Sturges Faces Yet Another Ethics Complaint

By Mike Lednovich

A second ethics complaint has been filed against Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor David Sturges with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The most recent complaint follows an ethics complaint filed against Sturges last March.

As with the first complaint, the newly filed ethics complaint was revealed by the Nov. 21 agenda published this week. One agenda item is a resolution authorizing City Attorney Tammi Bach 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 Oct. 18, 2023. Sturges is once again 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.

As the owner of a residential building contracting company and owner of numerous properties in the city and county, Sturges has a pattern of failing to recuse himself from voting on issues that could benefit him.

He voted to lower storm-water/wastewater capacity fees charged to builders despite a city consultant telling the city commission that the fees needed to be raised by a significant amount.

Sturges voted to ignore the city’s Land Development Code and allow the construction of townhouses on property that, under the code prohibited the building of townhomes. The city is currently facing a lawsuit over that decision.

He also voted to lower various building permit fees, which his company is required to pay on projects, for the 2023-24 city budget year.

Currently, Sturges is pushing the Planning Advisory Board to rewrite sections of the Land Development Code that would remove restrictions and allow for the division of underlying property lots, a move that would significantly increase density in numerous neighborhoods. Sturges also wants the words “flood plain” removed from a formula that determines the number of units that can be built on a parcel. Again, such a revision would allow for greater density.

Sturges claims the changes to the Land Development Code would not benefit him.

City Charter Section 31 requires that the prosecution and defense of litigation involving the city be authorized by the city commission.

The March 6 Sturges ethics investigation likely involved Sturges participating and voting on issues impacting Brett’s Waterway Cafe.

City Attorney Bach has cautioned Sturges in the past on his comments and votes in the debate over the closure of Brett’s Waterway Café because 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 City 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. The ethics complaint came to light when the city commission’s April 18 agenda was made public and the city commission subsequently voted to pay his legal bills.

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rswarner
Trusted Member
rswarner(@rswarner)
6 months ago

Seems a conflict of interest for Tammi who represents the City as an entity to represent Sturges who is now subject to another ethics challenge. It seems absurd that the City assume responsibility for Sturges own legal bills. Sturges might learn to follow the rules we all who live here have played by. Perhaps he owes us, not the reverse.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
6 months ago
Reply to  rswarner

If you would actually take the time to meet Commissioner Sturges and chat with him a bit instead of forming your opinions on the writings of the former mayor you may form a different opinion. Sturges most certainly does follow the rules and he was elected to make these long needed changes to restore personal property rights.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Sturges is not always following the rules, as shown by these complaints, and personal property rights is too often an excuse to ignore community rights.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Literally anyone for any reason can file an ethics complaint. Most of the time and probably in this case also they are found to be politically motivated and brought by people close to their political opponents. Neither the first complaint nor this one will be found to have merit.

srcocchi
srcocchi(@srcocchi)
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Are you privy to the details of the complaint? I ask because the information is not public. If you are, there are many who are interested in the nature of the allegations. If you are not, how can you be so certain that the allegations are meritless? What information do you have that will exonerate Sturges.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
6 months ago
Reply to  srcocchi

My own assumptions of course and what I also know about the process of how these ethics complaints are brought but nice try “srcocchi”! Your gotcha tactics show your true colors. These kind of shenanigans are why many good people refuse to run for office.

srcocchi
srcocchi(@srcocchi)
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

LOL. Direct questions are not “gotchas”. “Neither the first complaint nor this one will be found to have merit.” I was simply trying to understand if you have a factual basis for the assertion that the complaints are meritless or if that is your stated opinion and it appears it is the latter.

Typicaly, when complaints are made, the determining agency will dismiss meritless claims and attorneys are only needed when there is something to defend.

If that understanding is incorrect, please enlighten me.

Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
6 months ago

If you good people of Fernandina can’t see the corruption in play then you deserve every bit of the crap that’s going to happen to you. You’d better clean house before you don’t have a house to clean.

Bob
Noble Member
Bob(@bob)
6 months ago

Gee, does this article appear slanted in opinion or what?

PattyM
Active Member
PattyM(@pattym)
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob

How is it “slanted in opinion”? Except for one line, “The March 6 Sturges ethics investigation likely involved Sturges participating and voting on issues impacting Brett’s Waterway Cafe.” of speculation, the rest is a statement of facts concerning Mr. Sturges. What do see stated in the above article that you characterize as “opinion”?

Navy_vet45
Active Member
Navy_vet45(@navy_vet45)
5 months ago
Reply to  Bob

All of his articles are slanted in opinion. His bias is overwhelming.

