The Florida Commission on Ethics found no probable cause Friday to continue investigating violations alleged against outgoing Walton County Commissioner Cecilia Jones.
The findings were confirmed by Lynda Morse and Art Miller, a county resident and former county resident whose complaints had been merged during the course of an eight-month investigation.
Both expressed frustration with the Ethics Commission's ruling.
“What a travesty,” Miller said in an email.
Jones, who was defeated Aug. 28 in a bid for re-election to the commission, provided a lengthy statement on the Ethics Commission’s decision.
“I am grateful that the Florida Commission on Ethics accepted the recommendation of the Assistant Attorney General and tossed out these completely baseless and petty complaints,” it said. “From the moment I stood up for public use of the beach in 2016, customary use opponents and their political allies have thrown the kitchen sink at me because I have been unafraid to call them out on their own behavior. These complaints against me were simply one part of a broader strategy to silence those of us who refuse to back down in the fight for customary use.
“I am grateful to have served our county for 35 years as a public school teacher and for seven years as a commissioner. During those many years, nobody filed a single complaint about me until I started advocating forcefully for public use of the beach,” the statement said. “It is only fitting that my complete vindication against these ridiculous complaints comes on the evening before Walton County takes action to protect public use of the beach. Nothing will silence me in that fight and no amount of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants, or special interests will silence the people of Walton County.”
The probable cause hearing was held because the investigator in the case had found sufficient reason to bring it before the commission for consideration.
Commissioners acted on the recommendation of attorney Melody Hadley to reject further investigation.
The charges included four that accused Jones of misusing her office to benefit family, influence an election, commit Sunshine Law violations and affect the outcome of a whistle-blower lawsuit. It also alleged she had provided erroneous information of ex parte communication forms and posted false information on social media.