Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez on administrative leave

By: Mariel Carbone
October 31, 2017

Rick Fernandez

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)—According to the City Attorney’s Office, the Deputy City Manager will fill in as City Manager in all aspects until the City Commission determines otherwise.

City Manager Rick Fernandez announced on Monday that he is taking voluntary administrative leave following ethics complaints and pressure from other city leaders for his temporary suspension. That leave is a paid leave. Fernandez, who was appointed in 2015, had a starting salary of $228,000.

For the time being, Deputy City Manager Reese Goad is acting as City Manager.

Commissioner Nancy Miller said she wished a special meeting would’ve been held prior to Fernandez announcing his decision, with the abrupt announcement leaving more questions than answers.

"How do we want to handle this? What do we do in the mean time? If he does take a leave, is it a leave? Is it a suspension? It's never good when there is not a whole lot of thought and consideration put into any directional change,” said Miller.

Commissioner Curtis Richardson said he had encouraged Fernandez to take the administrative leave, noting that he has no problem with it being paid.

“I don’t think under these kinds of circumstances it’s unusual that a person would take a paid suspension. I certainly, personally do not have a problem with it because even though allegations have been made I think his case with the ethics commission is still being investigated and he’s due due process, like anyone else,” said Richardson.

Fernandez made that announcement via email to the commission on Monday.

Fernandez's letter reads:

Dear Mayor and Commissioners,

I have reviewed Commissioner Ziffer's email sent to me Saturday, October 28, 2017. To avoid this matter becoming a distraction for our City employees and the entire organization, I have decided to voluntarily accept commissioner Ziffer's request (See Attached) and take administrative leave effective immediately until the matter before the Ethics Commission is resolved. This action is subject to your approval at the next commission meeting. I fully trust the process underway by the Ethics Commission and remain thankful for the opportunity to serve our community. I will again reiterate to you that any action by me as City Manager has and always will be to provide the highest level of service to our community.

Thank you for your leadership.

That letter came hours after news of Commissioner Gil Ziffer's request that the City Manager be put on temporary suspension.

In an email to Fernandez dated Saturday, Ziffer requested that the issue be put on the agenda for the November 8 commission meeting. He acknowledged that the decision for action was a difficult one.

That email reads in part:

"In eight years this is clearly one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made as a Commissioner. Your time in our government and as City Manager has been filled with significant accomplishments. And while none of us are mistake-free, the cumulative effect of the questions that have been asked have caused me enough concern to ask for this Commission review."

An anonymous complaint was first filed with Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board back in August, accusing Fernandez of receiving a $5,000 discount from the city backed restaurant, The Edison.

A second complaint was filed about a week later with the Florida Commission on Ethics making the same accusation, as well as accusing Fernandez of accepting free football tickets from a city lobbyist and helping the Edison employee who gave him the discount get a job with the city.

Fernandez was eventually reprimanded by the Independent Ethics Commission, related to the complaint. The investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics is still ongoing.

Then, last week, a story by the Tallahassee Democrat released text messages where Fernandez allegedly asked the lobbyist for $2,000 worth of Florida State football tickets.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called the accusations "concerning" and said he supports the City Manager's decision.

In a statement Gillum said:

"In light of the details that have recently surfaced, the City Manager made the right decision to temporarily step aside. The City’s 3,000 employees and our residents need confidence in the City’s operations, and I hope the State Ethics Committee acts judiciously with their work. The City Commission will take any further appropriate action once their investigation is complete.”

Fernandez has served as Tallahassee City Manager since November 2015. Since that time, he has managed the day-to-day operations of the City, overseeing nearly 3,000 staff and an annual budget of approximately $906 million, including operating and capital budgets.

City officials say Fernandez has dedicated 30 years of his career to serving the citizens of Tallahassee. Prior to becoming the Tallahassee City Manager, he served as the Assistant City Manager of Utility Services, which included Electric and Underground Utilities, Solid Waste, Business Services, StarMetro, Golf Courses and Fleet Management. Fernandez first joined the City of Tallahassee in 1988 when the City Commission appointed him as City Auditor.

