Having our city leaders be accused of ethics violations is certainly nothing new in our city. We have seen our share of Mayors and Commissioners face such charges. But each time it is an erosion of public trust.
We elect our officials to be stewards of our city. It is assumed that each individual will uphold our City Charter and Ordinances during their term in office. Every city officer or employee is required to take an oath of office. This is the oath:
"I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution and will obey the laws of the United States and of the State of Florida, that I will, in all respects, observe the provisions of the Charter and ordinances of the City of Atlantic Beach, and will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ____________ ."*
Our current mayor, Mitch Reeves, has been accused of betraying his oath of office. There will be a thorough investigation by the City of Atlantic Beach and the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Because there will be an election on August 29th of this year, it is important for all Atlantic Beach residents to have the full body of the information that has been submitted for investigation. The Ethics Complaint is public record and can be accessed by a request to the City Clerk.
We have obtained the original complaint filed on July 27th and it can be read in it's entirety by below.
FORMAL COMPLAINT OF POTENTIAL ETHICS VIOLATIONS
July 27, 2017
Dear Mr. Hogencamp:
This letter is a formal complaint, asking for legal review and possible action by the City Commission, to report a potential violation by Mayor Mitchell E. “Mitch” Reeves under Section 66 of the Atlantic Beach City Charter. I have received a number of inquiries from fellow Atlantic Beach residents asking if Mayor Reeves has been involved in the sale of equipment to the Atlantic Beach Police Department, and I have now reviewed enough public documents to satisfy myself that a formal complaint is appropriate. As a candidate running on a platform of ethics, I have a duty to address this matter in a timely fashion. I am making this complaint independent of potential ethics violations under sections contained in Florida statutes because the City Charter includes very specific language and remedies.
Section 66 of the City Charter, entitled “Personal Interest,” provides that “no member of the city commission, any officer of the city or department head shall have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in any contract or in the sale to the city or to a contractor supplying the city of any land or rights or interests in any land, material, supplies or services. Any willful violation of this section shall constitute malfeasance in office, and shall be grounds for removal or termination. Any contract entered into in violation of this section shall be voidable by the city manager or the city commission.”
Mayor Reeves was sworn in as Mayor of Atlantic Beach, Florida on November 9, 2015. He is paid an annual salary. Among his duties are to consider and approve the annual city budget. Mayor Reeves helped to develop and voted to approve the 2016-2017 city budget. This budget includes a public safety budget of $5,970,916.
Mayor Reeves submitted a Form 1 for 2016 to the City of Atlantic Beach on June 20, 2017. He listed one source of income as G.T. Distributors and described his position as “Distributor of Police Equipment.” G.T. Distributors is a company based in Austin, Texas with an office in Orange Park, Florida and is in business to sell and distribute law enforcement equipment. The G.T. Distributors website over the last several months has described Mayor Reeves as an “Outside Sales” representative with a territory that includes Duval County and, within the county, the City of Atlantic Beach. A review of Mayor Reeves’ reelection campaign website on July 24, 2017 describes his position as “Senior Sales Advisor” for G.T. Distributors. Mayor Reeves’ start date with the company is unknown to me, but it is fair to state that, for part of 2016 and up to the present date, Mayor Reeves has been employed in some sales capacity, whether for commission or salary, by G.T. Distributors.
Based on my review of public records requested on July 3, 2017, Mayor Reeves may have willfully violated the City Charter by having a direct or indirect financial interest through his company, G.T. Distributors, which has conducted regular business with the Atlantic Beach Police Department. Based on the records I have been provided, the following statements appear to be correct, but should be verified:
- No public disclosure of a potential conflict with G.T. Distributors was produced;
- No assertion that G.T. Distributors is a sole source of supply for the Atlantic Beach Police Department was produced;
- No record of competitive bidding to award a contract or select G.T. Distributors as a vendor was produced (given the amount, bidding may not have been required).
- No Commission records with a reference to G.T. Distributors was produced.
