.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

‘Party’ woes hang over city

-A A +A

‘Probable cause’ mayor violated state statute

By Jeff Bryan

Editor's Note: Moments after the start of Wednesday’s council workshop, Mayor Walter Green resigned effective immediately and walked out of City Hall.

The mayor told those in attendance he plans to spend more time with family and friends.

Mayor Green, who was first began serving on council in 2014, ran unopposed for mayor in 2016. His term would have run for two more years.

Councilman Chuck Dillon called the resignation “shocking.”

“I wish he would have not tendered his resignation,” he added. “I always thought he represented the best interest of the city.”

Because Vice Mayor Rick Hancock was absent, Dillon and Councilwoman Valerie Hanchar appointed their colleague, Larry Winkler, to temporarily fill the role of vice mayor until Hancock returns.

“Absolutely shocked,” Winkler said. “As a matter of fact, I hated to see Walter go, because of his popularity in the community and stability with the council. I hated to see him go, but he wanted to go, I asked him not to.”

***

Tallahassee is calling for Mayor Walter Green.

But it’s neither the governor’s office, nor is it the state legislature asking for him.

Spurred by the recommendation of Brad King, state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, for the city’s “invitation-only” party more than a year ago, the Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause the first-term mayor violated Section 112.3148(3) of the Florida Statutes, by soliciting a gift from vendors of the city of Dunnellon, based on the preliminary findings of a months-long investigation, according to records obtained by the Riverland News.

A formal notice of

hearing of the matters on which probable cause has been found was prepared and sent to Mayor Green. Under Commission Rule 34-17.017, F.A.C., the Commission may resolve a referral proceeding through a stipulation, settlement or consent order entered into by the mayor and the Commission’s Advocate and approved by the Commission, the report states.

According to a spokeswoman with the Commission on Ethics, Mayor Green has the right to request a full, evidentiary hearing. If there is a hearing, it will be before an Administrative Law Judge with the Division of Administrative Hearings, said spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman.

The judge will issue a Recommended Order which will go back before the Commission for a final action hearing (public session) where the Commission will find no violation, or find a violation and recommend a penalty. However, in lieu of a hearing, the mayor could reach a settlement agreement with the Commission Advocate (prosecutor). If that is the case, a Joint Stipulation will be filed and the Commission will consider the stipulation in a public meeting and take final action to adopt or reject the stipulation.

“At this point, the complaint is in the hands of the Advocate and we wait to hear from her or Mr. Green as to whether there will be a hearing or settlement,” Stillman said.

In addition, based on the investigation and recommendation, the Commission finds that there is no probable cause to believe Mayor Green violated Section 112.3148(4), Florida Statutes, by accepting a gift from vendors of the city of Dunnellon.

There was no probable cause to believe City Administrator Dawn Bowne violated Section 112.3148(4), Florida Statutes, by accepting a gift from vendors of the city of Dunnellon, the Ethics Commission ruled.

According to the documents released Wednesday, Aug. 1, by the Commission on Ethics, State Attorney King advised that his office received a complaint that Mayor Green solicited funds from vendors doing business with the city to sponsor its “invitation-only” party in June 2017. Upon his office’s determination that no criminal violation of law has occurred, the report stated, the complaint was referred to the Commission on Ethics to determine whether the mayor had violated the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.

The Executive Director of the Commission on Ethics noted that based upon the information provided in the complaint, the above-referenced allegation was sufficient to warrant a preliminary investigation to determine whether Mayor Green’s actions violated Section 112.3148(3), Florida Statutes, and Section 112.3148(4), Florida Statutes, the report stated.

The Commission on Ethics launched its preliminary investigation in October, with the findings completed in May after Investigator K. Travis Wood filed his report with the Commission.

In his deposition with Wood, the mayor advised he signed the letter to solicit donations to help fund the party to celebrate recent events within the city, including the promotions of the city administrator (Dawn Bowne) and city clerk (Mandy Roberts).

The letter would have been drafted by staff at the city, Mayor Green said.

“I’m not sure,” Mayor Green said when asked who drafted the letter. “I signed it, so it’s my letter. I take responsibility for the letters I sign. I know it was formed in an invitation form of some type.”

Asked if he directed a member of city staff to draft the letter, Mayor Green explained no one shall take it upon themselves to draft any letter he signs.

“I am responsible for any correspondence that goes out of here,” he explained.

When asked how the letter came about, the mayor could be heard murmuring, “let’s see.”

