UPDATE FOUR: Here's a link to my Channel 4 Action News story.
Blogger Bram Reichbaum has offered a response; click on "comments" at the bottom of this entry.
I've decided to break these into separate posts covering reaction from:
• Pat Ford's Attorney, Lawrence Fisher,
• Mayor Luke Ravenstahl,
• and Council President Doug Shields.
To start, here's my one-on-one Q&A with Fisher.
Q: "What word has Pat Ford gotten from the State Ethics Commission?"
A: "We have learned that the preliminary inquiry docketed and concerning Mr. Ford has terminated without a formal investigation."
Q: "In layman's words, what does that mean?"
A: "Pat Ford's been cleared."
Q: "And when you say Pat Ford has been cleared, to explain, cleared of what? He was never charged with anything; what was going on here? To recap what the State Ethics Commission was looking at -- what was he cleared of?
"A: The State Ethics Commission was investigating or had conducted a preliminary into certain nominal gifts received by Mr. Ford from a Lamar executive. Those gifts were not violative of law, and therefore no formal investigation is merited."
Q: "He himself had requested that the State Ethics Commission look into this -- conveyed that the URA board, which passed that on. He requested and was granted a paid leave of absence. With word that the State Ethics Commission review is over, what does Pat Ford want to have happen next?"
A: "We have formally and respectfully requested that Mr. Ford be fully restored to his position as Executive Director of the URA and that correspondence and request was sent to the counsel for the URA this morning."
Q: "...What was the scope of what they were looking at...and.. what did they say specifically about what they found and what they did not find?"
A: "The scope, I believe, was limited to these so-called gifts that Mr. Ford received. I think anyone who seriously believed that a multi-million dollar billboard project could be influenced by a couple of ties and cigars is foolish. This entire matter was a political tempest in a teapot. Mr. Ford did nothing wrong, he did not violate the law, and now he has been exonerated by an inquiry which was really not necessary, but for political reasons went forward. We have been advised that no formal investigation would follow and that's our understanding of the law and the state of the matter now."
Q: "When you say 'for political reasons went forward', he himself asked made it known that he wanted the state ethics commission to look at this -- from his point of view to clear his name?"
A: "That is correct because there are those out there who were sullying his name, such as council president (Doug Shields), for example, grandstanding on the issue. Raising all sorts of concerns in the media and publicly that there was something improper about a friend receiving a Christmas gift from another friend. It was necessary to combat Councilman Shields and his political tactics to request this investigation. no investigation will occur. We had a preliminary inquiry and it has concluded that there is no formal investigation merited."
(Reporter's note: I'll provide a response from Shields later in a separate post.)
Q: "...Given the fact that it took this many months, any regrets that he asked for the paid leave of absence? Could he, should he have stayed on the job all of this time?"
A: "Well, he certainly could have stayed on the job all of this time. However, for political reasons, that didn't happen. It is unfortunate for the city that political grandstanding resulted in the temporary leave of a decent public servant. It has been my privilege to represent Pat Ford and I am pleased to return a decent public servant to the service of our public."
Q: "Did either the mayor, or Yarone Zober -- as Chief of Staff and in his capacity as an official of the URA -- pressure or encourage Pat Ford to take a leave of absence while this was reviewed?"
A: "Well, there were certainly discussions with Mr. Zober, and Mr. Ford insisted upon his innocence and insisted upon a fair and proper treatment of the accusations against him. I don't want to characterize the interaction any further than that. Mr. Zober is of course Mr. Ford's boss at the URA. And they need to go back and work together and work through any difficulties that this painful process has caused."
Q: "How would you characterize Mr. Ford's relationship with the mayor, going forward? Can you at this point?"
A: "Well, I know that Pat Ford is fond of the mayor and looks forward to working with him. Understands the difficult position that the mayor was placed in, by virtue of the president of council and real political avarice that seems to be going on in our city these days. It's kind of disappointing to see such politics of personal destruction being played out by a city council president. Instead of moving forward with the business of the city, we had the business of the city halted for four months while we proved something that should have been obvious to everybody from the outset."
Q: "You single our the comments of Council President Doug Shields, specifically, as a source of politicizing this in your view?"
A: "Absolutely. He was dancing on this disaster. That's certainly not how our public officials should be behaving under these circumstances. You have to understand, Doug Shields initially supported this billboard. He pressed Pat Ford to get it done. All of a sudden, when the political winds changed, Doug Sheilds filed a lawsuit against the billboard. That's the epitome of flip-floppery. It's really -- it's discouraging. "
Q: "There were bloggers who had spotlighted the friendship between Pat Ford and Jim Vlasach of Lamar Advertising. Any comments about the way the information about their friendship came to light and the way it was spotlighted?"
A: "I think the bloggers are a red herring in all of this. I know they'd like to think of themselves as a real important piece of the story. But the politics are really occurring upstairs and not down there."
Q: "Summarize what the gifts were... and why... it was within this 'safe harbor' area you've described for gifts between friends."
A: "It was a surround sound system that was valued less than $200. Of course, the safe harbor of the law provides that gifts less than $250 in value do not need to be reported to the State Ethics Commission. And so the issue was whether this gift should have been reported or not. In addition I believe there were some cigars and neckties. All of which were given around the holidays. Some of which were given to Mr. Ford's wife, and in totality were nominal."
"That's why it's so troubling to see that something of that minuscule value would be blown up into such a brouhaha politically in this city. We've got better things to focus on. We have more important things to do than investigate officials who get neckties for Christmas."
A: "...We don't know what's happened in the four months that he's been gone, but I think that development in the city has been halted in a large way. And so, I'm sure that Pat's first order of business will be to get the wheels of development moving again."
Q: "How soon does he want to be back on the job?"
A: "Right away."
Q: "Could he show up at the office today? This week?"
A: "He certainly could, and certainly will when called upon to do so."
Q: "But he'll await a formal call from the URA board or the chair of the URA before showing up at the office?"
A: "Absolutely. That's the appropriate thing to do, I think."
Q: "For him and for his wife Alecia Sirk, what are their emotions, what's their state of mind today?"
A: "Pat feels vindicated. He said all along that he did nothing and now that has been proven. So, he is of course pleased with the outcome, although it's been a long road for him. This is not a man who is prone to vacations. Sitting around for four months, waiting to go back to work has not been an enjoyable experience for Pat Ford. But he is certainly vindicated today, and who wouldn't enjoy that?"
A: "Ultimately, when the commission meets, I believe in September, they will issue to Mr. Ford a formal declaration and at that time Mr. Ford would be free to share that with the public. However the rules of law provide for complete confidentiality regarding preliminary inquiries. Such that the State Ethics Commission cannot share its information with anyone other than the subject of the inquiry."
"...there is a provision in the law that allows for the commission to determine whether the matter was frivolous or not. And I suspect that they are going to formally say so, in September when they meet again. That this matter was frivolous and did not merit even a preliminary inquiry, let alone a formal investigation."
Q: "Can he talk to us today...?"
A: "I think it would be more appropriate to await until he's been fully restored to his position as executive director. Then he can speak to you in that capacity, which would be the appropriate capacity for him to speak to you in. Whereas, currently he's represented by legal counsel because this matter is a matter of employment law and contract law, and his rights and privileges under his contract with the URA -- and making sure that the URA adheres to those rights and privileges. And so it's best at this time that he speak through counsel, until such time as he's resumed his duties and is satisfied that there's going to be no adverse consequences to him as a result of the politics that permeate this problem. "
Still to come: reactions from Mayor Ravenstahl and Council President Doug Shields.
Check back a bit later.
Check back a bit later.