Union Letter of Complaint Against Mayor Fletcher

In today’s Ledger you’ll find an article concerning two state ethics complaints against Mayor Buddy Fletcher and Commissioner Edie Yates. Rick Rousos covers the story well, and I urge you to read it. However, there are additional links and text I think you’ll find pertinent.

The gist: In December 2008, a lawyer/researcher for Utility Workers Union of America filed two separate complaints to the The Florida Commission on Ethics. The December 4th, 2008 made the complaint against Mayor Buddy Fletcher. A December 19th, 2008 letter filed the complaint against Commissioner Edie Yates.

Brooks is based in Nashville, Tennessee and the UWUA, housed in Washington, DC, represents workers with Lakeland Electric. On February 2nd, 2009, the UWUA registered a web site, Lakeland Waste Watch. PDF copies of both complaints are published there – Fletcher, Yates

I’ve republished both letters in plain text. A later post covers the complaint letter concerning Commissioner Yates. Below is the complaint against Mayor Fletcher (1):

December 4, 2008
VIA Overnight Delivery

Philip Claypool
Executive Director and General Counsel
The Florida Commission on Ethics
3600 Maclay Boulevard South, Suite 201
Tallahassee, FL 32312
Re: Complaint against Ralph L. “Buddy” Fletcher, Mayor, City of Lakeland

Dear Mr. Claypool:

I am enclosing for your attention a complaint against Ralph Fletcher, Mayor of the City of Lakeland, involving the Mayor conducting business with the City in violation of § 112.313(3) ofthe Florida Code of Ethics.

For your background information, our organization represents numerous employees of the Cityof Lakeland, who live throughout Lakeland and Polk County. Mr. Fletcher has been Mayorsince January 1993, and a City Commissioner since 1989. According to the City’s website, Mr. Fletcher is also the owner of Fletcher Printing Co. (See enclosed.(1)). A Lexis Nexis search reveals that Mayor Fletcher has owned this business for many years.

In November, I filed a public records request with the City requesting copies of all invoices forservices provided by Fletcher Printing to the City since 1989. On November 10, I received the enclosed email reply from the City, which attached an Excel spreadsheet confirming the City has paid Fletcher Printing more than $11,000 for printing services from July 2000 through July 2008.

As you know, § 112.313(3) broadly provides that no “public officer or employee, acting in aprivate capacity [may] rent, lease, or sell any realty, goods, or services … to any political subdivision or any agency thereof, if he or she is serving as an officer or employee of thatpolitical subdivision.”

Opinions letters by the Commission staff have long held that “this provision prevents a publicofficer from owning a business which is doing business with his public agency.” CEO 87-26(4/23/87). The staff has also determined that ‘”acting in a private capacity’ for purposes ofSection 112.313(3) includes actions taken by a corporation in which a public official owns more than a five percent interest.” CEO 89-51 (10/26/89) (county commissioner owning a print shopgenerally may not sell printing services to county sheriffs department).

See also CEO 76-65 (4/16/76) (Lakeland City Commissioner and principal stockholder in sheet metal company may not do business with city hospital); CEO 76-23 (2/13/76) (city councilman owning welding business may not sell services to city); and CEO 78-7 (1/19/78) (public employee may not own material interest in publishing company that sells publications to employee’s own agency).

Opinions issued by the state Attorney General also hold that the statute “has been uniformly interpreted as prohibiting a public body from engaging in a business transaction with a business entity in which any one of its members has an interest.” Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 1973-121 (4/16/73). See also Attorney General Opinions 1973-94 (3/29/73) and 1973-160 (5/10/73).

It also appears that none of the exemptions provided under § 112.313(12) apply to these Fletcher Printing transactions. According to the spreadsheet disclosed by the City, for example, the payments made to Mayor Fletcher’s company have exceeded $500 per calendar year in each of the years 2000, 2003-06, and 2008.

I have also asked the City to confirm whether any of these payments were awarded by competitive bid, and whether the City has any system by which purchase of these kinds ofservices are rotated among all qualified suppliers in the locality. (See enclosed email correspondence.(1)) As of today, the City has provided no substantive reply.

In any event, the City’s published purchasing policies do not provide for any such rotation system. The City’s original reply to my public records request, moreover, states that the City does not track vendors by type of service provided, which would seem to preclude any system of rotation for purchasing services from area print shops.

As for competitive bids, the City’s Charter and purchasing policies generally provide that only purchases exceeding $750 must be submitted for competitive bids, except in the case of purchases by either Purchasing Department staff or Department heads, which can be made without competitive bidding for amounts up to $1,500. Most of the Fletcher Printing purchases disclosed by the City have been for less than $750, and all of them were under $1,500.

In addition, the Polk County Supervisor of Elections office has confirmed to me that MayorFletcher has filed no Form 3A with the County, which would be required in the case of any exemption involving competitive bids under § 112.313(12)(b). I have also asked the City if ithas any position concerning why these transactions do not violate the statute, and the City Attorney has specifically declined any response. (See enclosed.(1))

Based upon the foregoing, it seems clear that these Fletcher Printing transactions were inviolation of § 112.313(3), and moreover that none of the exceptions provided under §112.313(12) exempt these transactions. I therefore request that the Commission investigate this complaint under its usual procedures.

Please let me know if you require additional information in this matter.

Sincerely,

Mark Brooks
SENIOR NATIONAL RESEARCHER
521 GALLATIN ROAD, SUITE 6
NASHVILLE, TN 37206
615-227-4350 (OFFICE PHONE)
615-523-2350 (FAX)
markbrooks@uwua.net

(1) – Enclosures not reproduced here.

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