Maddox’s case raises concern over government trust
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
While City Commissioner Scott Maddox hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing, recently issued search warrants by the FBI over his alleged business transactions is damaging to public trust in local government.
Keith Simmonds, a political science professor at FAMU also said Maddox could face a struggle if he decides to run for office again.
“It’s inevitable,” when it comes to the erosion of public trust following any sign of wrongdoing by an elected official, Simmonds said. He added that because the public isn’t generally informed when there is any semblance of potential wrongdoing by an individual that the consensus is to paint an entire governing body such as the City Commission with a broad brush.
“Maddox symbolizes what’s wrong in government, hence that broad brush,” Simmonds said.
“On one side of the aisle, in terms of public belief in these institutions, they communicate an impression of high degree among themselves,” he said. “When warrants are issued and even arrests sure, we think there is some justified reason to mistrust government.”
The search warrant came to light on March 12 when Federal court records of an alleged bribery scheme involving Maddox were released. His friend Paige Carter-Smith and Governance, a consulting firm that they own, were named in details of the FBI investigation.
Maddox took official actions to benefit his firm’s clients, the documents allege. The documents also allege that he took payments in exchange, diverting money through the firm.
News of the FBI warrant comes a month after Rick Fernandez resigned as city manager over reports that he took tickets worth $2,000 to an FSU football game. The ethics complaint also mentioned a $5,000 discount from the Edison restaurant for catering his daughter’s wedding.
However, City Commissioner Curtis Richardson said the public should understand that the cases of Maddox and Fernandez have nothing to do with the commission. He went further, saying that goes for the FBI investigation of the Community Redevelopment Agency as well.
Last spring, the FBI requested thousands of documents from the CRA in yet another investigation. The CRA is made up of city and county commissioners.
Critics weighed in as details emerged about the CRA case. Richardson attempted to clear up the perception that the CRA case involved city government, pointing out that the FBI’s subpoena for CRA records went to City Hall only because that’s where the organization’s office is located.
“The problem appears to be one corrupt public official, who happens to be with the city of Tallahassee,” Richardson said, referring to the Maddox investigation. “Neither Rick or Scott are representative of city government.
“There is no corrupt government in the city of Tallahassee. That’s the unfortunate thing for people to say corrupt.”
Watchdogs like Edward Holifield, a retired cardiologist, agreed with Simmonds on the question of public trust. In recent years, Holifield has questioned the validity of the CRA and has been outspoken on health disparities that he insist the government can fix.
He labeled commissioners as being submissive for brushing aside questions about their actions.
“They are dismissive, they are arrogant, they think that the ticket to being listened to is a campaign contribution,” Holifield said. “That’s how they got in trouble because there is so much money involved.
“I think what the FBI investigation did is finally forced people to listen to folks like me. I was just pretty much regarded as a fly on the tail of an elephant; a nuisance when I talked about all of the things that were happening to people.”
At the heart of public mistrust of government is the way democracy is practiced, Simmonds said.
“That gap really reinforces distrust,” he said. “In politics, the average person will not take the time to do the research. They’d rather rely on perception. Perception is the substitute for analysis and conclusion.”