(4) MISUSE OF PUBLIC POSITION – No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position or any property or resource which may be within his or her trust, or perform his or her official duties, to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself, herself, or others. This section shall not be construed to conflict with s. 104.31
Citizen files this ethics complaint that vice Mayor Tonja Brown misused her public position when she directed White Springs Code Enforcement Officer John Davis to cite the mobile home park for violations of the Town Zoning Code. Specifically, Vice Mayor Brown “on several occasions requested……(John Davis) to write a letter to the owner of the trailer park……demanding their privately-owned driveway to be fixed” Davis had informed Vice Mayor Brown that “the issue does not fall under violations of the town’s ordinances” and that it was his “duty to inform….(The Vice Mayor) that a direct attempt to provoke the owner to comply with personal gain is unreasonable and unethical/”
Vice Mayor Brown’s interference in the performance of Officer Davis’ code enforcement activities was undertaken to target a specific property in order to secure a special benefit for herself and another individual residing in the mobile home park. Vice Mayor Brown’s interference in the job performance of the code enforcement office also violated White Springs Town Charter Provisions 2.03 and 3.02.
Police Officer / Code Enforcement Officer John Davis’ letter of resignation from the code enforcement position is provided below:
“I regret to inform you, I will no longer be fulfilling the duty of the Code Enforcement Officer for the Town of White Springs. This decision did not come easily, nor does it reflect my employment with the White Springs Police Department. There have been many issues; I have run into when trying to handle the Town’s Code Enforcement, with little or no assistance from you. To recap:
First, is the issue with making follow-up contacts that interfere with my primary job’s directive?
Second, you have asked me to make follow-up phone calls to make sure private sources are cleaning a property. It is not the job of the Code Enforcement officer to make up follow-up calls for the property owner. Once a 30-day notice is delivered the property owner is responsible for compliance. In the event the owner negates to fix the violation within the given time, the next Code Enforcement action is to summons the violator in front of a Code Board or Special Magistrate. At this point the circumstances cannot proceed without the board or magistrate in place.
Third, there appears to be only one goal in the enforcement actions I have been requested to make from you and that is to enforce action that directly affects the interest of yourself and your duty. Code Enforcement should be utilized in the interest for the Town of White Springs as a whole. Code Enforcement is not a pick and chooses process. It is unlawful to target properties, while not enforcing the whole town. Code Enforcement should not be a complaint-driven system.
Fourth, you and Vice Mayor Brown on several occasions requested me to write a letter to the owner of the trailer park I reside in demanding their privately-owned driveway be fixed. I made you aware of the fact that such action may affect my living situation and the issue does not fall under violations of the town’s ordinances. Also as a code enforcement officer, it is my duty to inform you that a direct attempt to provoke the owner to comply with personal gain is unreasonable and unethical. When I told you my concerns, you still wanted me to write the letter.
The entire town needs proper Code Enforcement. It is also not accomplishable by me working one day a month. I have spoken to you about making a schedule and increasing the days spent on enforcement but to no avail.
In closing, it’s in my best interest to step down from the position and resume my regular position as a Police Officer. I hope the town will continue the code enforcement at a later time. It is easily noticeable the town was not prepared for a code enforcement position and I hope in its future endeavors, it properly sets up a functioning position.
Thank you for your time
Citizen had filed a formal complaint with the Town of White Springs and had requested that the White Springs Town Manager / Town Council conduct the same quasi-judicial process to investigate Vice Mayor Brown’s misuse of public position by interfering in the code enforcement officer’s job performance (as had been conducted into allegations against Council Member Miller for “asking” town staff to perform tasks within their job scope).
Brown has further misused her public position by blocking the Citizen Complaint made with the Town Manager / Town Council. Brown met with Mayor Spencer Lofton, out of the Sunshine, as Mayor Lofton conducted his own personal investigation into the Citizen’ Complaint. When Brown and Lofton met, it was for a meeting that was not publicly noticed. The meeting had no printed agenda and no minutes of the meeting were recorded or made public. Mayor Lofton attested to his personal investigation during the regular monthly town council meeting held on June 12, 2018. Mayor Lofton stated during the council meeting that since he met with both Vice Mayor Brown and Town Manager Stacy Tebo to conduct his investigation, he concluded there was nothing inappropriate to report.
However, Brown did in fact misuse her public position by interfering with the Code enforcement Officer’s duties by demanding that he do his job contrary to the Land Development Regulations. Brown is Vice Mayor of the Town of White Springs and she is bound by the Land Development Regulations due to her public position. According to the Code Enforcement Officer (see Davis resignation letter), Brown was allowing, in fact encouraging, the LDR Administrator (Town Manager Tebo) to operate outside of the Town’s LDR process and practices.
