Ethics Charge Filed Against Vice Mayor

By Mike Lednovich

Vice Mayor David Sturges is facing an ethics investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The ethics complaint came to light when the city commission’s April 18 agenda was made public this week. One agenda item is a resolution authorizing the city attorney to work with the city’s claims administrator to appear on behalf of and defend Sturges before the commission on ethics over a complaint filed on March 6, 2023. Sturges is asking that the city pay his legal bills.

The complaint itself, and all ethics commission proceedings and records relating to the complaint, are confidential unless Sturges wishes to disclose them.

City Charter Section 31 requires that the prosecution and defense of litigation involving the city be authorized by the city commission. The commission will vote April 18 on the resolution for Sturges’ defense and legal fee

City Attorney Tammi Bach has cautioned Sturges in the past on his comments and votes in the debate over the closure of Brett’s Waterway Café. Sturges failed to disclose a conflict of interest when the Brett’s matter first was discussed and voted on by the city commission in 2020. Sturges has a business partner who also is employed by Brett’s.

After Attorney Bach told him that he had a conflict of interest in the Brett’s matter, Sturges has since recused himself on Brett’s votes.

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C. Heise
C. Heise (@guest_68312)
1 year ago

I certainly hope my tax dollars aren’t spent on his legal fees! Ridiculous!

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  C. Heise

Me too! This ethics complaint is frivolous and won’t make any difference no matter what the outcome.

Guest
Guest (@guest_68324)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

The Florida Ethics Commission does not waste time investigating frivolous complaints, that’s just not the way the process works. And what a surprise that this news has leaked. Complaints are usually kept private until a decision is made.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
1 year ago
Reply to  Guest

Guest, there was no “leak”. The City Attorney is required to get commission approval before beginning any defense of the city or its “agents”. A true leak would involve the specific nature of the ethics violation. The event specified in the article is speculation by the author as noted by their couching the violation as “most likely”.

Sheila
Sheila(@srcocchi)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

How do you know? If you are privy to the contents, please, enlighten us all.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman(@crew2120)
1 year ago
Reply to  C. Heise

If all taxpayers had any idea of how many thousands and thousands of our tax dollars on wasted on things that are never questioned, their heads would spin. It is time for accountability on every level and not just look into it, we need to ACT on it! We’ve allowed things to go unquestioned for way too long.

Mike McClane
Mike McClane(@concerned-citizen)
1 year ago

The city attorney outsources most her legal work.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
1 year ago
Reply to  C. Heise

I certainly hope my tax dollars aren’t spent on his legal fees!

They will be. It is a no brainer for the other commissioners to vote to support it……after all, they may need the same protection down the road and will look to the others for support.

We don’t know the merits of the complaint, but if it is frivolous, wasting our money is on the person(s) making the complaint……not Sturges. If something is truly “there” then I have no problem with the complaint, but I hope we are not spiraling down a drain of complaints and litigation every time someone “disagrees” with the other party.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  Doug Mowery

Weaponizing the Justice system to attack political opponents seems to be the standard operating procedure in politics right now.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68569)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Bring it on, Jason. That’s what the justice system is for.

debbie helwig
debbie helwig(@dhelwig)
1 year ago

Why is this article/opinion so vague? Who is the “partner” and how is he in business with the vice mayor? There seems to be a lot of missing information.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  debbie helwig

And another “Op Ed” from the former Leftist Mayor attacking the Vice Mayor and lacking in substance and important information. Way to go Observer!

Sheila
Sheila(@srcocchi)
1 year ago
Reply to  debbie helwig

The business partner is a man named Erickson, who also has some interest in Brett’s. This information has been made public in the News Leader and in City Commission meetings.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago

Previous Commission hires an Engineering firm to “declare” Brett’s as unsafe so they can further their “waterfront vision”. Public complains because they love Brett’s. Other Engineers say the building absolutely is in no danger of falling down. Commissioner Sturges has a friend who bar tends at Brett’s and now can’t cast a vote for a.resolution that gets the City off the restaurants back and gets charged with an ethics violation?? This is how the left works. When people pay attention to issues the left and liberals can not win at the ballot box so they attack their opponents’ character and go after them in court. Same old, same old. Tax dollars spent on this garbage? Let’s talk about wasted tax dollars….The City under the previous City Commission and former City Manager lost two major lawsuits. Do we need another City Attorney also?? Stop the nonsense!

