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Tallahassee Mayor and Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum listens during a rescheduled Community Redevelopment Agency meeting Wednesday, July. 19, 2017, at city hall in Tallahassee, Fla. The CRA meeting, the first held since FBI subpoenas were issued to board members a month ago, was televised for the first time in its history. Photo credit: Phil Sears

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Andrew Gillum’s absence during ethics vote explained as, um, natural

For years, Tallahassee has been talking about strengthening ethics rules for City Hall; for months the city has been formally considering specific recommendations; and for weeks the City Commission has been waiting to vote on a proposed ordinance, all while FBI agents have been snooping around on an alleged municipal corruption case.

So when the moment finally came last week for the Tallahassee City Commission to vote, “Mayor Andrew Gillum had stepped out of the commission chambers,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported Saturday, with no further explanation.

Whispers began: Where was Gillum, a Democratic candidate for Governor, while his ethics ordinance was coming up for its final vote?

“It was nothing,” Mayor’s Office Communications Director Jamie Van Pelt said of Gillum’s absence. “He went to the bathroom. He had already voted once to approve that ordinance. This was the second reading.”

The ordinance, with amendments that some people at last week’s public hearing reportedly didn’t like, was approved 4-0 without Gillum. Based on recommendations from the Tallahassee Independent Ethics Board, the measure defines various bans on gifts from city vendors, lobbyists and others; prohibits certain activities by city commissioners and others; requires that formal ethics complaints be made as sworn statements [although it still allows for anonymous tips on a hotline;] directs that cases be heard by an administrative judge; and puts a hold on a city ethics case if the matter at hand also is being investigated by certain outside agencies, such as the FBI.

Van Pelt said the mayor has been behind the initiative for strengthened ethics at Tallahassee City Hall, and that he had earlier offered a stronger ordinance.

In the Democratic primary, all four candidates, Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine have pushed for ethics reform in state government.

Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign communications director Geoff Burgan said Gillum’s commitment of course applies to his views of city ethics as well.

“The mayor absolutely supports the ordinance, which passed unanimously. I wouldn’t read too much into a bathroom break,’ Burgan said.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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