Sunday, June 03, 2018

Florida Governor suspends two indicted Jacksonville City Council members, but indicted St. Augustine PZB Vice Chair remains

Florida Governors promptly suspend indicted county officials and state officials who are not subject to impeachment pending criminal trials, pursuant to their state constitutional powers under Article IV, section 7(a).   For municipal officials,  F.S. 112.501 governs.
Our beloved City of St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Board (PZB) Vice Chair Deltra Long was indicted for FEMA fraud April 19, 2018.

A plea agreement is being prepared, according to a May 22, 2018 filing by Ms. Long's lawyers in federal court.

But Ms. Long today remains on the Planning and Zoning Board.

Wonder why?

No person is above the law.

My heart goes out to Deltra Long, who is a St. Augustine Civil Rights Hero.

BUT imagine being a zoning variance applicant, concerned resident or other witness before PZB last month, knowing that one of the PZB members voting on your issues is under federal indictment for fraud?

How would you feel about that?

Would that give you trust and confidence in our government?

  • To avoid a continuing appearance of impropriety, do you agree that Deltra Long should resign or take a leave of absence now?  
  • If not, do you agree that St. Augustine City Manager John Patrick Regan, P.E. must interrupt his Spanish vacation and place Deltra Long's legal status on the agenda for the Monday, June 11, 2018 City Commission meeting, pursuant to F.S. 112.501

Why this matters: No person is above the law, not even our friends.

Gov. Rick Scott suspends two indicted Jacksonville City Council members By Christopher Hong
Posted Jun 1, 2018 at 5:42 PM
Updated Jun 2, 2018 at 10:03 AM
Florida Times-Union

Gov. Rick Scott immediately suspended Jacksonville City Council members Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown on Friday, a day after a 38-count federal indictment accused them of fraudulently obtaining tens of thousands of dollars from a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.

Scott, who announced the suspensions around 5 p.m. on Friday, didn’t name a replacement for the council members. A spokeswoman said his office will begin the process of appointing replacements “who will faithfully serve the Jacksonville community.”

State law gives Scott the authority to suspend public officials accused of such crimes. He also holds the sole power to name a replacement until their positions become permanently vacant.

Prosecutors say Katrina Brown lied to lenders in order to convince them to release portions of the $2.65 million federally backed loan she received to build a facility to make and bottle a barbecue sauce marketed around her father’s barbecue business, Jerome Brown BBQ. That business endeavor, which also received a $380,000 city loan and a $210,000 city grant, eventually failed.

Reggie Brown was charged for his involvement in two businesses that prosecutors say Katrina Brown formed in order to file fake invoices to her lenders.

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A lot of the money went back into the bank account of the operating company of the sauce business, although Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown both spent some of it for their personal use, according to the indictment.

Both council members have said they didn’t break the law.

An attorney for Katrina Brown said Thursday that she wouldn’t resign. When asked if he would step down, Reggie Brown replied: “I’m innocent.”

Scott’s decision to suspend the council members creates vacancies in two of the four council districts representing Northwest Jacksonville, an area struggling with violent crime and systemic infrastructure and economic needs.

The two already lost their committee assignments on Thursday before Scott announced their suspensions, raising concerns about their legislative effectiveness and the impact that could have on their districts.

“It is a setback,” said Councilman Garrett Dennis, who also represents a Northwest district, before his colleagues were suspended.

Their suspension also raises a few politically intriguing questions: Who, if anyone, will Scott replace them with? And will Mayor Lenny Curry, an ally of Scott, provide any input?

Both council members had good working relationships with Curry and have supported his key initiatives.

A few months ago, they both attended a meeting with Curry to discuss their combined efforts to improve Northwest Jacksonville.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Lenny Curry, a political ally of Scott, told a reporter from Florida Politics on Friday morning that she wasn’t aware of any discussions between the mayor and governor about a potential replacement.

Dennis, a vocal critic of Curry, said voters, not the governor, should choose the replacements.

A special election for a replacement would only be triggered if the council members’ positions became permanently vacant, according to the city’s charter. Even then, it’s unclear whether the city would hold a special election considering the regular election is set for next March.

The council members’ suspension will last until their cases are settled or they are reinstated by Scott. They will not receive any pay during the suspension, according to state law. They will be entitled to back pay if they are found not guilty or cleared of the charges.

If Scott names replacements, they would serve the remainder of the council members’ terms, which expire next July.

Reggie Brown, elected to the council in 2008, is entering the final year of his final council term and is running for state Senate. Katrina Brown was elected in 2015 and is running for re-election. They have not said whether they plan continue their campaigns.

Christopher Hong: (904) 359-4272

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