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Gulfport to pay mayor's legal bill

GULFPORT — Gulfport Mayor Michael Yakes' two-year journey from accusation to exoneration over his political ethics is over.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to pay a $1,014 legal bill Yakes incurred defending himself during a state investigation.

"We're done. The Little League parade is tomorrow. Life goes on," Yakes said Friday.

Although he said the charges made against him "hurt" at the time, he defended residents' right to question the behavior of elected officials.

"I do not fault the system. Justice was served," Yakes said.

The state Commission on Ethics investigated complaints made in 2007 against the mayor for his involvement in a company, Florida Educational Youth Training Corp., that was awarded a city contract years earlier.

In separate complaints, residents Rick Gilbert and Clark Scherer Jr. alleged that Yakes violated the City Charter, which states that city officials should not have personal interests in city contracts, and breached several state laws and the state's Code of Ethics.

In 2005, the City Council, including Yakes, voted unanimously to award Florida Educational a $55,000 brick restoration contract and a $300,000 three-year lawn maintenance contract.

Yakes did not disclose his involvement with the company when the city approved the brick restoration contract.

Later, when the lawn maintenance contract came up in May 2005, Yakes said he served on the company's board of directors as a volunteer and asked City Attorney Tim Driscoll whether he should vote on the contract.

Driscoll told him that there was no conflict of interest because Yakes was not a paid employee.

During the investigation, Yakes successfully ran for re-election.

The final Ethics Commission report issued in December 2007 found that Yakes had not received any payment for his work as the vice president and treasurer of Florida Education Youth Training Corp.

The Ethics Commission voted to take no further action on the charge, and dismissed allegations that Yakes had a voting conflict and a prohibited employment relationship, as well as charges that Yakes corruptly used his position to benefit himself or others when obtaining the contract for YTC.

Yakes, who has been in Gulfport public office since 1986, said he delayed asking the city to cover his legal fees, but in the end decided to ask the city to reimburse him.

"Mayor Yakes successfully defended these complaints," City Attorney Timothy Driscoll told the commission Tuesday as he urged the commission to pay Yakes' legal bills.

Driscoll justified the payment by declaring that Yakes' actions "served a public purpose." Long-standing city policy calls for such legal fees to be paid when they are incurred as the result of the performance of official duties that serve a public purpose.

Gulfport to pay mayor's legal bill 03/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 3:30am]
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