Nodie Sullivan
Nodie Sullivan(@nmd8960)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Reread the article: he was warned as to his legal status and ignored it. Stop ‘foxing’ this situation!

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  Nodie Sullivan

That’s why this article is so dangerously flawed! Lednovich fails to mention he has a bone to pick after losing his seat in the last election and also fails to mention that Commissioner Sturges abstained from the vote regarding the Brett’s situation. It was 3-1 without commissioner Sturges. Why no mention of that in the article. This is not journalism. This is another smear campaign pure and simple.

Don Delouis
Don Delouis (@guest_68353)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Hard to understand why Lednovich and his pals would want to be here if this is such a bad place full of bad people . Why not just go back to where they came from where maybe they would not have to expose themselves as to what/who they really are and live in the perfect place they are used to that doesn’t need to be changed as it’s so terrible as they feel we/our town is . Doesn’t that make better sense ? Picking on the little guy doesn’t always end well ! He s not always really the little guy ! Levbeforeualimp!

Edward Treach
Edward Treach (@guest_69009)
1 year ago
Reply to  Nodie Sullivan

In actuality, since being advised of the conflict Commissioner Sturges recused himself from anything dealing with Brett’s. Prior to that, there was no reason to think there was a conflict since Mr. Ericksen is an employee of Brett’s not a partners or co-owner or direct beneficiary.

Don Delouis
Don Delouis (@guest_68352)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Vote local and it will stop !

Sheila
Sheila(@srcocchi)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Hard to win at the ballot box when there is direct interference from the GOP. But that’s another discussion.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68570)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Tell your story, under oath, to a judge, Jason – after discovery. Our city ran extremely well until this “election” decimated competent leadership..

Suanne
Suanne(@szthammyahoo-com)
1 year ago

An ethics complaint is a personal matter. That’s why it is supposed to remain confidential until fully investigated and ruled upon. If there is nothing there — as has been the case with at least two other cases filed against City Commissioners in past years — the suit need never become public. In both previous cases, the City has not been asked to foot the bill for a legal defense. VM Sturges has opted to violate confidentiality and make his case public. That does not mean that the City should be obligated to pay any legal bills he incurs.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  Suanne

Suanne, by saying Commissioner Sturges leaked (violated confidentiality) you are furthering the smear. You are also spreading lies unless you have proof that Sturges put this out there. Do you know this to be a fact??

Suanne
Suanne(@szthammyahoo-com)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Jason, the item is on the agenda for the April 18 FBCC Regular Meeting (Item 7.12). Here’s a quote from the summary: “The complaint filed and all Commission on Ethics Proceedings and records relating to the complaint are confidential unless Vice Mayor Sturges wishes to disclose them.” Furthermore, for those who may want to begin to look for comment on the question of reimbursement of legal fees [not payment for defense: if you are found to be in violation of Statute presumably Chapter 112 Section 112.3143 you are not entitled to public funds for your defense] see Florida Attorney General Opinion 91-58 and Chavez v City of Tampa 560 So2d 1214. 

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  Suanne

Suanne,
Anyone could have leaked this illegally. So the article is based on an inference and then is twisted to make it look like Commissioner Sturges leaked it. Did you ask him? Did the Observer reach out to him for comment? By stating that Sturges is the only one who could have put it out for public consumption is just not true. Also, by running an article like this (really an Op-Ed) and calling it news is also bad journalism. The news is that Commissioner Sturges had an ethics complaint filed against him. The rest of the article is pure speculation and smear written by a politician just voted out of office. So no bias right?

Guest
Guest (@guest_68477)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Sturges is entitled to pay his attorneys fees himself, if he wished to keep it private. His choice to utilize City funds to defend himself makes this a public matter and why it is noticed on the agenda.

The news is that Sturges has an ethics complaint filed against him and the the Ethics Commission sees enough there there that he needs an attorney.

Edward Treach
Edward Treach (@guest_69045)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Mr. Collins,

Astute observation sir, the complainant and the subject of the complaint are both privy to the allegations. I would sincerely doubt Commissioner Sturges would have “leaked” an information since it is in his best interest to keep this confidential so as to mount a defense if needed then that tells us if any information was leaked it would have come from the complainant in the case. If the author is merely speculating then so be it.

Lets not forget that our system of justice is based on the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the onus or burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_68571)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Suanne’s credibility is impeccable, Jason. Just so you know.

Chris subleski
Chris subleski(@oldtimehockey)
1 year ago

So childish. Grow up people.

