City Commissioners Put Ethics Proposal On Ballot But Raise Questions

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By Andy Alcock

Tallahassee residents will have an opportunity for an up or down vote on ethics this November.

The city commission voted five to nothing to put the ethics initiative on the ballot.

Commissioners voted to put the measure on the ballot after a Leon County Judge ordered them to do it.

But those same commissioners made it clear they have problems with the proposal.

"And we hope that our effort at a charter amendment will be seen as a compliment to what you're already doing," said Sandy D' Alemberte.

D'Alemberte, the former FSU president and attorney for Citizens For Ethics Reform was the first of ten speakers in favor of a new ballot initiative.

D'Alemberte said Florida's Ethics Commission isn't worthy of respect, because it's not independent.

The proposed charter amendment included an appointed ethics officer, independent ethics board and a public finance component.

Citizens contributing to city campaigns could get up to a $25 reimbursement of tax dollars.

Money was a key sticking point for commissioners.

Nancy Miller pointed out the Massachusetts based group United Republic spent $95,000 on the ballot initiative with no specific donor list.

"The irony here is we're talking about more transparency and yet the entire funding of the entire effort has come from outside our state," Miller said.

"They are working on good government all over the country," said Citizens For Ethics Reform Co-chair Marilynn Wills.

Commissioner Scott Maddox also noted the ethics proposal doesn't address political action committee money, money he said was spent against him in his last race.

"By people who are all in this room right now asking for reform," Maddox said.

"If I had to vote today, I would not vote for the amendment because I have outstanding questions about various pieces of it," said Tallahassee Mayor-elect Andrew Gillum

"There will be people out there explaining those pieces of the amendment to anyone that's interested," Wills said.

One piece of the amendment would reduce the maximum individual campaign contribution from $1000 to $250 like Leon County.

Commissioner Maddox says it would help incumbents who can bunch together more contributors.

At least one public forum is on the amendment is in the works.


Update: WCTV Eyewitness News
September 3, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Tallahassee City Commission unanimously voted to put the ethics charter referendum on the November ballot.

Several commissioners did express concerns about the merits of the proposal.

WCTV will update this story as more details become available.


A citizens group has won its ethics court battle against the City of Tallahassee.

"The city of Tallahassee shall place the proposed amendment to the charter of the city of Tallahassee on the ballot as required by law," Leon County Chief Judge Charles Francis ruled from the bench.

"We're very happy about the decision and we feel that the people of Tallahassee should be able to vote on this amendment in November," said Citizens For Ethics Reform Co-chair Marilynn Wills.

The amendment would require an independent ethics officer outside city control who would report to an independent ethics board.

A public financing component would allow Tallahassee residents to get up to $25 reimbursed in campaign contributions.

Twenty-thousand people signed the petition to put it on the ballot.

"I have no idea and neither do you what the citizens of the community thought or did when they signed that petition," said Tallahassee City Attorney Lew Shelley.

Shelley argued the ballot language was unclear and called the
anti-corruption language political and inflamatory.

Reporter: "Why is anti-corruption inflammatory?"

Shelley: "I am not going to deal with those kinds of specific questions."

Shelley in court also said in court there's no history of corruption in Tallahassee.

When reminded the previous city attorney JIm English had to pay a $10,000 fine for an ethics violation, Shelley said that case was not corruption.

When asked about the numerous unsuccessful complaints against Mayor John Marks and the FBI taking files from the mayor's office, Shelley said, "The idea that the mayor has committed anything, ethics violations or criminal law is pure hogwash."

While Shelley lost his attempt to get the ethics amendment to the city charter off the ballot, he didn't rule out an appeal.

An appeal could effectively keep the ethics amendment off the November ballot because the deadline to print that ballot is next Friday.

"They have clarification from a chief judge of the 2nd judicial circuit and I hope they'll be content with that and we won't go forward with an appeal," said Sandy D' Alemberte, the attorney for Citizens for Ethics Reform.

City commissioners are expected to make a decision Wednesday about putting the amendment on the ballot.

Commissioners Ziffer, Miller, Gillum and Mayor Marks all say they oppose an appeal.

We were unable to reach Commissioner Maddox for comment.


Update
August 29, 2014 2:00 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In a ruling this afternoon, Leon County Judge Charles Francis ruled in favor of Citizens for Ethics Reform.

Judge Francis stated that the initiative regarding a change to the city's charter to include new ethics policy will be on the November ballot.

City Attorney Lew Shelley did not rule out the possibility of an appeal.


Update
August 29, 2014 1:00 p.m.

Judge Charles Francis will announce a decision at 1:30 p.m. today as to whether or not this initiative will be on the November ballot.

WCTV will update this story with more details as they become available.


When Tallahassee residents vote in November, they may have a chance to change the city's charter to include a new ethics policy.

A group called Citizens For Ethics Reform gathered some 20-thousand signatures, more than double the number needed to get it on the ballot.

"I thought wow, we're done and then within a few days we find out we were going to be sued," said group co-chair Marilynn Wills.

The proposal would include an appointed ethics officer who would report to an independent ethics board outside city control.

It also includes public financing.

People could be reimbursed up to $25 dollars in city tax money for campaign contributions.

"I'm pretty supportive of public financing, the devil is always with the details," said Tallahassee Mayor-elect Andrew Gillum.

City Attorney Lew Shelley claims those details aren't spelled out well enough within the law.

Now Leon County Judge Charles Francis will decide, but the clock is ticking.

Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho sent a letter to Judge Francis stating he must hear from city leaders by next Friday for the initiative to make the November ballot.

Supporters fear even with a court victory, the city could appeal to keep the initiative off the ballot.

"I'm not interested in an appeal, I'm interested in having a discussion among commissioners," said Tallahassee Commissioner Nancy Miller.

"I would not support appealing the judge's decision," Gillum said.

"I would like to see the city move forward with an appointed ethics officer as a pro-active step," said Tallahassee Commissioner-elect Curtis Richardson.

City Commissioners have scheduled a meeting for next Wednesday, two days before Sancho's deadline to get the November ballot to the printers.

They're expected to make a decision at that meeting on the ethics initiative.


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