Ethics Commission to hear case against Cecilia Jones

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The Florida Commission on Ethics has scheduled a probable cause hearing to evaluate the findings of an investigation launched after two complaints were lodged against Walton County Commissioner Cecilia Jones.

Former Walton County resident Art Miller was informed in a letter dated June 18 that the hearing would be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 7 in Tallahassee.

Miller filed his complaint last October. He alleged Jones had misused her powers as a commissioner and indulged in various conflicts of interest.

“Many people in Walton County are pleased the Florida Commission on Ethics has decided to move forward with the ethics complaints against Commissioner Jones,” Miller said. “We’re confident the commission will examine the facts and respond appropriately.”

The letter to Miller indicates his complaint has been consolidated with another one filed by DeFuniak Springs resident Lynda Morse.

Morse claims Jones billed Walton County $300 for a deposition taken as part of a lawsuit that had nothing to do with county business. Morse confirmed Thursday she had also received a letter inviting her to the hearing.

The purpose of the Sept. 7 hearing is to allow the Ethics Commission to “evaluate the results of the preliminary investigation” conducted after probable cause was found to look into the complaints, according to the letter.

Either Jones or her legal counsel will be given 10 minutes to provide statements to the commission. The “commission advocate,” who takes on the role of prosecutor at hearings like this one, will also be allotted 10 minutes to speak.

“I look forward to complete vindication upon conclusion of this process,” Jones said when contacted Thursday afternoon.

No witnesses may be called during the hearing and no new evidence will be introduced, the letter said. Those involved in each case are brought in solely “to observe the Commission’s deliberations.”

Miller summarized his list of complaints against Jones as:

Conflict of interest and misuse of office to attempt to influence outcome of whistle-blower lawsuit on behalf of family friend and county employee

Use of official position to influence election and Sunshine Law violations

Misuse of public office to benefit family and friends

Misrepresentation on a financial disclosure form

Incomplete or erroneous ex parte communication forms

Misuse of office by posting false information in social media

Miller claimed Jones tried to influence the outcome of a whistle-blower lawsuit filed in 2015 by county employee Hal Laird. Laird, who claimed he had been wrongfully terminated, was a personal friend of the Jones’ family, Miller said, but Jones failed to disclose that prior to testifying on his behalf. Jones later voted to settle the Laird lawsuit for $130,000, Miller claims.

The complaint states Jones oversaw the firing of an employee and the improperly conducted replacement of the terminated employee with one of her relatives.

Miller alleged Jones improperly used her position to influence a Walton County Commission race in favor of Tony Anderson, a candidate she openly supported. He claims she used confidential information obtained in her official capacity as part of her effort to influence the election.

He claimed Jones casts votes on regulations regarding beach vending businesses, including one owned by her son.

Miller stated Jones had used her husband as an intermediary to contact fellow commissioners to communicate on matters considered official county business. Those activities constituted a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law, his complaint alleged.

Jones’ husband was also called upon to intimidate and bully fellow commissioners, county employees and voters, the complaint said.

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