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Despite ‘questions,’ grand jury clears Andrew Gillum in email controversy

in 2017/Top Headlines by

A Leon County grand jury cleared Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum after an investigation into his use of a city-funded email program used to send private and political messages.

But its report, released Tuesday, also found the “governmentally leased software was used for personal and political purposes outside the scope of legitimate communication with constituents.”

Grand jurors were further “disturb(ed)” that “expenditures by the City of Tallahassee’s elected officials are completely unchecked by internal audit or regulation,” suggesting the city “empower some body” to oversee spending by them and their staffs.

The grand jury returned a ‘no true bill,’ meaning it did not find enough evidence to charge Gillum or his staff with breaking any laws. It reviewed whether Gillum and staff ran afoul of the state’s official misconduct statute.

The report was dated Monday and released Tuesday by Gillum’s mayoral office, ahead of it being released by State Attorney Jack Campbell. Mayoral spokesman Jamie Van Pelt explained later Tuesday that “the State Attorney alerted me when the proper steps were taken to make the grand jury findings a public record.”

“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.

“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.”

The report said “no evidence was found to suggest Gillum directed or was personally involved in the decision to send four political emails or any other communications” using the system.

Geoff Burgan, communications director for the Gillum for Governor campaign, later released his own statement, saying the “announcement makes clear what we have said for months — the Mayor did nothing illegal and he has been the victim of a vicious smear campaign by those threatened by the most viable progressive campaign in Florida history.”

Burgan did not say who was doing what smearing.

“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,” he added.

As the Tallahassee Democrat explained in April, “political content was not limited to emails that surfaced earlier this year on software the Mayor’s Office bought from a Democratic Party vendor with city money,” mentioning that emails to and from “the Mayor’s Office show a busy and confusing intersection between the personal, the political and the professional.”

But it wasn’t illegal, the grand jury found.

“While the investigation shows that this software was capable of fundraising and other activities that might not serve a legitimate (government) interest, the only way it was utilized was a client relations management system distributing mass emails,” the report said. “The wisdom or waste of officials in deciding which tools to use is a political issue and not one for criminal prosecution.”

The full report as released by the Mayor’s Office is below:

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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