“There was a discussion about how to pay for it,” Mayor Green said. “I made it clear we cannot use city funds, we do not have the funds to do that. There was a conversation that went on and they said, ‘maybe we can solicit some people to help pay for it, we’ll ask for some help to pay for it.’ I said, ‘well, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that, that’s a good idea.’”

How did the letter come about, Wood asked.

“That’s a good question Travis,” Green responded.

Who directed the letter to be written, who selected the vendors that were solicited, who wrote the list of vendors that the letter was mailed to, Wood questioned the mayor.

“I didn’t even see the list of who it was going out to,” said Mayor Green about who was asked to contribute funds to the “invitation-only” party.

The mayor explained the solicitation letter was mailed from City Hall.

“Probably one of the staff here,” Mayor Green said, noting there were three or four people who possibly could have done it. “It might have been the secretary who works at the front of the office. I really didn’t pay much attention.”

The letter was finalized, he signed it and it was sent out, the mayor explained, but to who, he didn’t know. According to records obtained by the Riverland News, the letter was issued to 25 individuals or vendors, 16 of which conducted business with the city, from the mayor’s city-related email account in June 2017.

But the mayor told the investigator the letter was mailed.

“I think it was mailed. I know it was mailed, because we refunded the postage on it also,” the mayor said. However, records from the cost of the party showed Mayor Green reimbursed the city for mailing the invitations, not the solicitation letters. “I didn’t see the list of who it was going to. I didn’t know who was contributing until they would give me an update. They’d give me an update and they said, ‘We’re up to a certain amount of money.’ I said, ‘Well, are you at your goal?’”

Green said no one brought him a specific letter to sign.

“I saw what was presented to me for a signature, I signed it,” he said. “I’m responsible for signing it and what is in (the letter).”

As city administrator, Bowne, and the city clerk, Roberts, and the clerical staff would probably have knowledge of it, Green said.

“They would be a contact point,” Green explained, telling Wood the city administrator would probably know who clerically did it.

A year ago, Bowne told the Riverland News it was her “understanding the mayor wrote the letter” seeking donations for the event. During her deposition, Bowne said she did not assist him personally. Then-assistant City Clerk Mandy Roberts “may have or could have helped” the mayor with the letter and issuing it to individuals or vendors, Bowne said.

“Perhaps our assistant city clerk may have worked with him, and if he asked her to put anything on letterhead, she is available to him,” Bowne told the investigator, who asked if any other staff sent out a letter or memo. “(The) letter from mayor is the only one I have knowledge of.”

City Clerk Mandy Roberts told the investigator Mayor Green asked her to draft the letter, according to Roberts’ deposition.

“We were talking about how we wanted to propose it, what he wanted it to say to see if these people would support us,” she explained to the investigator. “We didn’t want to burden any taxpayer money to fund the event.”

Once the letter was approved, Roberts said she scanned a copy of it and sent it along with a list of email addresses of individuals and vendors to Mayor Green.

Who came up with list of vendors, Wood asked.

“It was a joint effort, all of us collaborating,” Roberts explained. “I came up with some people; Walter came up with some people; Dawn might have come up with some suggestions.”

When Green realized there was a problem, it was over a weekend. He explained he would contact City Attorney Andrew Hand, whose firm was a contributor, but records showed Hand’s firm — Shepherd, Smith, Kohlmeyer and Hand, P.A. — did not give a donation for the “invitation-only” party.

“The city has made every bit of information possible,” Green said. “Action was taken immediately to rectify the problem.”

Bowne told the investigator she did not solicit funds; her lone involvement, she recalled, was being copied or notified on responses to the mayor.

“I didn’t do the initial solicitation or request anything,” Bowne said.

Eventually, Bowne said, it was brought to officials’ attention that Councilman Chuck Dillon had spoken to the city attorney who talked to the Commission on Ethics.

“(Our attorney) made a call to me,” she explained. “Once it was brought to our attention, we immediately stopped and returned any checks we had and not cashed and sent back, contacted any vendors that may have reached out to the mayor and said they would be sending money and asked them not to do that.”

In an email more than a year ago to the Florida Commission on Ethics, Hand wrote “at least one reporting individual requested donations from vendors doing business with the city.” Florida State Statute 112.3148(3) prohibits a reporting individual from soliciting any gift from a vendor doing business with the reporting individual’s agency where such gift is for the personal benefit of the reporting individual or another reporting individual.

“Return of the donations to the vendors is not curative, but may serve in mitigation,” wrote John M. Knight, an attorney with the Florida Commission on Ethics, in response to Hand’s inquiry. 

Video

See video
See video
See video