners with Leon County in the operations of the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, and operates the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). These groups of boards are treated differently under the Tallahassee Ethics Code.
Reid’s analysis indicates that the members of the Tallahassee citizen advisory boards, commissions, and committees meet the definition of “public officials.” As a result, these individuals fall within the jurisdiction of the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board.
Reid indicates that Tallahassee City Commissioners serving on the Board of Directors for the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency also fall under the jurisdiction of the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board. However, the question as to jurisdiction over Blueprint staff is less clear.
Reid notes that a recommended solution pertaining to the ambiguity related to Blueprint staff would be to simply inquire of the Tallahassee City Commission its intention. If the City Commission intends for those Blueprint staff paid by the City of Tallahassee to be subject to the Tallahassee Ethics Board’s jurisdiction over boards, commissions, or committees, the applicable ordinances could be amended to better clarify this matter. Likewise, if the Tallahassee City Commission wishes for Blueprint staff to be outside this Board’s jurisdiction, that could also be better clarified.
Reid’s analysis indicates that if a complaint were filed against a Blueprint staff person alleging a violation of the Tallahassee Ethics Code, this Board will ultimately make its own findings as to jurisdiction, which could be subject to legal challenge initiated by the Respondent.
Reid concludes that the CRA members are public officials within the jurisdiction of the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board. The CRA staff are intended to be separate from the City of Tallahassee, including its exercise of powers delegated to it by the City Commission. These individuals, however, are listed by the City of Tallahassee as city employees, which would avail them to the jurisdiction of the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board.