5:53 PM, Jun 14, 2012 | Written by Jeff Burlew Senior government editor Of The Tallahassee Democrat
Key decisions could be handed down Friday in two ethics complaints against Tallahassee Mayor John Marks over his involvement with city vendors.
The Florida Commission on Ethics is expected to decide whether probable cause exists that Marks broke the law when he voted on separate matters involving the nonprofit Alliance for Digital Equality and corporate giant Honeywell.
One thing is certain — if the Ethics Commission makes a probable-cause finding one way or the other, its investigations into Marks, including any witness statements and other documents, will finally be opened to public scrutiny. The documentation won’t be available, however, until the following Wednesday, when the Ethics Commission is expected to enter its orders.
The stakes are high for the mayor as the Ethics Commission meets behind closed doors to make its decision in the complaints against Marks.
If the nine-member commission finds probable cause it could set the stage for a legal showdown between the mayor and the state agency charged with enforcing Florida’s ethics laws for public officials. If Marks is eventually found guilty of violating the law, he could face penalties ranging from fines to suspension or even removal from office.
However, the Ethics Commission could decide no probable cause exists, which would end the ethics cases against the mayor, who’s serving his third term in office. The Ethics Commission also could delay a decision or issue some kind of mixed ruling, finding probable cause but deciding not to take further action.
And while a settlement between Marks and the Ethics Commission is possible, it won’t happen Friday. Any settlement proposal would have to be scheduled for a public Ethics Commission meeting. Barry Richard, the mayor’s attorney, doesn’t expect that to happen.
“There have been no discussions on any settlement, and I don’t anticipate any unless the (Ethics Commission) advocate wants to concede that there was no probable cause,” Richard said.
An Ethics Commission advocate, who acts as a prosecutor in ethics cases, has already issued probable-cause recommendations in both of the complaints against Marks, Richard said. However, all information and documents in ethics cases remain confidential until after a probable-cause determination has been made. While the mayor could waive confidentiality, he hasn’t thus far.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN:
• The Florida Commission on Ethics could find probable cause today in two ethics complaints against Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, which could lead to court proceedings before an administrative law judge to determine whether he is guilty of the charges.
• The Ethics Commission also could find no probable cause, which would end the ethics proceedings against Marks.
• It’s also possible the Ethics Commission will issue a mixed ruling, finding probable cause but taking no further action.
• Jeff Burlew will be tweeting from today’s Ethics Commission meeting. Follow him on Twitter @JeffBurlew. • Check Tallahassee.com throughout the day for updates to the story along with photos and video.
Both of the ethics complaints were filed April 25, 2011, by Erwin Jackson, a local businessman and City Hall critic who ran for the Tallahassee City Commission in 2010. Jackson gave copies of the complaints to the media after filing them.
One of the complaints involves Marks’ vote Sept. 15, 2010, on a $1.2 million federal grant involving the Alliance for Digital Equality, an Atlanta nonprofit that paid the mayor $86,000 from 2007 through Oct. 2010, according to tax filings and previous interviews with ADE officials.
Marks abstained from a later vote Dec. 8, 2010, in which city commissioners voted 4-0 to execute contracts with ADE affiliate Partners for Digital Equality for no more than $761,609, and another grant partner, the Go Beyond Foundation, for no more than $600,187, according to city documents.
The other ethics complaint involves Marks’ vote March 28, 2007, to authorize city staff to negotiate with Honeywell to provide contract-management services for the city’s smart-meter network, along with installation of the meters and related infrastructure.
Jackson, in his complaint, wrote that the mayor was working at the time for the Adorno & Yoss law firm, which he said was representing Honeywell.
The contract with Honeywell was for $14.8 million, according to city officials. The city subsequently spent $20.5 million to buy the meters directly from the Elster company. The total cost of the smart-meter project so far is estimated at $40 million.
Under Florida’s ethics laws, public officials can’t use their official position to secure a special gain for themselves or others. They also can’t work for any entity doing business with the board on which they serve.
Richard, Marks’ attorney, has said the mayor didn’t violate the law in his votes involving ADE and Honeywell. He has said that on the ADE matter, neither ADE nor its affiliate PDE nor Marks received a special private gain from the Sept. 10, 2010, vote. Richard has said that in the Honeywell matter, Marks was a contract employee of Adorno & Yoss who didn’t take part in profit-sharing and “wasn’t retained on the Honeywell deal to get them anything.”