I believe the willful nature of this potential violation is also demonstrated by Mayor Reeves’ knowledge of details of G.T. Distributors’ business with the city. Mayor Reeves is copied on at least four emails between the City of Atlantic Beach and G.T. Distributors regarding sales quotes in 2016 and 2017. In one or more of these emails, Atlantic Beach Purchasing Agents Linda Lenhart and Patricia Drake, and G.T. Distributors personnel Jocelyn Fultz, Richard Bell and Russ Adler are included as recipients. The emails I have reviewed are listed below:
- August 30, 2016 - Regarding: UTM Quote (Ultimate Training Munitions)
- September 29, 2016 - Regarding: Quote 42337 Vests (Safari Land Body Armor)
- November 17, 2016 - Regarding: Quote 46458 Viking Tactics Bungee Sling
- January 17, 2017 - Regarding: Quote 50775 Holster
The approved 2016-2017 city budget is not specific with regard to purchases and trades of police equipment and it does not appear to identify vendors like G.T. Distributors. It appears that negotiations for equipment purchases from G.T. Distributors began before the 2016-2017 budget was passed and transactions have taken place since approximately October 2016. The following records of payments by check, purchase orders (PO), and invoices to G.T. Distributors for 2016 & 2017 were produced pursuant to my public records request:
- October 20, 2016: $145.36 (Check, PO 161964)
- November 23, 2016: $660.00 (Check, PO 161962)
- December 21, 2016: $591.71 (Check, POs 170387, 161962)
- January 25, 2017: $3170.25 (Check, PO 170085)
- February 15, 2017: $149.96 (Check, PO 170613)
- March 29, 2017: $13,718.00 (Sales Order, PO 170988, Invoice pending)
- May 3, 2017: $252.16 (Check, POs 170680, 170903, 171113)
- June 1, 2017: $251.20 (Check, PO 171222)
Total 2016-2017 Approximate Sales (to date – according to public records provided):
Please note that the above list does not appear to include duplicate payments and may not be all-inclusive. It is simply a snapshot of what I gleaned from my review of a large quantity of documents. I believe this information is sufficient in order to for the city to proceed with my request.
For background purposes, Mayor Reeves’ prior service as an ad hoc unpaid committee member is provided herein. Reeves was appointed by the City Commission to serve on the Atlantic Beach Police Building Ad Hoc Committee in 2012. He was Vice-Chair of the committee. While on the committee and before becoming mayor, he was employed by Code 3, Incorporated, a distributor of emergency equipment. On his 2014 Form 1 for 2014, Reeves listed a source of income as Code 3, Inc., and described his position as “Director of Emergency Eastern Sales.” Code 3, Inc. sells emergency and warning vehicle lighting and sirens. On his LinkedIn page, Reeves has listed employment with Code 3, Inc. from April 2000 to December 2015. Based on public records I was provided, several purchases were made from Code 3, Inc. between 2012 and 2015. Before being sworn is as mayor, Reeves notified Atlantic Beach Purchasing Agent Patricia Drake, by email dated 9/10/15, that he would no longer be the city contact for Code 3, Inc. The last transaction with Code 3 appears to be in October 2015. Based on my review of public records, it appears that business between Code 3, Inc. and the city then ceased.
With regard to his Code 3, Inc. employment, the issue of whether then-committee member Reeves had a potential conflict of interest as an unpaid committee member was raised in a City Commission meeting on April 9, 2012 and again in a committee meeting on April 12, 2012. Based on the records I received, this appears to be the only time that a potential conflict has been addressed by the City of Atlantic Beach with regard to Mayor Reeves. At that time, City Attorney Alan C. Jensen, provided a written legal opinion that an “appearance of a conflict of interest” existed even though Reeves would not appear to have benefitted financially from decisions made by the committee. Jensen wrote that Reeves could attend meetings but might consider abstaining from voting. Reeves’ prior employment with Code 3, Inc. and his sales relationship with the city are provided as context for his current employment with G.T. Distributors for the following reasons:
- Equipment purchases with Code 3, Inc., ceased soon after Reeves became mayor and left the company. Code 3, Inc. is still in business but Reeves no longer works there, and the city does not appear to be doing business with the company any longer.
- Equipment purchases by the Atlantic Beach Police Department from G.T. Distributors commenced at approximately the time Reeves began to work there.
- An appearance is created that business with the city appears to have followed Reeves from company to company.
- Reeves was made aware in 2012 that sales by his company to the city could create the appearance of a conflict of interest and that potential conflicts should be disclosed
- A significant distinction should be made between Reeves’ work as an unpaid committee member, and his paid role as Mayor/member of the city commission and elected public official voting on the city budget and involved in all aspects of city governance.
For your information, I do not believe there has been any wrongdoing on the part of any city employee. In fact, I am sympathetic to the awkward positions that employees may have been placed in by our city’s top elected official. In order to better assess Mayor Reeves’ conduct, it may be appropriate, however, to speak with employees who may have additional information beyond what is contained in the public record. My complaint is limited to Mayor Reeves. I know that making a formal complaint at this time puts our city staff in a difficult position and may reverberate throughout Atlantic Beach and beyond. However, I cannot, given my background and experience, stand by and let this potential violation of the City Charter by Mayor Reeves go unchallenged.
Given the upcoming election, your prompt attention to this matter is necessary. I have acted with as much speed as possible on my end, considering that Mayor Reeves filed his Form 1 just last month, and I have encountered difficulties accessing the electronic records provided by your staff. A response to this complaint is requested no later than Thursday, August 3, 2017. Please contact me if you have any questions.
cc: Brenna Durden, City Attorney