Commissioner Rachael Bennett cleared by Ethics Commission

A decision and vote made by St Johns County Commissioner Rachael Bennett three years ago has been at the heart of a complaint before the Florida Commission on Ethics since June of 2014. But today, Historic City News has obtained the findings of the Ethics Commission exonerating Commissioner Bennett.

Complaint No. 14-125 was filed by former St Johns County Republican State Committeeman, Edward “Randy” Covington, II.  At issue was Covington’s belief that Bennett misused her office to benefit paying clients of her consulting business and her former employer, David Hutson and the Hutson companies.  Hutson is the father of Florida Senator Travis Hutson.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Bennett told Historic City News on Friday after the hearing in Tallahassee.  “I have no idea why Randy seemed so obsessed with me.  I’m just glad this is over so I can move along with my life.”

Meeting in executive session on Friday, March 4, 2016, the Commission made the following findings of fact:

  • there is no probable cause to believe the Respondent, as a member of the Board of County Commissioners of St. Johns County and as the County Commission’s representative on the North Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization, violated Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes, by voting on a May 21, 2013, matter that inured to the special private gain or loss of a principal by whom she was retained;
  • there is no probable cause to believe the Respondent violated Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes, by using her position to benefit David Hutson and/or any Hutson-controlled entities regarding a proposed extension of State Road 313;
  • there is no probable cause to believe the Respondent violated Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes, by having an employment or contractual relationship with an entity that was doing business with her agency;

We informed Covington of the findings on Friday.  He indicated that he may want to write something in more detail later, but not now.

“I followed the only course I saw and that was a complaint to the Ethics Commission,” Covington said.  “It was not a political issue or personal issue for me, it was a matter of obligation and honor.”

Stanley M. Weston, Chair, Florida Commission on Ethics, signed the order clearing Bennett based on the preliminary investigation of this complaint and on the recommendation of the Commission’s Advocate, Melody A. Hadley.  “Accordingly, this complaint is dismissed with the issuance of this public report,” Weston ordered.

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