In Florida’s capital city, where speculation continues over who and what are the targets of an FBI probe into public corruption, there is growing concern in the overall trust the public has in its city government.
The latest incident threatening that trust involves Tallahassee’s city manager and an investigation by the state ethics commission into $2000 worth of football tickets given to him by a lobbyist.
As reported by the Tallahassee Democrat on Monday, City Commissioner Gil Ziffer has requested that City Manager Rick Fernandez be suspended until the outcome of the investigation is known.
“In eight years this is clearly one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made as a Commissioner,” Ziffer said in an email sent to Fernandez this weekend. “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.”
Fernandez accepted four tickets to a Florida State University football game last year from Adam Corey, a lobbyist and restaurateur who has been mentioned as part of an FBI investigation into possible corruption involving city government. The tickets were for Corey’s box seats at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Fernandez told a reporter for the Democrat two months ago that he never received free tickets from Corey.
But copies of text messages sent on Sept. 27, 2016, have since been released showing the city manager asking a representative of Adam Corey’s Unconventional Strategies for tickets to the Oct. 1 football game against the University of North Carolina.
The texts were revealed under a subpoena by the Florida Commission on Ethics which is investigating a complaint filed by local businessman Erwin Jackson.
Fernandez: “Do u have any tkts available for Saturday?”
Lobbyist: “Yes, how many do you need? We got you covered.”
Fernandez: “4 if possible. Thanks.”
Texts sent in the days that followed confirmed the tickets had been dropped off at Fernandez’s office in city hall.
Calls for Fernandez’ suspension pending the outcome of the ethics investigation comes a day after members of the city commission took an unusual step and published an open letter to residents involving public trust and city government. The letter was sent to city utility customers and posted on Tallahassee’s Facebook page.
“Over the last few months, discussions about the FBI and recent accusations about the City Manager have some in our community concerned. The City is fully cooperating with all official investigations, and we want to respect the investigations as those agencies complete their work,” the letter said. It was signed by Mayor Andrew Gillum and City Commissioners Ziffer, Scott Maddox, Nancy Miller and Curtis Richardson.
The city has turned over tens-of-thousands of pages of correspondences under three subpoenas issued by the FBI this year. The most recent subpoena specifically sought documents from Commissioner Maddox.
There’s no word on when the FBI or the state ethics commission will complete their investigations into the separate issues.
“Once they have presented their findings, we can address them fairly and with impartiality. As elected officials, we must make difficult decisions every day to ensure Tallahassee continues forward in a direction that reflects the values of this community, and we make those decisions armed with facts,” the mayor and commissioners added in their letter.
In addition to the FBI investigation into public corruption and the city manager’s ethics issues, the city has also been shaken by gun violence this year. A record 18 homicides have occurred in Tallahassee so far in 2017.
The mayor and commissioners ended their letter asking that the public keep their trust in their city government.
“Let’s not let the negativity of the moment overshadow the good work that is happening, nor distract us from the important work that must be done. Your trust has not been misplaced. You elected us to lead, and we will continue to do so remaining focused on the task at hand – providing reliable, high quality municipal services and creating a safe, inclusive environment for every citizen.”