The Commission’s finding:
Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes, is set forth under Allegation One.
Respondent served as a member of the White Springs Town (Town) Council from April 2013 to April 2019 and as Mayor from April 2015 to April 2019. (ROI 3) Stacy Tebo was the Town Manager. (ROI4) The Town practices a Council/Manager form of government whereby the Town Council sets policy and the Town Manager manages the day-to-day operations. (ROI4).
Complaintant alleges that Respondent permitted the personal and unauthorized use of a fire department vehicle (ROI 1,3). Several Town employees utilized Town-owned take home vehicles (ROI 6). One such employee was Assistant Fire Chief Andrew Greene. (ROI 5,6,7,8). When Greene became the Town’s Water and Waste-Water Operator in 2012, then Town Manager Bob Farley assigned a 2005 Chevrolet S-10 pick-up truck to Greene as a take home vehicle (ROI 7,8). In 2018, the Town traded the S-10 for a new Ford Explorer which was assigned to Greene to replace the S-10 by Town Manager Tebo (ROI 8). Only the Town Manager has the authority to assign Town Vehicles and Town Manager Tebo unilaterally made the decision to assign the Ford Explorer to Greene (ROI 6, 10). Respondent had no authority, responsibility, or involvement in the decision regarding Greene’s use of either the Town-owned vehicles (RoI 6,9,10).
Therefore based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313 (6). Florida Statutes.
Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes, is set forth under Allegation Two.
Complaint alleges that Respondent asked and received from Pam
Tomlinson, Town Clerk/Finance Director, a waiver of a utilities deposit (ROI 11) Town Ordinance 15-01, which became effective on October 13, 2015, requires a $300 deposit prior to opening a “new water account” or turning on water either inside or outside the Town’s boundaries. (ROI 12) In the alternative, the Town’s unwritten practice has been to allow a seller of the property to request a transfer of the utilities account to purchaser of the property, along with the deposit attached to the account. (ROI 16) This procedure avoids paying a deposit for a new utilities account. (ROI 14, 15, 16) Over the years, the deposit has ranged from $5 to the current $300 fee. (ROI 16).
Respondent rented the White Springs Methodist Church (church) parsonage until he purchased it on November 28, 2016. (ROI 11, 13, 14) During the time Respondent rented the home, the utilities account was in the church’s name but Respondent paid the bills (ROI 15). Respondent denies that he asked, pressured or directed the Town Clerk/Finance Director to transfer the church’s account and $5 deposit over to his name, thus avoiding payment of the $300 fee. (ROI 14, 15) Town Clerk/Finance Director Tomlinson confirmed Respondent’s denial and stated that the request was made by Carolyn Cannon, the church secretary/treasurer. (ROI 18) Town Clerk/Finance Director Tomlinson stated that Cannon called to inform her that Respondent had purchased the property and Cannon instructed her to transfer the church’s utilities account, including the $5 deposit, to Respondent (ROI 18) Cannon recalls that the church board directed her to contact the Town about the sale but denies that she asked or instructed the transfer of the account (ROI 19) Town Clerk/Finance Director Tomlinson’s recollection with Cannon is believable and went as follows:
…she (Ms. Cannon) said that their congregation had agreed that Mr. Bullard (Respondent) had purchased the parsonage. And )Ms. Cannon) asked me could she just let Rhett take the deposit and us it on his account. I made no contact with Carolyn Cannon. She called me. I said “Well, Carolyn, you do realize that if Rhett (Respondent) ever leaves – or let me rephrase that, “If Mr. Bullard ever leaves, he wil get the deposit. The United Methodist Church is releasing their deposit to him.” And she said, “Yes, that’s fine”. I do recall speaking with Mr. Bullard about this and uh, you know, he said “Is that okay?” and I said, “Rhett, this is the way it has been done in the past.”
There are no written policies or procedures related to the handling of the Town’s utilities accounts (ROI 16) however, according to Town Clerk/Finance Director Tomlinson, every past Town Manager under whom she has worked has followed an unwritten polity that permits a party selling a property to transfer the utilities account, along with the deposit attached to the account, to the purchaser of the property. (ROI 16, 18). No matter how the account transfer came about, Respondent did not secure a privilege, benefit or exemption that was special to him as it is available to all similarly-situated sellers and purchases of property. Additionally, based on the language of the subject ordinance, the $300 deposit only applies only to a “new water account” that is opened or when the water is turned on. (ROI 12) Respondent did not open a new account and the water was already “turned on” at the premises. Thus pursuant to the ordinance, the $300 fee does not apply to accounts that are merely transferred as her.
Therefore based on the evidence before the Commission, I recommend that the Commission find no probable cause to believe that Respondent violated Section 112.313(6) Florida Statutes:
IT IS MY RECOMMENDATION THAT.
- THERE IS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT RESPONDENT VIOLATED SECTION 112.313(6) FLORIDA STATUTES BY PERMITTING A TOWN FIREFIGHTER TO MAKE PERSONAL OR UNAUTHORIZED USE OF A TOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT VEHICLE.
- THERE IS NO PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT RESPONDENT VIOLATED SECTION 112.313 6 FLORIDA STATUTES BY ASKING THE TOWN CLERK/FINANCE DIRECTOR TO FORGO THE COLLECTION OF A UTILITIES FEE THAT HE INCURRED WHEN HE PURCHASED THE PROPERTY WITHIN THE TOWN.