Indictments Give Hope for Clay's Future, Residents Say; A County Commissioner and a Former Public Works Director Were Charged with Theft and Misconduct

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Byline: JIM SCHOETTLER

ORANGE PARK -- The country fried steak special at Grumpy's restaurant wasn't the only item Clay County residents were buzzing over Friday, a day after their government was jolted by an unhappy grand jury.

Thursday's indictments of County Commissioner Christy Fitzgerald and former Public Works Director Arthur Ivey, along with a sealed report presumably critical of county government, were applauded by Grumpy's diners. A handful said they felt empowered by their 18 neighbors who were determined to hold government accountable after a three-month investigation of corruption and mismanagement.

"I think it's good. I think it's time," said Frank Fulkerson, 84, of Orange Park. "What's wrong is we don't have enough checks and balances. If we did, we'd have caught this a long time ago."

Ivey and Fitzgerald were charged with crimes including theft and official misconduct related to an $8.8 million dumping scandal and other alleged corruption. A third person not believed to be a public official has yet to be arrested, and has not been identified because that indictment was sealed by a judge.

The report, also known as a presentment, will be sealed for about another week so those criticized in it can contest the claims.

Blaine and Marcella Rabe came to Grumpy's from their Fleming Island home in the northern end of Fitzgerald's district. Blaine Rabe said he hopes the grand jury's work will improve government.

"If we take an active role, it can make a difference," said Rabe, 60. "It's too bad they had to use that process to get there. I think more things will be in the open."

Rabe's wife said she was pleased the grand jury addressed county labor and supplies being used to help hurricane-proof Fitzgerald's home. …