That’s the first sentence in an article in today’s Florida Times-Union . Let’s think about that for a second. Okay. Local officials violated state law. But they shouldn’t be punished. Great. Why, you might ask? Well, as the article continues, the report of the Florida Commission on Ethics feels that these evildoers have now changed their ways, repented for all their sins, and have promised, really really promised, to be good and never do it again. Phew. I sure believe that and have a new found trust and belief in the honesty and righteousness of our elected officials.
Unfortunately, some naysayers and killjoyers like local attorney Leslie Goller aren’t as appeased. “If there is no penalty for ethics violations, it will just be business as usual here,” the article quotes her. NO! That can’t be true. When the fox says he’ll play nice with the hens, or when the scorpion promises he won’t sting the frog, you have to believe them.
Well, no, you don’t. Why? Because this week saw the trifecta of wrist slapping, eye winking and turning a blind eye. As above, apparently violating state laws regarding improper gifting is okay, as long as you form some kind of toothless committee, appoint some incompetent Ethics Officer, and re-write a law that was already written which was pretty clear in the "what not to do" category in the first place.
So what else did our city officials get away with this week? Oh, yeah. Violating Florida’s open meeting laws and improperly awarding no-bid contracts to Peyton’s cronies and former senior staff members.
As for the former, you may remember that a few of our city council members, in an apparently excusable violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, thought it okay to meet for a meal and discuss city business at a local diner without bothering to, I don’t know, follow any of the notification and reporting requirements of the Sunshine Law. Over 300 calendared meetings were examined, with potential flaws and violations found in dozens of them. So how did the investigation into this resolve? The Grand Jury found violations but, you guessed it, no criminal wrongdoing. Again, Phew. Our council members have thwarted another sticky career ending penalty by promising to play nice and, oh yeah, by the rules.
So how about the latter? You know, the no-bid contract issue. Well, let’s see. Scott Teagle is a close friend of Mayor Peyton and former chief of staff who left his noble civil service job in 2004, opting instead for a lucrative career in the private sector taking advantage of his cronyistic ties to start ProLogic and seek improper and, if not illegal, then definitely smelly, no contract bids with the city. His payoff? Over $500,000.00 in technology contracts that ProLogic was unqualified to receive.
Okay. So what happened to Scott and those involved in this non-scandal. Well, the same Grand Jury that looked into the Sunshine Law violations determined that these contracts were improperly awarded, but again, did not go so far as to find criminal wrongdoing.
Therein lies the trifecta. Get free tickets on the DL? No problem. An unannounced, unreported breakfast amongst city council members? Why not just let the taxpayer get the check? Get an illegal, half million dollar city contract ? Who’s watching?
While we have to live with these apparently minor indiscretions, and no fines or jail time will be meted out, I find it difficult to swallow that, at best, our city government is rife with utter incompetence and, at worst, devoid of a single ethical and moral fiber. Rudy Guiliani would surely be proud.
Finally, as a footnote really, and while we’re talking about the upstanding character that is our city government and its elected officials, I can’t help but mention a cute little event that happened last week. City Councilman Art, “I swear I’m not addicted to pain killers anymore” Shad, in an apparent attempt to protect himself from the vicious attack of an unleashed Labrador, PUNCHED THE DOG’S OWNER RIGHT IN THE FACE. Seriously. He said he was acting in self-defense. So he punched attorney Tim Kelly in the friggin face. It is unclear at this point what, if any, criminal charges will be filed.
This article was originally published on Colony Jax.