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
6 months ago

Sturges should pay his own bills.. why should the City. If he can’t afford them..try Legal Aid. Seems he got himself into these situations now he needs to take responsibility for them and a big part of that means financial responsibility.

Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
6 months ago
Reply to  Paula M

Paula……this is a slippery slope that needs to be reviewed by the FBCC on a case by case basis. If we always say “you are on your own” then we may have frivolous complaints by political opponents spinning out of control as they seek to inflict enough financial pain to eventually achieve a resignation.

But, if we always back the target then he/she may think they can do whatever they want unchecked.

I was a union rep at one point in my life and we always had the backing of the union if we were sued……BUT, the lawyers were always there supervising our actions at meetings to ensure we colored between the lines…..that’s Tammi’s job. If she has warned Sturges and he persists in his agenda, then cut him loose. No warning, then we should back him up and ask Tammi what the problem is. Tammi should review the complaint and make a recommendation on expenses….so far the only warning I’m aware of is recusing on Brett’s issues.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
6 months ago

Again, much ado about nothing. We have the former mayor authoring up another hit piece with few facts and full of his own bias. David Sturges is far from a developer…he’s a small time contractor that mostly does remodels, local born and raised, supported by many of the local environmentalists, and wants what is best for this island and fair for all private property owners.

PattyM
Active Member
PattyM(@pattym)
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Mr. Collins, since you seem to know a lot about Mr. Sturges and his business interests, is it true he is the owner of several undeveloped properties in Fernandina Beach? If true, it is not a huge leap to question whether he should be initiating or commenting or voting on any items before the city commission concerning land development statutes or codes — wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest?

PattyM
Active Member
PattyM(@pattym)
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

Mr. Collins, I’m trying to understand why you characterize this article as “another hit piece with few facts.” It appears to be restating numerous facts. Which statements are not facts?

Navy_vet45
Active Member
Navy_vet45(@navy_vet45)
5 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

I agree…the former Mayor continues with his steady drumbeat of slanted articles.

Glen Stettler
Active Member
Glen Stettler(@glen-stettler)
6 months ago

Man… Talk about disingenuous. An article written by our past mayor discussing law suits. Classic… and ballsy. Odd he forgets the city getting sued over improper enforcement of both impact and building fees, with the underlying incident occurring under his watch. A total lack of understanding who pays the impact fees, it’s the home owner not the builder, it’s a pass through to the consumer. Seems covenant to hide behind the City Attorney that tells him fabricated stories to provide him cover for his actions. Then the city attempts to raise impact fees by an amount that would be in violation current State law.  It’s also illegal to use impact fees to pay off debt as they openly discussed in the city meeting. Some of those inconvenient truths. He won’t do his own research, it’s easier to hide behind the City Attorney with a record on not being honest. I wonder how much our current City Attorney has actually cost the taxpayers? If you can’t do your own research without checking with the cities documented story teller, I’ll give you the statute number. 

srcocchi
srcocchi(@srcocchi)
6 months ago
Reply to  Glen Stettler

Mr. Stettler, what is the status of your lawsuit against the City? Or the investigation into the impact fees?

PattyM
Active Member
PattyM(@pattym)
6 months ago
Reply to  srcocchi

my goodness, srocchi cannot even ask a simple question and she gets negative reactions? I’m curious to know as well. Mr. Stetler had been writing opinion pieces in the local paper which kept us informed but I haven’t seen anything in quite some time. What’s wrong with asking the question???

Cmoss56
Noble Member
Cmoss56(@cmoss56)
6 months ago

As the saying goes, “just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they are not out to get you!”

Context here is that regardless of his political bias, Lednovich is spot on with concerns about the Vice Mayor.
The NewsLeader had lengthy editorial on Sturges outlining the same concerns – and you can discount that publication as you like, but to dismiss Lednovich’s observations because you suspect him of bias would be unwise.

The Vice Mayor obviously knows what rules and ordinances benefit his business and which ones don’t. And based on the items he has promoted (like increasing density on downtown lots) he is racking up a record of self-interested actions. These are not opinions, these are facts – you can go to the records of the meetings and see what things he is bringing up and favoring – and it’s difficult to imagine he is a dispassionate observer deciding what is best for all citizens of the city. Too many big personal benefits in his column

Let the ethics complaint run its course – and perhaps reach out to the Vice Mayor and ask him why he thinks he is not self serving in the things he is promoting and supporting

Ben Martin
Noble Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
5 months ago

Conflict of interest? Chip Ross is a medical professional. It is understood much of the medical profession benefited tremendously from the “pandemic.” Did Ross vote on anything that served to promote covID hysteria?

If David Sturges is/was a health freedom guy he is going to have a lot of community support.