SOS Newberry files ethics complaint on Newberry mayor, commissioner 

Tyler Foerst said Marlowe's direction of city staff to aid in EFN's budget development was a misuse of government resources, time and money.
Tyler Foerst said Marlowe's direction of city staff to aid in EFN's budget development was a misuse of government resources, time and money.
Photo by Glory Reitz

Save our Schools (SOS) Newberry announced Tuesday that it is filing three ethics complaints, two against Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe and one against Newberry City Commissioner Ricky Coleman. The group says both men violated Florida’s Sunshine Law and Marlowe misused city resources. 

SOS’s first complaint against Marlowe states that he “overstepped his authority and abused his power” by “unilaterally ordering city staff to work for the benefit of a private entity.” 

While Marlowe first directed staff publicly to review the Education First for Newberry (EFN) budget for three schools potentially converted to charters, SOS cites emails from as far back as December, showing Marlowe had been directing staff to assist EFN with building the budget. 

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“I am proud to support parents and teachers in our community who were engaged in doing their due diligence on a complex community initiative,” Marlowe wrote in a text message. “Any attempt to create a narrative that deviates from that simple truth is unfortunate and categorically false.” 

EFN waited until February to announce its plans to call for votes at Newberry High School, Newberry Elementary School and Oak View Middle School. Spokesman Joel Searby said the initial conversations in November 2023 revealed that the group would need to form a 501(c)(4) if it wanted to convert the schools. The group filed with the state by Dec. 5. 

Searby said city officials were never included in EFN’s final decision-making, and no city officials sit on the board. 

“While we welcome the support of any citizen of Newberry, we are not beholden to the commission and this plan was not created by the City of Newberry, but by parents, teachers and community leaders,” Searby wrote in an email. 

The second complaint against Marlowe cites a Jan. 8 text message to Newberry’s commissioners about changes to a commission meeting agenda. 

State law prohibits board members from discussing outside of meetings items that could foreseeably come up as a vote. SOS co-chair Tyler Foerst said at a press conference on Tuesday that he expects the city commission to have “numerous votes on the matter” if the charter conversion passes. 

Kelly Hersey waves a sign at the SOS Newberry press conference.
Photo by Glory Reitz Kelly Hersey waves a sign at the SOS Newberry press conference.

The complaint against Coleman follows a similar vein of sunshine law concerns. It cites a Feb. 29 text message from Coleman to the mayor and other commissioners, referring to the charter conversion initiative. 

“They’re just reaching at all straws,” Coleman said in a phone call after SOS’s announcement. 

He said his text message did not constitute a sunshine violation, and he did not understand why SOS took issue with it anyway, as the message expresses frustration with the impact any opinion on the school vote would have on a commissioner’s position. 

Coleman said he did not have “a dog in this fight,” noting that he does not have children in the schools or education expertise. He said he was glad EFN changed its plan to include a separate governing board for the schools if converted, and that he does not care which way citizens vote on the issue. 

At the press conference, Foerst’s main points against EFN 

“Searby and Marlowe have been working behind the scenes for months with city staff, an attorney and a financial planner on their campaign,” Foerst said. “They have recruited supporters, planned to fundraise $125,000, influenced local media and social media pages, all the while creating a budget they told us is financially sound, but wasn’t.” 

Foerst complained that though the voting period begins in just a few days, EFN has still not released a line-by-line budget, or provided quotes from potential third-party contractors for transportation, food service and other items. 

Kelly Hersey, a Newberry Elementary School parent involved with SOS Newberry, said EFN has been “sneaky” and “slimy” in the way it organized a campaign and raised money before announcing publicly the push. She said she would prefer for parents to be involved in the process earlier, instead of introducing the topic right at the start of the 60-day window to finish voting. 

“My vote would’ve still been a ‘no,’ but it wouldn’t have been ‘oh, y’all are sneaky, what are y’all hiding?’” Hersey said in an interview. “It would’ve been like, ‘oh, okay, well, at least they came to everybody.’ We would have had time to listen. We would’ve had time to research, we would’ve had time to gather our information. They had time to do that. We didn’t.” 

Education First for Newberry has raised around $100,000, according to Searby. The money came “entirely from sources within Alachua County,” mostly private citizens and businesses in Newberry. 

In an official statement, EFN said it has been careful to follow the law and evaluate financial implications. 

“We are proud, not ashamed, to have presented a professional, well-researched, locally-resourced proposal to our community and we are eager for our parents and teachers to have their chance to vote Yes in the coming days,” the statement said. 

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