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Gallagher employs subordinate

A fire marshal has run his rental properties for 11 years. A law school professor says it doesn’t look good.

By JONI JAMES and KRIS HUNDLEY
Published June 9, 2006



TALLAHASSEE — Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher employs one of his subordinates at the Florida Department of Financial Services to manage his six rental properties in Tallahassee, which comprise  21 units.

Rick Lanway, a 47-year-old Tallahassee resident and state fire marshal employee, arranges maintenance for Gallagher’s properties and picks up rent checks. Tenants said Lanway sometimes arrives in his state fire marshal vehicle, which Gallagher said he didn’t know.
 

The private contract between Lanway and Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, doesn’t appear to violate any state ethics laws. Nor does Gallagher’s hiring of another state employee, Department of Management Services groundskeeper Lawrence Medlock, for landscape work at his home and rental properties.

Both relationships came to light recently as the St. Petersburg Times examined Gallagher’s extensive property holdings in the state’s capital as part of its campaign coverage.

Gallagher rejected Friday that there was anything inappropriate about supervising Lanway in a state job and hiring him for outside work. Gallagher first hired Lanway to work on his properties 11 years ago, when Gallagher wasn’t an elected official and Lanway worked for the Department of Management Services, which is overseen by the governor. Nor was Gallagher in charge of the state fire marshal office when Lanway was hired in 2000.

“He’s a good, hardworking man,” Gallagher said in a phone interview from the campaign trail. “I know (state employees) can have outside work that they need to make additional money to make ends meet. He’s been doing that for a long time.”

But University of Miami Law School Professor Tony Alfieri said it was a bad idea.

“The danger or risk of retaining public officials or quasi-public officials (like a fire marshal) for private enterprise is that you create an appearance or perception in the public mind that the enforcement powers of the state government are at work,” said Alfieri, who directs the law school’s Center for Ethics and Public Service.

Lanway, who is assigned a state vehicle full time for his job inspecting state buildings in 11 Panhandle counties, including Tallahassee’s Leon County, declined to comment through a department spokesman.

Under department policy, Lanway can use a state vehicle for incidental stops, such as picking up milk on the way home, but not other personal use.

The department has received no complaints about his misuse of a state vehicle, said Tami Torres, communications director for the department. She said when she asked Lanway whether he had used the vehicle to pick up rental checks, Lanway told her, “I might have. I don’t know.’”

If that has happened, Gallagher said Friday, “we need to look into it.”

“I know he knows” to keep his state and private work separate, he said.

Lanway, first hired when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Tallahassee, was state treasurer, earns $42,443 annually. He got a 5 percent raise in 2004, the same as about 200 others during a department-wide wage adjustment.

Gallagher’s 2004  tax returns, the latest the candidate has made available to the public, show he paid $1,430 for a management fee on three of his six rental properties. Gallagher also provided copies of IRS forms Friday that showed he paid Lanway a total of $5,145 that year for his work.

Gallagher’s rental properties in Tallahassee span the breadth of the city’s rental market, from run-down, student-oriented housing to an upscale townhome 3 miles from the Capitol and a single-family house once used by his mother.

Two of Gallagher’s tenants at a pair of triplex apartments off Rumba Lane in west Tallahassee told the Times that Lanway had used his state vehicle to pick up checks, which he does by the fifth of each month. He also arranges for any maintenance needs the tenants have, though he often hires others, on behalf of Gallagher, to do the work.

The two-story one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments at Rumba are at the low end of Gallagher’s property portfolio, going for $500 monthly rent. Tucked amid heavy vegetation on a potholed private road lined with similar units, the apartments show termite damage on the fascia.

But tenants, many of whom had large dogs, had few complaints. Will Bennett, who has been a tenant at 2515 Rumba Court for about five months, said Lanway generally responds quickly to tenant complaints. One ongoing problem are bugs, Bennett said. “They’re crawling all over the stairs at night,” he said.

Across town just a mile from the Capitol, Gallagher owns an attractive 12-unit brick apartment complex built in 1947 with modest apartments renting for $500 to $600 a month. Impatiens and azaleas line the walkways. Maintenance man Steve Ball, called to the building last Wednesday by Lanway to do some work, said he enjoys working for Gallagher. He knows Lanway from when they both did maintenance work at Las Palms, a large east Tallahassee apartment complex.

Medlock, photographed Thursday as he laid fertilizer at Gallagher’s Tallahassee home after clocking out of his day job with the state, said he’d worked for Gallagher for 18 years. He plans to vote for him, saying the state would miss out if Gallagher loses.

Under Florida law, state officers and employees are prohibited from “corruptly” using their positions to secure a special benefit. It also bans conflicting employment and contractual relationships.

However, the language is broad. And the state Ethics Commission, which is charged with enforcing the law, has repeatedly found that in general, contracts between public employees and their subordinates — when no signs of coercion exist — don’t violate the law when the contract’s business doesn’t relate to a government entity.

The commission warned in a 1990 opinion, though, that “we can envision circumstances’’ where an employee’s private interests could impact his ability to evaluate the subordinate’s performance. Alfieri, the ethics expert, agreed: “The blurring of that public-private boundary in a civic democratic society is unhealthy,” he said.

Times photographer Willie Allen and staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Joni James can be reached at (850)224-7263 or jjames@sptimes.com