City Manager to remain on paid leave

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez will remain on paid administrative leave.

The City Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to keep Fernandez on paid leave pending the outcome of a state ethics investigation, which the City Attorney anticipates to wrap up in March. However, it'll seek an outside firm to conduct a fact finding investigation to provide clarity and allow the commission to move more quickly on what to do further with the City Manager position.

Fernandez is accused of accepting a $5,000 discount from a city vendor and football tickets from a city lobbyist.

The decision came after about an hour of discussion and several failed motions including one to put Fernandez on unpaid leave and one to bring him back to work.

Commissioners Nancy Miller and Scott Maddox were both against the final vote.

"Bottom line is we either need to make a decision to terminate the City Manager, or we need to let the investigation come to its conclusion. But, to keep him in limbo and not working doesn't make any sense to me," said Maddox.

All together, the commission commended Fernandez's work as a City Manager, but agreed he's made some mistakes.

"The City Manger has been a very good city manager. He's done what he's asked to do in his responsibilities. But, I have concerns with, for lack of a better term, the evidence we've seen," said Commissioner Gil Ziffer.

"It's not been an easy matter. He has made some mistakes? Certainly. Do they rise to the level of termination? I'm not sure," said Commissioner Curtis Richardson.

Richardson, along with others, warned of rushing to judgement without proof or resolution of the allegations.

"I don't want to be a part of anything that's a kangaroo court or a court of public opinion," said Richardson.

With the vote moving forward, the City Attorney will now search for an outside firm to do fact finding, which Commissioner Maddox criticized because of the financial cost. The commission hopes to have the facts surrounding the investigation brought back to the commission in January.

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.

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

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