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Morgan Cleared Of Ethics Allegations


Former Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino’s complaint against Sheriff David Morgan has been dismissed by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Voting last month, the Commission said there was no probable cause to believe that Sheriff Morgan violated the state’s Code of Ethics.

“At the risk of sounding overconfident, we were confident from the first receipt of [the complaint] that this would be the outcome,” said Sheriff Morgan. “The complaint was frivolous and I think the finding confirmed that all the way down.”

The Ethics Commission also said that Valentino failed to provide any evidence to support his allegations. Reached Tuesday in Orlando, Valentino expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“I regret the decision of the Ethics Commission, I’ve heard from some people behind the scenes that they’re backing off many of these types of complaints and choose to do nothing,” said Valentino. “It doesn’t take away from the validity of my complaint.”

Filed last October, the complaint had four allegations:

  • Morgan left a threatening message on Valentino’s office voicemail
  • The Sheriff accused the County Commission of criminal negligence involving the explosion at the County Jail in April, 2014.
  • Morgan used Sheriff’s Office resources and employees to produce a campaign video in favor of Doug Underhill – who defeated Valentino in the 2014 Republican primary.
  • The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office refused to lower the U-S and state flags at county facilities to half-staff, after the death of former County Administrator George Touart in January. Sheriff David Morgan says that would have violated flag protocol. This complaint was dismissed earlier this year.

“It wasn’t the fact that the Sheriff didn’t have a right to support other people,” Valentino said. “We all have constitutional rights to support anybody we want. But, it was clearly a response for [the County Commission] saving the county over $18 million.”
That $18 million is what Valentino claims Morgan requested as part of the county jail’s budget, before the County Commission took over its operation in 2013. Sheriff David Morgan says the money was needed to bring the jail into compliance with a Justice Department investigation.

“For him to allege it was personal animus against him is just incorrect,” Morgan said. “This is business and has nothing to do with politics or personal animus.  I requested a budget that we had scrubbed, that would have allowed me to meet all of those findings of the Department of Justice, and the County Commission chose not to negotiate the budget.”

The Florida Commission on Ethics has an appeal process, but former Commissioner Gene Valentino appears unlikely to take that path, saying he’s moved on with his life.

“I’m disappointed in a lot of the behavior in government, and the very things they have tried to characterize me for doing over my years of service,” Valentino said. “Set against a backdrop of a built-in level of conspiracy and secrecy, that this government and this community has, which is unbecoming. I choose not to be part of it.”

At the same meeting, the Ethics Commission also cleared Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer of allegations of manipulating government processes for himself and business partners. The commission found no probable cause to believe the any Florida codes were violated.