Ethics committee dismisses complaint against Marlowe 

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said there was never enough evidence to warrant a code of ethics accusation.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said there was never enough evidence to warrant a code of ethics accusation.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The Florida Commission on Ethics recently dismissed an ethics complaint against Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe for lack of legal sufficiency. 

The complaint, filed in April by Save Our Schools (SOS) Newberry, said Marlowe overstepped his authority by “unilaterally ordering city staff to work for the benefit of a private entity” and violated Sunshine Law by texting commissioners about changes to a commission meeting agenda. 

In a press release issued June 12, the Florida Commission on Ethics named the complaint against Marlowe among those dismissed after a review for legal sufficiency. The review only considered whether the complaint’s contents were “adequate to allege a violation of the Code of Ethics or other laws within the Commission’s jurisdiction.” 

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“As no factual investigation precedes the reviews, the Commission’s conclusions do not reflect on the accuracy of the allegations made in these complaints,” according to the press release. 

The complaints were based on emails and text messages which SOS Newberry obtained through public records requests during a campaign to convert Newberry’s schools into charter schools. 

The commission press release made no mention of another complaint SOS filed at the same time against Newberry Commissioner Rick Coleman for a text message mentioning the charter campaign. 

“There was never enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I am glad the ethics committee agreed that it was flagrantly baseless,” Marlowe wrote in a text on Tuesday. “I support everyone’s right to an opinion within the democratic process, but we shouldn’t support making accusations against someone’s character in an unethical attempt to score political points.” 

Marlowe said he was grateful for the support and love his community has shown him through the process. 

“It heartens me to know that it was outsiders, with an agenda, and not my community who made the charges with no evidence to support them, and I look forward to moving forward together as one community again,” Marlowe wrote. 

SOS Newberry filed the complaints in the days leading up to a voting period when teachers and parents would determine whether Newberry High School, Newberry Elementary School and Oak View Middle School would convert to become charter schools. 

The votes to convert the middle and high schools definitively failed, but the elementary school vote was more controversial as the parent vote passed, and the teacher portion of the vote ended up 22-21 out of 44 eligible teachers. SOS Newberry and Alachua County Public Schools point to a State Board of Education rule requiring a majority vote, which they say requires more than 50% of eligible teachers. 

Education First for Newberry, the nonprofit running the conversion campaign, maintained that the vote passed, using an email from the Department of Education to back its determination. EFN and the city of Newberry have moved forward with the conversion, appointing school governing board members at a city meeting last week. 

When SOS Newberry first filed the complaint, spokesman Tyler Foerst said he was not sure the ethics commission was the appropriate venue for the complaint. Foerst wrote in an April email that “if/when [the complaints] are kicked back” he would forward them on to the appropriate authorities, naming the Florida Attorney General and the State Attorney’s Office for the 8th Circuit. 

The complaints were meant to dig into the timeline, funding and methods of EFN’s campaign, and the city of Newberry’s involvement with the campaign, according to Foerst. 

“They simply have not been honest about the origins of this campaign and their involvement in it,” Foerst wrote. “My hope was that this would force them to come clean and tell the whole truth and the full story. They have yet to do so.” 

Foerst said the “most important consequence” will be what voters decide in local elections when Marlowe’s seat, as well as those of commissioners Tim Marden and Tony Mazon, are up for election. 

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Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

I believe that the Florida Commission on Ethics got this one wrong. And SOS Newberry doesn’t seem like it should be classified as “outsiders, with an agenda.”