The Florida Commission on Ethics last week dismissed for lack of probable cause a complaint filed against County Commissioner Warren Yeager.
The complaint, filed by Wewahitchka resident Thomas Semmes on behalf of the Political Action Committee “Citizens for Improving Gulf County”, alleged that Yeager was in violation of several Florida statutes pertaining to conflicts of interest, given his elected office and full-time private sector employer Preble Rish Engineers.
The Commission on Ethics, however, found “no probable cause to believe that (Yeager) had a conflicting employment relationship with an entity doing business with Gulf County.”
Based on testimony from Yeager’s boss at Preble Rish, Ralph Rish, to investigators, Yeager’s role is to nurture relationships between Preble Rish and public and private entities and to supervise the company’s real estate holdings.
Rish told investigators that Yeager does that work “on the road” and not in Gulf County and therefore there was no violation under the statute the complaint was based upon.
The Florida Commission on Ethics held a closed door hearing on the complaint last week, during which commissioners agreed there was no probable cause to support the complaint.
Yeager, who said at the time the complaint was filed last year that he believed his interpretation of the issues would prevail, expressed pleasure about the Ethics Commission decision.
“We appreciate the Ethics Commission interpreting the law as we have,” Yeager wrote in a statement. “In my public service to Gulf County I have always followed the letter of the law and I am pleased with this outcome.
“(Yeager’s wife) Jacque and I have appreciated the outpouring of public support through this process and we are humbled by the confidence and the opportunity the citizens of Gulf County have given up through the years to serve them.”
The complaint noted that according to Yeager is employed with Preble Rish and was so prior to being elected to the Board of County Commissioners in 2008.
The complaint noted that Preble Rish is the sole provider of engineering services in the county since April 1993, when what is known as a “continuing contract” for engineering services was entered into by the county and Preble Rish.
The allegations stemmed from an interpretation of Florida Chapter 112, which govern standards of conduct for public officers.
Specifically, Chapter 112.313(7)(a), cited in the complaint and a subject of a 2001 opinion from the Commission on Ethics.
“Conflicting employment or contractual relationship --No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he or she is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his or her private interests and the performance of his or her public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his or her public duties.”
The complaint alleged that Yeager had a prohibited conflict under provisions governing “doing business with one’s agency.”
Two other allegations pertaining to Yeager’s work for Preble Rish were dismissed for lack of specific evidence of a violation.
As to the central complaint, Rish’s testimony was that Yeager does no work in Gulf County, his work is “on the road” and therefore under Ethics Commission rules there was no violation.