By: Mariel Carbone
December 14, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)—A local group is now calling for the immediate dismissal of City Manager Rick Fernandez.
Citizens for Responsible Spending held a press conference on Thursday, requesting that the city commission hold a special meeting to fire Fernandez.
"To allow Mr. Fernandez to continue to collect his salary is a travesty. And our city commissioners should be ashamed of themselves,” said Barney Bishop, Chair of CRS.
Fernandez has been on paid administrative leave for more than a month following an ethics investigation. The commission voted to allow Fernandez to continue to stay on paid leave while issuing its own investigation last week.
“We’re wasting tax payer dollars allowing this insidious, symbiotic relationship of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ to continue to exist, while our city’s reputation crumbles,” said Bishop. “At the end of the day, the city commission needs to call an emergency meeting to deal with these issues because time is of the essence.”
The Florida Commission on Ethics is currently investigating a complaint alleging that Fernandez accepted a $5,000 discount from the city backed restaurant The Edison, as well as solicited football tickets from a city lobbyist.
Fernandez voluntarily took administrative leave while the investigation takes place. However, City Attorney Lew Shelley told the commission last week that he does not expect that investigation to wrap up until about March.
That could mean several more months of paid leave.
“You know why this is going on? Because this is not their money. It’s tax payer money,” said Bishop. “They’re not going to (fire him) because they don’t care. They want to give excuses and because it’s not coming out of their pockets.”
Commissioner Curtis Richardson said he believes the commission has approached this in the right manner.
"The deliberate approach that we've taken to this issue is the correct one. The city manager has a contract and we owe him due process. And I’m comfortable with that,” said Richardson.
And, in a statement made last week, Commissioner Scott Maddox said, “Tallahassee is a community that values basic American rights, including the right be considered innocent until proven guilty and to have an opportunity for due process. All I know regarding the City Manager’s case is what has been tried in the court of public opinion. It would be a grave disservice to him and any City of Tallahassee employee to make presumptions and life changing decisions without all the facts.”
Citizens for Responsible Spending are also calling for a national search for a replacement for Fernandez, as well as for the position of City Attorney. Current City Attorney Lew Shelley is set to retire and has recommended Deputy City Attorney Cassandra Jackson to fill the position.
The city commission has set a special meeting for January 3 where it’ll discuss how to move forward filling that position, as well as that of the City Auditor, who is also retiring.