Politics Said to Hinder Ethics Board; the Panel's Independence Is Being Obstructed, Says a Commission Member

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Byline: TIA MITCHELL

A Jacksonville Ethics Commission member says politics is behind the City Council president's decision to block him from serving another term.

J. Patrick Plumlee, a University of North Florida professor who has served two years on the panel, said council President Richard Clark told him he's unhappy about the board's recent activism on high-profile issues.

Plumlee wrote a letter to his Ethics Commission colleagues on Jan. 27, urging them to push for greater independence.

The role of the nine-member commission is one of many topics being researched by the Charter Revision Commission, which has until the end of the month to come up with a list of non-binding recommendations to the council.

In his letter, Plumlee said he walked away from his November meeting with Clark feeling discouraged.

"The impression I gained in this meeting was that Mr. Clark did not view the Ethics Commission as having an appropriate function or well-defined role in city government at the present time," Plumlee wrote.

Plumlee contends Clark's decision to not reappoint him was politically motivated and "reflective of some larger dissatisfaction in the higher reaches of city government with the Ethics Commission itself." He declined to comment further on the letter.

The political science professor urged his colleagues to continue lobbying the charter panel to support recommendations giving the ethics board greater authority and autonomy. Plumlee also suggested the political appointment process needs to be re-examined.

Clark hasn't yet picked someone to replace Plumlee, so he remains on the commission for now.

Defending his decision, Clark said he wants to bring fresh blood to a panel he believes has lost its way at times.

For example, he said, the Ethics Commission cast a critical eye on an emergency bill he filed last summer to improve a city park but never invited him to explain his actions. He said the commission criticized him for wanting to enact the legislation quickly.

Clark said he also felt it was improper for the panel to weigh in on the mayor's proposed Trail Ridge landfill deal when it was still pending before the council, which he said was outside of the commission's purview.

The emergency language was eventually removed from Clark's bill and the council ultimately defeated the Trail Ridge proposal. …