Masson accusations against mayor and Historic City not sustained

WILLIE MASSON

WILLIE MASSON

As recently as last month, it continues to be apparent to observers of city government just how much ousted mayor Joe Boles, his family, friends, hand-picked board members, political appointees, and loyalists in the employ of the City, have not gotten over his defeat, despite the fact it occurred a year ago.

The holdovers from the Boles regime at City Hall as well as his cronies remaining on the commission and city manager’s office, to this day carry a grudge against Mayor Shaver. They try to marginalize her and are rude in their dealings with her. At the last meeting, Commissioner Todd Neville attempted to repeatedly instruct the mayor on how she is to conduct herself in dealings with those involved in lawsuits against the City.

On September 16, 2015, the City Attorney received the following e-mail from Willie Masson. He is the step-son of the defeated mayor, Joe Boles. He is, or was, a law student at Florida State University in Tallahassee and had come back to St Augustine to help Boles with his losing political campaign.

He writes:

–Original message–
From: William Masson
Date: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
To: Isabelle Lopez
Subject: Potential Voting Conflict

I’m writing to voice concerns over the nature of the website, nancyshaver.com, and the potential conflict it creates for Mayor Shaver.

Nancyshaver.com is registered to Historic City Companies, Inc., with the registrant name Historic City and the registrant e-mail, historiccity@gmail.com.

The header of the website has a picture of Mayor Nancy Shaver, next to the words “Mayor Nancy Shaver,” “City of St. Augustine, Florida,” “The Nation’s Oldest City,” “Established 1565.” The menu bar of the website has links to pages which appear to be intended to email Mayor Shaver, make scheduling requests with Mayor Shaver, and submit media inquiries to Mayor Shaver.

Additionally, there is a menu link titled “Meet Nancy Shaver,” and a calendar titled “Mayor Nancy Shaver.” Finally, the link to the far left of the top menu bar, which is not titled, leads to a login page which features the City Coat of Arms with the 450th Celebration logo.

On the left-hand side of each page of the website, there is a column titled “Follow Me On Twitter,” followed by tweets from Mayor Shaver. The published content on the website appears to be mostly, if not entirely, news (or editorials) about Mayor Shaver’s activities as Mayor.

I point all of this out because everything about nancyshaver.com would lead an ordinary person to believe that this is a website managed by Mayor Shaver, or one in which she is directly involved and is directly related to her service to the City of St. Augustine.

Either way, the website holds itself out as belonging to, or being controlled by, Mayor Shaver. However, the registrant is Historic City Companies, Inc., which is the same entity that owns and controls historiccity.com, more commonly referred to as Historic City News.

While this likely raises public record concerns, presumably, it would also indicate an ongoing business association between Mayor Shaver and Historic City Companies, Inc., through nancyshaver.com.

It would seem under the circumstances that it would be an ethical violation for Mayor Shaver to participate in any voting in regards to a potential lawsuit for libel against Historic City News, as such legal action or inaction “would inure to the special private gain or loss of a relative or business associate of the public officer.” FLA. STAT. §112.3143 (2015)

As such, I would expect the Mayor to “publicly state to the assembly the nature of the officer’s interest in the matter from which he or she is abstaining from voting and, within 15 days after the vote occurs, disclose the nature of his or her interest as a public record in a memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting, who shall incorporate the memorandum in the minutes,” (Id.) and to refrain from participating in any decision-making regarding Historic City News and Historic City Companies, Inc., until such a time that her business association with that entity has ended.

Furthermore, as websites derive their income from advertising, and advertising rates are dictated by traffic on the website, it seems inappropriate that historiccity.com, a business associate of Mayor Shaver, should be linked to by the City of St. Augustine website, which could likely lead to increased traffic to historiccity.com, and financial gain for a business associate of a public official, directly related to her public position.

I hope this message finds you well and I thank you for taking the time out of your extremely busy schedule to consider my concerns.

Best,
Willie Masson

When the mayor learned of the Masson e-mail, she decided that was enough badgering. Her successful relationship with Historic City Companies and Historic City News was perfectly legal and ethical and she derives no compensation from the activities of the company.

To send his step-son to carry his water in an attempt to illegally influence the outcome of a commission vote by demanding the Mayor’s recusal, was beneath contempt.

Accordingly, Shaver responded to a message from the City Attorney, Isabelle Lopez, asking that Lopez formally solicit the Florida Ethics Commission for a decision about the propriety of using a personal website, managed by Historic City Companies, her use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to communicate more fully with her constituents, and, whether or not a Florida ethics law violation was created or if any of her actions as a customer of Historic City Companies “would inure to the special private gain or loss of a relative or business associate of the public officer”, as Masson had alleged.

During their public meeting on Friday, December 11, 2015, the Commission ruled that the mayor’s activities constituted no ethical violation, she did not maintain a financial interest in Historic City Companies by virtue of being a customer, and she would have been obliged to vote had Neville not withdrawn his request, regardless of what the ex-mayor’s stepson learned at law school.

“I am pleased that the Florida Ethics Commission determined that using the services of Historic City Companies for website management did not provide any financial advantage to me — that in fact I pay the company for routine web services,” Shaver wrote in a media release Tuesday. “Transparency is what I stand for. It was important to me and, I believe, to the people of this City to have a clear ruling on the baseless allegations which seemed intended to interfere with the democratic process, and hinder me from casting my vote,” Shaver continued. “I was elected to represent the people of this City–and that means voting on all matters that come before the Commission; I take that very seriously. The Ethics Commission ruling is a clear victory for the democratic process, and I thank them for that.”

Below is the final decision of the Commission of Ethics, clearing Mayor Shaver of any wrongdoing and verifying that she has no interest that would require her recusal in a decision if it involved Historic City Companies, Inc.

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