The Florida Ethics Commission wants Jacksonville’s Mike Gay to recuse himself from votes involving stadium lighting as a way to circumvent an apparent conflict of interest related to many years of benefiting from a sole-source contractual arrangement.
Gay, a member of the local City Council, owns an electrical company that subcontracts with Musco Sports Lighting. Musco has had lighting contracts with the city that go back two decades on an ongoing, sole-source basis.
“When the need for a new sports lighting project arises, and the City Council approves funding for it,” the proposed Ethics opinion read, the city gets a quote from Musco and then does the job.
Mike Gay Electrical Contractors benefits as a result, the opinion continues, as the exclusive subcontractor, which Gay says is because his is the “only certified electrical contractor” in Duval with the equipment to do these jobs. Others are farther away and come with higher costs, the opinion claims.
As a result, as sports lighting deals come through (and the opinion says two are being planned now), Gay is in position to benefit from a “contractual relationship between the city and (him) in his capacity as a certified electrician, making the conflict of interest apparent.”
Luckily for Gay, Florida Statute has a relevant exemption: Section 112.313 (7).
“When the agency referred to is a legislative body and the regulatory power over the business entity resides in another agency, or when the regulatory power which the legislative body exercises over the business entity or agency is strictly through the enactment of laws or ordinances, then employment or a contractual relationship with such business entity by a public officer or employee of a legislative body shall not be prohibited by this subsection or be deemed a conflict,” state law stipulates.
This exemption has helped Jacksonville officials before, such as a local deputy sheriff who had the exclusive concession for “badge holders,” the opinion notes.
However, since Gay is in a position to get what statute calls “special private gain” from these deals, the Ethics Commission Friday urged him to state his conflict at the meeting where the vote is happening, recuse himself from the decision, then file a CE Form 8B formally declaring his conflict.
Gay tells Florida Politics that he sought the opinion from the state board for clarity via the local ethics commission.
Regarding the negotiations between the city and the Jacksonville Jaguars for a stadium renovation, a project with more than $1 billion of city commitment in the proposal from the NFL team last year, Gay doesn’t “foresee pursuing contracts” related to that work.
He evocatively called the stadium vote a “tar baby,” saying there are “no guarantees” that he will vote for the eventual proposal, as he wants the “best deal for taxpayers.”
Commissioner Wengay Newton sought clarity on how extensive the recusals might be, and it was noted that the recusal only applies to sports lighting contracts and that Gay does not have a “blanket pass.”
“What gave me pause was that he was not on Council but he’s now on Council,” Newton said. “He’s already been doing this for 15 years. Now that he’s on Council, he has access to other stuff that he probably didn’t know about because he was not on Council.”