Late Filing Trips Sturges Up With Ethics Commission

By Mike Lednovich

The Florida Commission on Ethics Wednesday found there was “probable cause” that Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor David Sturges violated state statutes by failing to file a conflict disclosure statement after abstaining from a vote.

The commission said it would take no further action against Sturges unless he requests a public hearing on the matter.

Sturges has 14 days to request a hearing. He did not respond to requests to comment on the decision.

The ethics complaint was filed Oct. 6, 2023 by Fernandina Beach resident Kim Wolford.

In the complaint, Wolford wrote: “At a city commission meeting on 4/18/2023, Vice Mayor Sturges and Commissioner Ross both recused themselves from a vote authorizing the city to allow City Attorney Tammi Bach to represent Vice Mayor Sturges relating to an ethics violation filed against him earlier this year. Sturges did not publicly state his reason for recusal, thereby denying the voters the right to know his conflict.”

In response to Wednesday’s ruling, Wolford said, “I believe my complaint stated the facts and law quite clearly. I respect the Commission on Ethics for supporting the complaint. It is important for officials in Fernandina Beach also to respect our local laws as well as the laws of the State of Florida.”

A previous ethics complaint had been filed against Sturges by Faith Ross. The Commission later exonerated Sturges of allegations in that complaint.

Wolford noted that Sturges failed to file Form 8B disclosing the nature of the conflict with the city clerk in a timely manner.

Wolford stated Sturges violated the statute a second time at the commission meeting on May 2, 2023 when he again failed to restate his conflict at the meeting. According to the complaint, Sturges was advised by the city attorney not to disclose the conflict.

“I ask the Florida Commission on Ethics to sanction Vice Mayor Sturges for his flagrant omission to file the required Conflict of Interest Form 8B. It would be unfair that Commissioner Ross filed his (Form 8B) and Vice Mayor Sturges did not.”

According to Commission Advocate Melody Hadley’s report, Sturges said that there was “some commotion during the (April) meeting and he was not prepared to make a statement (regarding the conflict).”

Sturges went on to say that City Clerk Caroline Best sent the Form 8B in an email on April 19, but that he lost the email. Best sent another email with the form on July 21 asking Sturges to complete the document. He completed the form on July 24, 2023 and wrote, “I could have a special private gain or loss based on the ethics complaint filed against myself.”

The Ethics Commission noted the Form 8B was due on May 3.

Ethics Commission Investigator Bob Malone noted that Sturges had filed three other Form 8B documents on votes where he abstained during commission meetings last March, June and November.

The commission advocate said “based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find probable cause to believe the Respondent violated Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes but take no further action.”

Sturges’ attorney Dale Scott, who is being paid by the city to defend Sturges, wrote the Ethics Commission on Jan. 8 and in part stated “Sturges concurs with the Advocate that no further action should be taken as to what, at most, was an unintentional technical violation (of the state statue).

Scott said “of key importance” was that Sturges filed the Form 8B document before Wolford submitted her ethics complaint to the commission.

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Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
26 days ago

What’s notable to me is that Sturges has had to file four conflict of interest forms in one year; just seems like his role on the city commission is too closely aligned with his business interests. Also, his attorney’s statement that Sturges’ neglect in filing the form was “unintentional” completely contradicts Sturges’ own comment about why he didn’t complete the form.

Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
26 days ago

“According to the complaint, Sturges was advised by the city attorney not to disclose the conflict”.

???????

August is 6 months away…..

Last edited 26 days ago by Douglas M
Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
25 days ago
Reply to  Douglas M

Concerning for sure. Add to this – attorney has also said okay to be partisan in elections despite our city charter saying something else.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
25 days ago

For Fernandina Beach politics this might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of and that’s saying something.

I want to make sure I have this right.

Sturgis recused himself on vote that is all about him and whether the city and the taxpayers will pay for his defense. That seems like a completely appropriate thing to do. Of course you shouldn’t be voting on such a matter and he didn’t. So the issue isn’t whether he did the right thing by the taxpayers and the citizens of the city. It’s did he file the proper paperwork explaining why he recused himself in a timely manner.

I think that’s it, right?

Seems pretty self-evident to me why he recused himself. And if it isn’t self-evident to you then your either 3 years old or have no ability to reason.

So to recap. The issue was about him and if he should be voting on the question at hand. He didn’t. He submitted the paperwork late. Obviously there was absolutely nothing nefarious about any of this. He didn’t vote on it he hid nothing incriminating and the person who filed the complaint knows this. it should have ended right there.

As with many got you issues this isn’t about finding solutions bringing us together or making for better governance. it’s just a complete waste of taxpayers money and a petty vindictive action.

If you wonder why you can’t get good people to run for public offices It’s because of absurd complaints that these elected officials have got to spend their own time and resources to defend. It’s completely absurd.

We should try to uplift each other not try to tear each other down with frivolous gotcha politics.

.

ThatGuy
Active Member
ThatGuy(@thatguy)
24 days ago

So let me get this straight, a complaint was filed because he didn’t say why he recused himself but he did say why he recused and he recused himself because he was advised to and because there was a piece of paper missing someone took it upon themselves to file a complaint, have it investigated using untold man-hours and tax-payer dollars only to be told, “yeah you screwed up but we really don’t care.”
Congrats! Way to go!

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