The Town’s Code Enforcement Officer did in fact resign as a direct result of Vice Mayor Brown’s interference in the mobile home park case, leaving the Town of White Springs without Code Enforcement as FS 163.3202 requires. As stated by Officer Davis, the LDRA / Town Manager Tebo, encouraged by Vice Mayor Brown, persisted in instructing Officer Davis to operate outside of the LDR process and practices.
The core of this Ethics Complaint concerns Brown protecting her position as an elected office holder from the initial Citizen’s Complaint. Brown has secured for herself a “special benefit” and / or “exemption” from the public exposure of her prohibited behavior (potential Town Council investigation into Brown’s interference in the duties of Code Enforcement Officer Davis) by meeting with Mayor Lofton as he conducted his personal, unilateral “investigation” out of the sunshine, without notice, without an agenda and without minutes of the meeting between himself serving in his public position as Mayor with Vice Mayor Brown. For Mayor Lofton to state at the June 12th Council Meeting that since the out of the sunshine meeting / investigation with Brown was also attended by Town Manager Tebo, in some manner, transformed the meeting into a legitimate investigation fails the reality test for common sense. Mayor Lofton’s explanation is ridiculous.
It is recognized that the charge against Brown is fairly minor, injecting herself into town business, but this charge is exactly the same charge brought against Council Member Miller by Town Manager Tebo in May, 2017. Tebo’s charge ultimately led to Miller’s forfeiture of office in October 2017, based on a 3/1 vote of the Town Council, with Vice Mayor Brown casting her vote for forfeiture. In contrast, Tebo blocked the Citizen’s request hearing of Brown by simply not putting it on the town council meeting agenda.
Griffin’s Complaint against Brown did not get a hearing because Tebo (see separate ethics complaint) and Mayor Lofton chose not to follow the law and the U.S. Constitution, Amendment One, Section 5, a summary of which is as follows:
“First Amendment – Religion and Expression. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Citizen is allowed to question his government and seek redress for grievances. To obtain a redress of grievances in White Springs, the Complaint must be filed before the first of the month (it was) and it must be put on the agenda by the town manager (it was not). Enough evidence must be presented to verify a cause of action or probable cause. I used the resignation letter from Code Enforcement Officer Davis to verify a cause of action and probable cause.
I sent emails twice to Council Members, including the Vice Mayor and four times to Tebo stating my request to handle this complaint exactly like the Manager / Council handled Mrs. Miller’s action. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution states:
“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Mayor Lofton ensured my complaint was not handled the same by refusing to place the complaint on the agenda for the June 2018 meeting of the Council. Mayor Lofton and Vice Mayor Brown backed up Tebo’s decision to not bring the complaint to a hearing before the Council. The Citizens in general and this citizen in particular did not get equal protection under the law.
Brown offered and accepted the “special benefit” and “exemption” of not having an investigation into Brown’s and Tebo’s actions into pressuring the Code Inspector to “write the letter” to the mobile park owner even though he (the Code Inspector) was correct in refusing to write the letter. The “special benefits” and or “exemptions” were that Brown’s and Tebo’s public offices were not put at risk as a consequence of the required due process (either or both could have been removed from their public positions / offices) See Williams v. Kelly, 133 Fla.244, 246, 182 So. 2d 881, 882 (Fla 1938). As a result of the offer and acceptance of the “special benefit” and “exemptions” Brown will continue to vote with the Block of Three (Mayor Lofton and Council Member / former Mayor Bullard) and will continue to do Tebo’s bidding.
Additionally, Brown misused her position by interfering with the Code Enforcement Officer’s duties by demanding that he, The Code Enforcement Officer, do his job contrary to the Land Development Regulations. Tebo is the Land Development Regulations Administrator (LDRA). According to the Code Officer, Tebo is making things up as she goes along to practice government as she wants it to be and Brown is allowing her to do so. Tebo can’t resist putting her fingers into the pie and Brown is there to lick her fingers.
Brown’s interference notwithstanding, Brown has misused her position through her actions identified by the Code Officer in his resignation letter. The “Special benefit” / “ exemption” to Brown is just icing on the cake demonstrating Lofton’s Brown’s and Tebo’s willingness to violate the law and precedent by violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Ethics requirement stated at the beginning of this complaint. Thus, Tebo gets to keep her job and salary and Brown provides cover for her illegal activities.
Brown in her Oath of Office, promised to defend the Constitution and the laws of the town. She has not done so in this case and many others. She has violated, Citizens believe, the Ethics laws of the State of Florida, FS 112.313 (4) by accepting a special benefit and exemption and Articles One and Fourteen of the U.S. Constitution.
- P. S. We have now been told that Police Officer Davis has been forced to resign least he be fired by the Town of White Springs after returning from a leave due to the birth of his baby. Although there is no proof as to the actual reasons, it has been said that this happened because Citizen Complaints were made against Mayor Lofton and Stacy Tebo and the action against Officer Davis transpired the same day each received their notifications that a complaint was made to the Florida Ethics Commission and this appears to have been done in retaliation for Officer Davis standing up for the law.