The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust has found no probable cause in a case against Bay Harbor Islands Vice Mayor Jordan Leonard.
Resident Kathleen Kennedy filed a complaint regarding Leonard’s comments on Oct. 7 at a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting. She contends Leonard misrepresented the stance of the town when he spoke in support of a Miami-Dade ordinance that would allow municipalities to opt out of the jurisdiction of the county historic preservation board and form their own.
The ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Sally Heyman was tentatively adopted at the meeting.
Leonard maintains that his remarks reflected his position alone, but Kennedy believes he misled the County Commission to think that the town council had formally considered the ordinance.
No action had been taken to determine the council’s stance on county historic preservation at the time of the Miami-Dade Commission meeting. Leonard had placed an item on the September meeting agenda that would urge the county to require the property owner’s consent for historic designation and give the Town Council jurisdiction over appeals filed by the county preservation board. But he later withdrew the item for discussion at the meeting as requested by Heyman.
Kennedy filed her complaint Oct. 10 and after a preliminary investigation, the Commission on Ethics & Public Trust determined that Leonard had not violated the law.
The investigation reports, “it could be argued that Leonard was not factually incorrect by identifying himself as vice mayor of Bay Harbor Islands, and that he did not explicitly state the town adopted a position with respect to the ordinance, though it may have been implied or inferred.”
It also notes that Leonard expressed that topic should be further debated by the council in his remarks.
However, the report provides a suggestion for Leonard, “As a general rule, when appearing before another board, elected officials should attempt to make it clear whether they are speaking as individual public officials or on behalf of the public board they sit on. Leonard, as well as other elected officials, should take the very simple step of prefacing their personal remarks by stating something along the lines of ‘today I am speaking for myself and not for the entire board.’”
The report concludes, “Leonard’s behavior falls short of violating the ethics code and the filing of a complaint is not warranted. However, Leonard should take care to speak more carefully in the future.”
Leonard was informed of both the existence of the complaint and the matter’s outcome at the conclusion of the investigation.
“As expected, this complaint, filed by my former opponent’s paid operative, was promptly thrown out,” Leonard wrote in an email, referring to last April’s election where the campaign report of opponent Paul Ruthfield stated that Kennedy was paid $750 for poll coverage.
He adds, “As the sponsor of legislation to create ethics reform to mandate the registering of lobbyists, moving Good & Welfare to the beginning of Council meetings and volunteering for the Ethics Commission’s Ethical Governance Day, I take ethics very seriously. I, like any reasonable person, was hurt for being wrongfully accused of something without merit.”
Council members reacted to the preliminary investigation report at the November town council meeting.
Councilwoman Kelly Reid says she agreed with the report, that from now on Leonard should be clear whether he is speaking on his own behalf.
“This vindicates me because last month I said exactly this to you,” Reid said at the Nov. 10 meeting.
Leonard reminded Reid that the case was closed because he had not violated any laws.
“The reality is that the case was closed,” Leonard said. “That is a fact. You never alluded to the fact that there was no merit to it. You never alluded to that Mr. Joseph Centorino, [executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust], signed it and the case is closed.”
But Reid disagreed.
“Yes the case is closed,” Reid said. “[It says] ‘case closed’ in big red letters, but no merit? I disagree that it has no merit.”