Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Board Censure Prompts Ethics Investigation

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Board Censure Prompts Ethics Investigation

Article excerpt

The state ethics commission has opened an investigation of an elected member of the Duval Soil and Water Conservation Board who is accused of improperly obtaining a mobile phone under a city contract, according to board Chairman Joe Forshee.

Rahman Johnson, 24, paid the nearly $800 debt last month from his personal funds after it dogged the board for a year. But the board's November censure of Johnson, which includes a slew of other allegations, remains in force. That censure, along with a formal request from the board, sparked the state's investigation.

Johnson refused to comment. Forshee would not elaborate, citing the confidentiality of active ethics investigations, but confirmed the ethics commission sent the board a letter confirming the probe had been opened.

Forshee mentioned the letter in vague terms at the board's monthly meeting yesterday. When the Times-Union attempted to obtain copies of the letter, board staff referred the request to the ethics commission in Tallahassee.

"It was my understanding that what you were looking for may have been a matter that is still under investigation and is exempt from public records law," said Bonnie Williams, the commission's executive director.

Much is still unclear about the mobile phone account, which Johnson obtained from Powertel shortly after his election in late 1998. Because both the city and the board refused to take responsibility for the debt, Powertel classified the account as a personal one with Johnson. Consequently, the company declined to release the billing statements to either the government or the Times-Union. Johnson said yesterday he has not decided whether he will make those records public.

One question that remains is whether Johnson paid taxes on the account. The original application, which classified it as a business account for the city, was marked "tax-exempt."

Johnson, however, admitted to making personal calls with the phone, eventually paid the bill with personal funds and Powertel considers it a personal account -- which cannot legally be tax-exempt. …

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