Sturges Told Investigator Firing of Martin Triggered Ethics Charge

By Mike Lednovich

Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor David Sturges said the commission’s firing of City Manager Dale Martin, combined with the operators of Brett’s Waterway Cafe’s rejection of a proposed buyout of their lease, is what caused a state ethics complaint to be filed against him.

In an 18-minute interview on Oct. 3, 2023 obtained by the Observer that was conducted by State Ethics Investigator Charles Shotwell, Sturges went into detail on why he believed Faith Ross filed the ethics complaint last March. Faith Ross is the wife of City Commissioner Chip Ross and sits on the city’s Board of Adjustment.

Sturges was exonerated by the Ethics Commission last week.

In her complaint, Faith Ross said Sturges acted improperly in voting on issues regarding Brett’s because of his business activities with Todd Ericksen, a real estate broker and bartender at Brett’s. She also said Sturges violated state statutes in demanding City Manager Dale Martin be fired because of Martin’s activities involving insurance coverage issues of the restaurant.

Shotwell asked Sturges if there was anything he wanted to say about supporting documents submitted with the ethics complaint.

“I think this person or persons (who filed the complaint) are disappointed or upset that the city manager got relieved because he wasn’t listening to the majority of the city commission. And they’re trying to put this blame on myself and not on the entire commission because I brought it up. When it (the firing) happened you got this complaint four or five days later,” Sturges told the investigator.

It was late in a city commission meeting last February when Sturges, without prior notice, raised his demand that Martin be terminated as city manager. He produced a list of unattributed transgressions against Martin in supporting the firing. The issue was not posted on the city commission’s agenda. The commission postponed action on Sturges’ motion for two weeks and then voted 3-2 to fire Martin.

Sturges also believes that the city not tendering a buyout of Brett’s lease on the restaurant building was another reason the complaint was lodged.

Martin had been negotiating with the restaurant operators on a payment amount to have the lease terminated. Any lease buyout would require a vote of the city commission.

“They (Brett’s) were in discussions with the previous city manager (Martin) for a buyout of $1.5 million. All this stems from a city commissioner that’s upset that his buyout offer didn’t happen and that the city manager was terminated by the city commission,” Sturges said in the interview.

Although not naming Commissioner Ross in his remarks, the inference to Ross is clear.

“I talked with Martin about the proposed lease buyout, but so did most of the other commissioners,” Ross said. “It was not ‘my’ buyout offer.”

In Wednesday’s edition of the Fernandina News-Leader, Sturges told the newspaper he blamed Commissioner Ross directly for the ethics complaint being filed. Sturges went so far as to claim Ross wrote the complaint and had his wife sign the document.

“That’s absolutely false. Faith’s writing style and my style are significantly different,” Ross said.

When asked by the investigator about his relationship with Ericksen, Sturges said, “He’s a longtime friend. We’ve had a relationship since we were kids.”

During the interview, Investigator Shotwell asked Sturges about Pirates Booty, a partnership with Ericksen and added “Ericksen is the respondent’s (Sturges) real estate agent and broker. What do you have to say about that?”

Sturges answered that he and Ericksen own the Beech Street office building together and share expenses.

But Shotwell never followed up on Ericksen’s real estate company being involved in Sturges’ various property transactions.

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Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

The Ethics Commission failed in its responsibility to examine all evidence in the complaint, and Sturges, regarding his comments about Faith Ross, failed to provide evidence he lives in the 21st century.

Noble Member
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

The allegations in the complaint are seemingly more speculative than objective truth, so I am having difficulty understanding where the Florida Commission on Ethics failed. And why is Commissioner Sturges required to prove anything? He is not the complainant; Mrs. Ross is. The burden of evidence falls on her.
Noble Member
[email protected](@angeldoccie2003yahoo-com)
1 month ago
Reply to  ggarner

We have had many recuse themselves because of a conflict of interest. I guess he is exempt. Ms. Ross proved her case. Remember this is Florida.
Governor Ron DeSantis Appoints Two to the Florida Commission on Ethics

Last edited 1 month ago by [email protected]