Taylor
Taylor (@guest_68329)
1 year ago

Not surprising at all that Biden hid top secret documents at Brett’s.

Guest
Guest (@guest_68336)
1 year ago

If I have this right, the City Attorney Tammi Bach will be representing Sturges. Is that a good idea? The constituents already have serious concerns about her. How ethical is she? While my spouse and I were out with a group friends last weekend it was mentioned that she should be fired. The reasons given were compelling. Why she continues to fly under the radar is a head scratcher.

The Casual Observer
The Casual Observer(@betsie-huben)
1 year ago
Reply to  Guest

So far as I can tell by reading at the city charter document, it is literally the city attorney’s job to defend the city and the commissioners in such matters. If “constituents have concerns”, they should do the honorable thing and present them and their documentation supporting their concerns. That way the city attorney can answer them directly and in full view of the constituents. It’s called transparency. It is bad form to snicker about a city staffer behind their back or blind-side them at a future meeting as they did with the city manager. C’mon man – is the city not in enough of a state of chaos for you yet?

Guest
Guest (@guest_68342)
1 year ago

I didn’t say it’s not the city attorney’s job to defend Sturges. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for Sturges to trust her. To your point about constituents presenting documentation, it’s my understanding that she has received full documentation supporting the concerns of constituents. She has received emails and calls about her own actions and others but has ignored them. Transparency? As far as I can see there is none. Chaos? Talk to the ones causing it. Blaming constituents for calling out a public servant’s unprofessional, inappropriate behavior is the wrong path to take if you want accountability.

bob
bob (@guest_68337)
1 year ago

Wait….. an employee of the restaurant is a partner of a commissioner? So this is it? Seems a little flimsy? If a bartender is your business partner, that doesn’t seem like a good reason to be a target of an ethics investigation. I think in such a small town, everyone is friends and associates of everyone else. I don’t understand.

The Casual Observer
The Casual Observer(@betsie-huben)
1 year ago

We have every right to expect our local elected officials to act both legally and ethically. They literally took an oath of office and pledged to do so. Filing a complaint is hardly “weaponization” of anything. The process was designed to protect the citizens and our system of government from bad (and possibly very expensive) decision making. A complaint was filed. If it turns out there is no there, there folks will get peace of mind. If there is an issue, taxpayers have a right to know and also to know what is going to be done about it. Let the process roll folks. We should not be afraid of the truth whatever it looks like.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago

We also have a right to decent journalism. Commissioner Sturges abstained from the Brett’s vote and it still passed 3-1. Failure to mention that in this latest hit piece is inconceivable!!

John Findlay
John Findlay(@jfindlay)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

If I remember correctly, Commissioner Sturges abstained from voting in the most recent vote, but he has previously voted on issues involving Brett’s before his conflict of interest was noted.

Guest
Guest (@guest_68350)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Findlay

Curiously, who noted the conflict of interest? Who suddenly made him aware of it?

John Findlay
John Findlay(@jfindlay)
1 year ago
Reply to  Guest

I do not know who discovered it. A little surprised he did not question it himself.

Sheila
Sheila(@srcocchi)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Findlay

It was reported in the News Leader 12/29.

Sheila
Sheila(@srcocchi)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

One vote. There were several others before.

Why not explain the real reasons for such unrelenting defense of this matter?

Sandra Lerch
Sandra Lerch (@guest_68355)
1 year ago

I am disgusted. Legal fees.Of course not. You did not speak for me. This is for yourself. Ethics, YOU have none. STEP DOWN. You should not have been voted in. Just because you are a Republican, does not give you that right. Your knowledge base just isn’t there. Your experience just isn’t there. DISGUSTING! And you wanted the city manger gone. It’s time for you to step down. You are of no value to this city.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sandra Lerch

Sturges was born and raised here and he and his family have had more dealings with the City of Fernandina Beach than most. His late father was a school teacher that taught many of the residents here. He’s been a fine upstanding citizen and paid more taxes to this City than most. He’s one of the most honest and trustworthy people I know. For you to say bad things about someone you don’t even know doesn’t look good. You can disagree with his decisions but you should not attack a good man’s character. None of the other candidates that lost this past election have the qualifications that matter to most around here and Commissioner Sturges, Commissioner Bean, and hopefully another like minded, well qualified local will take Commissioner Ross’s spot next year!

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
1 year ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

I could be wrong, but I think Ross is term limited and can’t run in ’24. Bean and Sturges will be up for reelection, I believe.