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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 16, 201612:00 PM EST

Ethics complaints dismissed against Kerri Stewart

by: David Chapman

Ethics complaints against Kerri Stewart, Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff, were dismissed Monday by the city Ethics Commission.

The complaints stemmed from a June audit critical of a 2007 city contract.

“I have known all along they were frivolous charges,” said Stewart. “I wasn’t worried but I am human and I feel vindicated.”

The Rev. Levy Wilcox, president of the Jacksonville chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, filed the complaints in August after the audit raised questions relating to nearly $318,000 being diverted from district bond account projects to a consultancy contract.

A City Council Auditor’s report said it was an inappropriate use of the funds while also highlighting Stewart and another city employee’s future employment with the consulting firm.

The Wilcox complaints focused on Stewart and Wight Greger’s alleged misuse of their positions and that future employment.

Stewart served as former Mayor John Peyton’s neighborhoods director in 2007 when a high-profile lobbying firm, Infinity Global Solutions, secured an $85,000 sole-source contract with the city for technical assistance and consultant services for affordable housing developments.

Stewart recommended the deal, which through a series of city-approved amendments ballooned to $953,000 by the time it ended in 2012.

The auditor’s report raised legal questions relating to close to $318,000 of that funding going toward theĀ  consultancy work, which happened when Stewart served as Peyton’s chief administrative officer in May 2011.

She left the city later that year for a job with Infinity Global Solutions.

The complaints also were levied against Greger, a former housing and neighborhoods director, who left the city in 2011 and later had the firm as a client.

After a review along with a response by Stewart and her attorney, former City Council President Jack Webb, city Ethics Officer Carla Miller recommended to the Ethics Commission the complaints be dismissed.

As for the allegation about Stewart’s misuse of the position, Miller noted there was no evidence Stewart or Greger had any involvement with acting as an Infinity Global Solutions employee or agent for the city in the matter.

Furthermore, the sole-source contract Stewart OK’d was later approved by a city procurement committee and Peyton’s chief of staff at the time.

The ethics code relates to future employment deals with elected officials, not appointed. And, according to Miller’s memo it couldn’t apply to the contract because it was signed before the rules went into effect in 2008 and was below a $250,000 threshold.

Furthermore, Stewart sought a legal opinion from the city’s Office of General Counsel about her employment with Infinity Global Solutions. There was no evidence she didn’t act in compliance with guidelines provided by city attorneys, according to Miller’s memo.

As for the auditor’s report about the illegality of reallocating the bond money toward the consulting contract, Stewart in her response said the council auditor’s office was incorrect — that consulting services were allowed for such capital improvement projects.

“I hope it’s over,” Stewart said today. “I never wanted this to be a distraction from the work we do in the mayor’s office.”

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