The Florida Commission on Ethics has found what any logical person who examined the situation would have concluded: An ethics complaint filed against Largo Commissioner Rodney Woods by a failed commission candidate was without merit.
Woods continues to be a target of former candidate and Largo critic Curtis Holmes and a small group that supports Holmes. However, Holmes stooped really low when he filed what was clearly a frivolous state ethics complaint that has hung over Woods' head since January.
In his complaint, Holmes alleged that Woods had done something inappropriate by supporting construction of a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Largo Central Park and raising money for it. Holmes claimed that the city had said the project would be privately funded, with no city participation whatsoever, yet Woods used his official position to solicit funds.
"The city has NOTHING to do with this and he knows that," Holmes wrote in his complaint.
The relevant state ethics law is one that forbids public officials to "corruptly use or attempt to use" their positions "to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for himself, herself or others."
The Ethics Commission reviewed Holmes' complaint and other relevant information and dismissed the complaint for "legal insufficiency," finding nothing in the complaint to support the allegation that Woods or anyone else has obtained a personal benefit from the effort to build a King memorial.
The Ethics Commission's report on the complaint dismissal also blows up a claim Holmes and his cohorts have made that the King memorial is a private, not a city, venture — an outcome Holmes may not have expected when he filed the complaint against Woods.
"Minutes of City Commission meetings and workshops indicate otherwise," states the report, which then proceeds to list a number of indications that the effort is a city project, including four months of study by the city in 2003, creation of a City Commission-appointed citizen committee (on which Woods, then a private citizen, served), City Commission acceptance of the memorial committee's report, various City Commission discussions and actions on the memorial design and budget, commission discussions and decisions about where the memorial should be built, a decision to contribute $15,000 in seed money to the project, and commission discussion indicating that Woods and City Commissioner Andy Guyette should head up a community fund-raising campaign.
"It is clear," the Ethics Commission report states, "that the city has an interest in the project and has in fact retained a degree of control over it. That being the case, it cannot be said that use by (Woods) of his public position in the fundraising effort was inconsistent with the proper performance of his public duty..."
While Woods lately has been the strongest commission advocate for building a small memorial plaza in Largo Central Park, he was not the one who originally suggested it. It was suggested years before he was elected by Commissioner Harriet Crozier, who wanted the city to build a "Martin Luther King Circle of Peace and Humanity" in the park. Crozier suggested the project for the same reason Woods has advocated it: The city has received bad press over incidents related to race, and both public officials wanted a visible reminder built in a public place that would tell a different story — an uplifting story — about Largo and the hearts of its residents.
That remains today an excellent reason to build the memorial in Largo Central Park, where it can be seen and used by children and adults alike.
Largo is fortunate to have an advocate for peace, diversity and social consciousness on its City Commission. How unfortunate that to some people, that makes Woods a target.