During a City Commission meeting on Wednesday, February 12, 2014, City Commissioner Scott Maddox stated that he had a conflict on an agenda item that involved the development of vacant land on the corner of Tennessee Street and North Monroe.
Commissioner Maddox did not disclose the nature of the conflict. However, previous research indicates that Gary Yordon – an employee of Governance – is a registered lobbyist for the developer, the Mckibbon Hotel Group (MHG). Commissioner Maddox has listed Governance as a source of income on his most recent financial disclosure form..
On three previous occasions when this issue was addressed by the City Commission, Commissioner Maddox failed to announce a conflict and simply got up and walked out when a vote was taken. The video below shows Commissioner leaving the Commission Chambers on two separate occasions.
Why is this important?
The Florida Commission on Ethics has previously issued a summary opinion that states:
“an official who temporarily absents himself from the portion of a meeting at which he would be presented with a voting conflict of interest still is required to announce the basis of the conflict and to file a memorandum of voting conflict as provided in Section 112.3143(3), Florida Statutes.”
The opinion continues with:
“the failure to make a disclosure when required to do so would violate the law just as would the failure to abstain. The statute contains not only a prohibition upon a public official, but also requires the affirmative duty of disclosure so that interested parties and the public will understand why the official is abstaining from voting.”
On Wednesday, Maddox stated “under advice of counsel of the City Attorney I have previously declared a conflict on item 13.05 and the City Attorney is handling the paper work…”
However, Tallahassee Reports, after much review, could not find any place in the public record where Commissioner Maddox “previously” declared a conflict.
In fact, at the September 25, 2013 City Commission meeting, City Attorney Shelley stated with regards to Commissioner Maddox on this issue, “he does not have a conflict.”
The issue up for vote on Wednesday was whether or not to give the developer a fourth extension on an option to develop the property in question. The Commission voted 2-2, without Maddox voting, which means no extension will be granted.
With Support from City Attorney, Maddox Walks
This issue goes back to April 24, 2013, when the City Commission, with little fanfare, voted to grant a second two-year extension to MHG. A review of the video shows City Commissioner Maddox leaving the City Chambers minutes before the vote.
On September 5th, 2013, Tallahassee Reports reported that Governance, a local government consultant group, represented MHG and helped secure the original mixed-use development deal.
On their website, Governance states they “assisted the McKibbon Hotel Group by navigating the RFP process and facilitating the discussions between the city, county and community redevelopment agency (CRA). The result was McKibbon Hotels gaining the sole right to build a grand hotel and office complex.” This took place in 2006.
On September 11, 2013, when the issue came up again, Commissioner Maddox stated, “I have represented in the past, not currently, one of the entities in item 12.01 and as such will not be voting.”
Commissioner Maddox never acknowledged a conflict and in fact, as stated earlier in this report, on September 25, 2013, City Attorney Lew Shelley stated that Commissioner Maddox “does not have a conflict.”
Then why did Commissioner Maddox choose not to participate on this issue?
On September 25th, the City Attorney also revealed that he informed Commissioner Maddox that “he would happily defend him recusing himself” for just an appearance of a conflict if someone filed an action against him for not voting.
See video below:
With the full support of the City Attorney, Commissioner Maddox chose to walk out of Commission Chambers when the issue came before the City Commission – first on October 23 and then again on October 26th- without declaring a conflict.
Tallahassee Reports, through public record requests and phone calls, attempted to determine why City Attorney Shelley was allowing Commissioner Maddox to walk out on votes, when such action appeared to be a violation of State law.
City Attorney Shelley never provided an answer.
Two days before the issue was due to come before the Commission on February 12, 2014, Tallahassee Reports once again demanded answers from the City Attorney. Again, after six phone calls and direct discussions with the City Attorney’s assistants, nothing.
Commissioner Maddox’s statement of conflict came at the February 12th City Commission meeting. However, the nature of conflict was not revealed.
What changed from September 11, 2013, when City Attorney Shelley said there was no conflict to February 12, 2014, when Commissioner Maddox acknowledged a conflict? How long has the conflict been present?
Why did City Attorney Shelley allow Commissioner Maddox to walk out on votes when no conflict existed?
Answers to these questions will ultimately determine if any laws were violated.