HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The Florida Commission on Ethics weighed in on a complaint filed by High Springs resident Janet Evans alleging ethics violations by sitting High Springs City Commissioner Ross Ambrose. Following the Commission’s review of the complaint, all counts were officially dismissed on Oct. 20, 2023 for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint.
The complaint filed by Evans listed a number of alleged ethics violations. Evans states that Ambrose founded a non-profit organization named The Heart of High Springs (HHS) in 2019, prior to his election as City Commissioner in November 2020 and that he owns PortaServe, a company that provides “porta-potties.”
The complaint alleges that the “HHS organization signed a contract with WallDog Mural Artists to hold a mural festival in the City in 2022, which was delayed due to COVID and generated controversy that inspired consideration of a mural ordinance that was discussed repeatedly for eight months.”
- The complaint alleges that Ambrose received financial gain in the form of a tax write-off through a business contribution of $5,000 to HHS.
- The complaint also alleges that Ambrose’s porta-potty business received financial gain through free advertising when he donated porta-potties to the mural festival.
- The complaint also alleges that the City Attorney’s office donated $250 to HHS.
- The complaint further alleges that Duke Energy has contributed to HHS.
- Evans also claimed that Ambrose supported a Duke Solar Power Plant until he signed a contract with Duke Energy to supply portable toilets for the project, after which he stated he “would no longer be participating in the discussion or decision-making process regarding this topic.”
- The complaint alleges that Ambrose voted to support the building and opening of a Tractor Supply Store and that Ambrose’s porta-potties were used at the building site.
- The complaint alleges that the City paid $18,246 more than its contracted retainer to the City attorney and records indicate many telephone conversations between the City Attorney and Respondent.” Evans cited telephone calls between the attorney’s office and Ambrose as the source of the additional cost.
Committee Public Report and Order Dismissing Complaint
In the Public Report and Order Dismissing Complaint, the Commission on Ethics states that in reference to complaints identified here as 1 – 4, “The complaint fails to indicate violation of State Statutes Section 112.3148(4). To indicate possible violation of the statute, a complaint must allege, in a factual, substantive, nonconclusory manner that a Respondent or someone acting on their behalf, accepted a gift worth more than $100 from a vendor, lobbyist, or principal of a lobbyist or their agency.
“In this case, the complaint alleges that contributions to HHS were made by Duke Energy, the law firm currently contracted to provide legal services to the City, and the Respondent’s business. In each of these cases, the recipient of the donations is not Respondent, but HHS, an entity that is distinct and separate from its founder.”
In the Public Report and Order Dismissing Complaint, the Commission on Ethics states that in reference to complaints identified here as 5 – 7, “The complaint fails to indicate violation of State Statutes Section 112.3143(3)(a), which prohibits local public officers from, among other things, voting on a matter that will inure to his or her special private gain or loss.
“Regarding the vote on the construction of the power plant by Duke Energy, the complaint specifically alleges that Respondent recused himself from discussing or voting on the matter when the matter began to inure to his special private gain or loss, which is when his company signed a contract with Duke Energy.
“Regarding the construction of the Tractor Supply Sore, the complaint does not allege that PortaServe had any existing contract at the time Respondent voted to support the construction. In order to sustain an allegation of a voting conflict, the special private gain or loss may not be remote of speculative. Therefore, the complaint does not allege that Respondent voted on any matter that inured to the special private gain or loss of himself, his relative, his business associate or a principal by whom he was retained.”
“Finally, the allegation that the City Attorney has billed more than its contracted retainer, and that it has billed conversations with Respondent, does not implicate any part of the Code of Ethics. Nor does the allegation that Respondent is getting free advertising by donating PortaServe’s services at a festival.”
In summary, the Commission on Ethics said, “Accordingly, this complaint is hereby dismissed for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint with the issuance of this public report.”
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