Ethics commission finds no probable cause in connection with complaints against Cecilia Jones [PREMIUM]

CECILIA JONES

By DOTTY NIST

“I am grateful that the Florida Commission on Ethics (FCE) accepted the recommendation of the Assistant Attorney General and tossed out these completely baseless and petty complaints,” Cecilia Jones commented on Sept. 9 with regard to ethics complaints that had been filed against her in 2017.

Jones currently serves as Walton County District 2 commissioner, a post in which she has served since 2014 after serving from 2008 to 2012 as District 5 commissioner.

She reported that on Sept. 7 the FCE had found no probable cause on all of the allegations against her.

No information on the outcome of the FCE’s Sept. 7 probable cause hearing on complaints filed against Jones had been made public as of press time. In cases scheduled for probable cause hearings, information on those cases does not become public until the Wednesday after the FCE’s Friday meetings.

However, Jones and both parties who had filed complaints against her confirmed that there had been a finding of no probable cause.

According to information provided on the FCE website: a probable cause hearing is the second stage in the preliminary investigation of a complaint, following a determination of legal sufficiency; decided at a probable cause hearing is whether there is probable cause to believe that there has been a violation of ethics laws; if no probable cause is found, a complaint is dismissed; if such cause is found, the ethics commission continues with the process of determining whether ethics law was in fact violated

Complaints had been filed against Jones separately by two parties and had been combined into one case by the FCE.

The two parties filing were Art Miller, a former Walton County resident who now resides in Bradenton, and Lynda Morse, a resident of DeFuniak Springs.

In a complaint over 100 pages in length, Miller had alleged violations by Jones in connection with several Florida ethics laws. Included were allegations of conflict of interest/misuse of office, use of position to influence an election, Sunshine Law violations, misrepresentation on financial disclosures, and filing of incomplete/erroneous ex-parte communication forms.

Morse’s complaint involved a $300 expense that Jones had placed on a Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) agenda for payment in connection with a lawsuit deposition provided by Jones that, according to Morse’s complaint, was not related to county business. The item was removed from the BCC agenda after citizens expressed concerns and was not put back on the agenda.

Miller’s reaction to the outcome of the Sept. 7 FCE probable cause hearing was: “The investigator for the FCE indicated that he felt, after his eight month effort, there was substantial evidence to move ahead with a probable cause hearing.  It is unfortunate that the ethics process is influenced by political pressure.”

Morse reacted to the outcome by email as follows: “While I am extremely disappointed in the outcome of the Ethics Complaints filed against Cecilia Jones, I am not at all surprised. The Ethics Commission is the only recourse Citizens have against corrupt government officials. They proved with their decision that they are nothing more than the foxes guarding the proverbial hen house!”

“The great news is that the Citizens of Walton County saw through the charade and Cecilia Jones was voted off the County Commission. The Ethics Commission may have granted Cecilia Jones a reprieve but the Citizens are the real victors, who actually won the war!” Morse added.

The latter was a reference to Jones, who was running for re-election, having been unsuccessful in the Aug. 28 Republican Primary, resulting in her being taken out of the running for the Walton County District 2 seat.

In her statement about the FCE finding, Jones associated the complaints filed against her with her position on customary use of the beach: “From the moment I stood up for public use of the beach in 2016, Customary Use opponents and their political allies have thrown the kitchen sink at me because I have been unafraid to call them out on their own behavior. These complaints against me were simply one part of a broader strategy to silence those of us who refuse to back down in the fight for Customary Use. I am grateful to have served our county for 35 years as a public school teacher and for seven years as a commissioner. During those many years, nobody filed a single complaint about me until I started advocating forcefully for public use of the beach. It is only fitting that my complete vindication against these ridiculous complaints comes on the evening before Walton County takes action to protect public use of the beach.”

This was a reference to the BCC Sept. 8 public hearing at which it had been anticipated that the commissioners would take up a notice of intent to affirm recreational customary use of the beach and a customary use ordinance. However, a BCC decision on those items was delayed until November 2018 due to a notification problem.

“Nothing will silence me in that fight and no amount of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants, or special interests will silence the people of Walton County, either,” Jones concluded.