A Leon County grand jury has exonerated Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in an investigation involving his political use of a government email server, but members of the jury said they found other aspects of Tallahassee government “disturbing” and “unchecked.”
The grand jury returned the “No True Bill,” which means there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Gillum or his staff with breaking any laws.
The request for an investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by Paul Henry, a Monticello man who alleged Gillum had committed grand theft and official misconduct by paying nearly $4,000 of city funds for the NGP-VAN software despite believing the server would serve no purpose to the average taxpayer.
“Actions such as these erode public confidence in our government, so it is my hope your office will diligently investigate these allegations,” wrote Henry to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in March.
The case was referred to a grand jury at Henry’s request.
Gillum announced Tuesday he had been cleared of all wrongdoing in the case, which quickly became the center of political attacks from conservatives who said the email scandal was a prime indication as to why Gillum would be an ineffective governor.
The Republican Governors Association, the group responsible for electing and supporting GOP governors nationwide, has taken a particular interest in the scandal, never wasting a moment to pile on with criticisms, pushing Gillum to own up to whether or not he had been a repeat offender of using the city's email for political purposes.
“Florida voters won’t tolerate Andrew Gillum’s attempt to use government resources for his own election purposes,” RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson told Sunshine State News in March. “Gillum should immediately come clean and admit if he’s done this before, and if so, explain why he believes that he is above the law.”
The group also scoffed at Gillum's apology over his use of the email software. To them, Gillum's "I'm sorry" seemed more like an performance than an act of contrition.
The two-time Tallahassee mayor declared victory Tuesday, with a heavy weight lifted off his shoulders.
The allegations of misconduct have dogged Gillum for most of the year, cutting both into precious campaign time and into the mayor’s own fundraising pot. Previous estimates found Gillum had spent nearly $25,000 on attorney’s fees, attempting to put the kibosh on the accusations once and for all.
"“As I have continuously stated during this exhaustive, five-month long investigation, our office used the NGP software to remain in contact with the Tallahassee community about the ambitious agenda we have put forward,” Gillum said in a statement released Tuesday. “I am pleased that the grand jury found no wrongdoing by myself and my office and I look forward to continuing the important work on behalf of the City of Tallahassee and its residents.”
Yet in spite of the grand jury clearing Gillum, it still found Gillum had done wrong by the city, with the report indicating “governmentally leased software was used for personal and political purposes outside the scope of legitimate communication with constituents.”
The grand jury’s report also commented on an “unchecked” system of power in Tallahassee, since city officials are not placed under an internal audit or regulation. The grand jury later said there was a genuine need to have the city “empower some body” to oversee officials in the state capital’s spending.
The grand jury’s reservations aside, Gillum’s campaign team vowed to move forward past the scandal, hoping Tuesday’s events would help Gillum embark on a new chapter -- and reroute his journey back onto the path of running for governor with no scandals trailing behind him.
“Today’s announcement makes clear what we have said for months — the Mayor did nothing illegal and has been the victim of a vicious smear campaign by those threatened by the most viable progressive campaign in Florida history,” said Gillum spokesperson Geoff Burgan. “This news should put an end to the smears and return the focus to the issues people care about — affordable healthcare, good-paying jobs, and social equality.”
Republicans, however, didn’t appear ready to let up on their criticisms Gillum too easily. Leon County Republican Party chair Evan Power told Sunshine State News Tuesday he would be requesting the full investigation report from the Sheriff's Office with the intent to file a complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission.
“It is sad that the mayor thinks that using tax dollars in a manner that the grand jury deemed questionable [is] not important to voters,” said Leon County GOP chair Evan Power. “These ethical problems highlight the fact that Andrew Gillum is not prepared to lead Florida.”