The commission will decide on how to move forward, including if Goad will remain indefinitely as City Manger, if so who will fill his position, or if someone from the outside will be brought in at next week’s commission meeting. That’s set for 4 p.m. at City Hall on November 8.


By: Mariel Carbone
October 30, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez is taking administrative leave following accusations that he broke Florida ethics rules.

Fernandez sent a letter to the City Commission on Monday announcing his voluntary administrative leave. This comes after City Commissioner Gil Ziffer sent an email to Fernandez on Saturday, requesting that he step down until the Florida Commission on Ethics has wrapped up its investigation.

Fernandez's letter reads:

Dear Mayor and Commissioners,

I have reviewed Commissioner Ziffer's email sent to me Saturday, October 28, 2017. To avoid this matter becoming a distraction for our City employees and the entire organization, I have decided to voluntarily accept commissioner Ziffer's request (See Attached) and take administrative leave effective immediately until the matter before the Ethics Commission is resolved. This action is subject to your approval at the next commission meeting. I fully trust the process underway by the Ethics Commission and remain thankful for the opportunity to serve our community. I will again reiterate to you that any action by me as City Manager has and always will be to provide the highest level of service to our community.

Thank you for your leadership.

That letter came hours after news of Ziffer's request broke.

In an email to Fernandez dated Saturday, Ziffer requested that the issue be put on the agenda for the November 8 commission meeting. He acknowledged that the decision for action was a difficult one.

That email reads in part:

"In eight years this is clearly one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made as a Commissioner. Your time in our government and as City Manager has been filled with significant accomplishments. And while none of us are mistake-free, the cumulative effect of the questions that have been asked have caused me enough concern to ask for this Commission review."

An anonymous complaint was first filed with Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board back in August, accusing Fernandez of receiving a $5,000 discount from the city backed restaurant, The Edison.

A second complaint was filed about a week later with the Florida Commission on Ethics making the same accusation, as well as accusing Fernandez of accepting free football tickets from a city lobbyist and helping the Edison employee who gave him the discount get a job with the city.

Fernandez was eventually reprimanded by the Independent Ethics Commission, related to the complaint. The investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics is still ongoing.

Then, last week, a story by the Tallahassee Democrat released text messages where Fernandez allegedly asked the lobbyist for $2,000 worth of Florida State football tickets.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called the accusations "concerning" and said he supports the City Manager's decision.

In a statement Gillum said:

"In light of the details that have recently surfaced, the City Manager made the right decision to temporarily step aside. The City’s 3,000 employees and our residents need confidence in the City’s operations, and I hope the State Ethics Committee acts judiciously with their work. The City Commission will take any further appropriate action once their investigation is complete.”

"It was clear blatant, violation of any common sense ethical standards," said Peter Butzin, with Common Cause Florida, a group dedicated to promoting ethics in government.

Butzin said this is just one example of the bigger picture.

"Look, there is a crisis of confidence not just in Tallahassee, but in government of every level.... this isn't about Rick Fernandez. This is about having an enforceable ethics code. And I don't see us any closer to that," he said.

Butzin called the city's ethics code "unenforceable" noting that language added during an ethics workshop last week make the code more difficult to enforce. This, after the commission voted four to one in favor of making the code require that an illegal gift be obtained "corruptly" as opposed to "intentionally."

Fernandez has served as Tallahassee City Manager since November 2015. Since that time, he has managed the day-to-day operations of the City, overseeing nearly 3,000 staff and an annual budget of approximately $906 million, including operating and capital budgets.

City officials say Fernandez has dedicated 30 years of his career to serving the citizens of Tallahassee. Prior to becoming the Tallahassee City Manager, he served as the Assistant City Manager of Utility Services, which included Electric and Underground Utilities, Solid Waste, Business Services, StarMetro, Golf Courses and Fleet Management. Fernandez first joined the City of Tallahassee in 1988 when the City Commission appointed him as City Auditor.



 
Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station. powered by Disqus