Pensacola

Ethical issues surround City Planning Board

August 3, 2015

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A fundamental tenet of Florida Ethics Law is that public officials, including volunteers who serve on advisory boards, must recuse themselves from votes on issues that benefit themselves, family members or business associates and clients.

On July 14, a planning board member was allowed to not only discuss an item that his firm was presenting, but also defend it and vote for it. Furthermore, he did so with the approval of the board chairman and city staff.

Since discovery of the possible ethics violation, questions from Inweekly have been rebuffed, and no one at city hall wants to discuss the issue.

The item was for a vacation of city right of way in the East Pensacola Heights neighborhood. The parties making the request were represented by Dean Dalrymple, of Dalrymple Sallis Architecture. Dalrymple’s partner is Scott Sallis, who is the designated architect member on the planning board.

A citizen raised a question at the planning board meeting as to whether Sallis should recuse himself from the item. Here is the transcript of the exchange:

Citizen: “Hello, some of you have seen me before. Some of you have heard me talk for years, because for years I have been an advocate. I want to start with a point of order. Is Mr. Sallis going to be allowed to question his business partner, and is he going to be allowed to vote on an issue where his business partner is the applicant’s representative?”

Chairman Paul Ritz: “Point of order, he is the architect on the board whose position allows him to vote on items that his own office brings. He’s the one board member who can, in fact, vote on items that his office has before this board.”

Sallis was then allowed to argue for the item, respond to questions from the public about it, and vote for it. City staff did not object.

When this possible ethical violation was brought to Inweekly, I sent an email to City Attorney Lysia Bowling asking her to look into matter and let us know her findings. The email was sent on July 21. She has not replied.

Inweekly reporter Jeremy Morrison spoke with both Ritz and Sallis. Ritz said that city staff had cleared Sallis for participation. Sallis also said he was told by staff in the city planning department that he was allowed to discuss and vote on issues his firm was involved in

Morrison requested interviews with the city attorney and the planning administration. The requests were denied. He was told to read the Code of Ethics in the Florida Statutes.

Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart said, “No one will be speaking with you.”

Morrison then called former City Attorney Jim Messer, who said he was unfamiliar with such an exemption on the planning board and that the scenario “strikes me as odd.” The attorney also noted that ethics issues were usually fairly easy.

“Ethics is your gut reaction,” Messer said. “We really shouldn’t have to struggle with these issues.”

Inweekly did find a 2004 Florida Commission on Ethics ruling involving architects serving on the Pensacola’s Architectural Review Board. The ruling said that there wasn’t a specific conflict for architects to serve on a board that considers issues presented by their firm. However, they are “subject to the voting conflicts law regarding measures which would inure to the special private gain or loss of clients of their firms. CEO’s 79-2, 80-63, and 80-75 are referenced.”

Kerrie Stillman of the Florida Ethics Commission’s communication’s department, told Inweekly, “The voting conflict statute is always in play with officials who have issues that come before the board.”

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