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State ethics panel poised to pre-clear Bill Carlson from conflicts because of his business

Carlson posed a series of questions to ensure he was not violating any ethics provisions.

A Florida Commission on Ethics staff report finds little reason to believe Tampa City Council member Bill Carlson faces a conflict of interest between his duties as an elected official and those as president of the local public relations firm he runs.

Carlson is the top official for Tucker/Hall, which serves clients in both Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. 

After his election, Carlson, through Tampa City Council Attorney Martin Shelby, posed a series of questions to the ethics commission to ensure he was not violating any ethics provisions through conflicts of interests between his business and elected duties. 

“Part of my campaign platform was to bring ethics back to Tampa city hall. The way you do that is to understand the rules and then make sure you are following them. I asked the commission’s advice to make sure I was not only following the rules but holding myself to the highest possible ethical standards,” Carlson said. 

In a letter to the commission, Shelby asked if a prohibited conflict of interest would be created if a city council member’s company provided services for a client related to a matter that might come before the board.

In its response, the commission wrote that Florida statute would prohibit a City Council member from having employment or a contractual relationship with a business entity regulated by or doing business with City council. The report found Carlson, in his capacity as President of Tucker/Hall, could have such a relationship, but because his company is not regulated by and does not have a business relationship with the city, there is no conflict of interest. 

The report also evaluated whether Carlson’s interest in his company, through its clients’ potential dealings with the city, represented a conflict that “may tempt him to dishonor any responsibilities he has as a member of the City Council.” The inquiry found no conflict there, either. 

In previous correspondence with the Commission on Ethics, Shelby pointed out that Carlson’s duties with the company are largely strategic in nature while his dealings with clients represent a very minimal portion of his day-to-day duties. 

Carlson, through Shelby, also asked whether there would be circumstances in which his company’s work for a client could present a conflict as a sitting City Council member and, if so, what those circumstances would be. 

The report reiterates the broad non-existence of conflicts, but cautions such a conflict could arise should Carlson ever be personally involved in a contractual relationship in which business with the city is required. 

If Carlson’s firm were working on behalf of a client that involved a lawsuit against the city, the report notes that could also pose a conflict. 

The Florida Commission on Ethics report has not yet been adopted and is subject to approval at its next public meeting July 26.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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