By Sharon Calvert
(Reprinted with permission from Eye on Tampa Bay)
We posted here that it appears there’s deception and some incompetence regarding Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan’s retribution motion to pursue those who filed ethics complaints against him. Hagan irresponsibly threw his controversial retribution item on the Consent Agenda and created this latest big mess at County Center.
We included an email from Tom Rask in our previous post. A response thread to Rask’s initial email can be found here.
Mary Helen Ferris of the County Attorney’s office responded to Rask stating:
In response to your concerns, the agenda item approved by the Commission on November 15th only authorizes payment of legal fees. State law requires the County to pay for successful defense of charges against public officials, including ethics complaints. It was in the discretion of the Commission whether to include the claim for attorneys fees in the covered fees, and the Commission voted to include them.
The matter itself is in Commissioner Hagan name alone. It is his and his lawyer s decision how to proceed with the case.
Ferris’s response led Rask to respond back and point out the following:
When you say that “State law requires the County to pay for successful defense”, presumably you are referring to FS 111.07. Said statute allows (but does not “require”) your agency to “defend any civil action arising from a complaint etc. etc”. There is no requirement, only authorization.You also say that such defense includes defense against ethics complaints. Quite the contrary, because an ethics complaint is NOT a “civil action”. The Florida Commission of Ethics is under the Legislature, not the judiciary. See this Florida Attorney General Opinion (AGO), namely AGO 90-74, saying exactly what I’m telling you. It’s an opinion that Hillsborough County itself sought in 1990.
Unless that AGO has been superseded by a subsequent AGO or by court decisions, the county is definitely not “required” to pay to defend ethics complaints.
Furthermore, citing from that same AGO:
If Hillsborough County makes a determination that acts alleged in an ethics complaint against an official or employee of the county arose from the officer’s or employee’s official duties and that a public purpose was being served at the time of such acts, the reimbursement of legal expenses for the officer or employee would appear to be authorized.
Note the “if, then” conditionality. If the county does X, then it may do Y.
In approving agenda item A-69, the BoCC made no such determination that the ethics complaint “arose from the officer’s or employee’s official duties AND that a public purpose was being served at the time of such acts.”
1. Mr. Hagan misrepresented his petition as being a future action when in fact he had already filed.
2. The commission has not made the required determination referred to in AGO 90-74
3. The County Attorney’s office has failed to correctly state law to the commissioners, and likely did so before they voted.
4. The commissioners may have voted differently if they had known item 1, 2 and 3.
The Eye received a copy of the Petition Hagan’s attorney filed with the Ethics Commission to pursue reimbursement from one of the complainants, George Neimann.
Note the Petition was received by the Ethics Commission on Monday, November 13, 2017 – 2 days BEFORE the November 15, 2017 BOCC meeting where Hagan deceptively threw his retribution request onto the Consent Agenda.
Hagan’s lawyer had already submitted the Petition to the Ethics Commission the week before the BOCC meeting and before the commissioners ever voted.
Hagan failed to inform the commissioners publicly at the meeting when the agenda item was discussed that his attorney had already filed the petition. Hagan failed publicly to inform the commissioners he was asking the commissioners to approve something that he had already done. Every commissioner must answer if they knew the Petition had already been filed against George Neimann. The public deserves to know that answer from each of them.
In addition, what did the County Attorney know and when did he know it?
This messy issue was brought up at the Wednesday, December 6 BOCC meeting during public comment from Tom Rask, Shirley Wood (one of the four complainants who filed an ethics complaint against Hagan) and from Yvette Neimann (George Neimann’s wife). We captured their public comment from the county’s online meeting transcript. The transcript and video can be found at HTV.
Rask’s public comment reiterates the problems with Hagan’s Agenda item A-69 vote that he included in his email back to Mary Helen Ferris. He asked the commissioners to bring the agenda item back so the commissioners, at the least, do things right and through proper procedure.
Shirley Wood and Yvette Neimann made impassioned pleas to the commissioners to rescind their previous vote. Shame on any commissioner who put the other complaininants under burdensome stress if Hagan is only targeting Neimann.
The county commissioners must take action to fix another smelly mess at County Center because proper procedure was not followed – again.
The commissioners should rescind their previous vote. Even the Times wrote an editorial that Ken Hagan should drop effort to recover attorney’s fees in ethics complaint stating “Hagan’s strident position rings less of altruism than it does of bald-faced revenge.”
Because that is exactly what it is. Hagan’s retribution makes him look small, vengeful and petty. What other commissioner wants to look like that? Why would any commissioner want to be tied to Hagan’s deceit and vengefulness?
Apparently, Hagan wants to keep the Go Hillsborough crony debacle front and center.
We will oblige.