The Escambia County Commission dismissed a member of the Contractor Competency Board after he stepped down in issues dealing with contractors Matt Banks and Jesse Lacoste.
The committee voted four to one to remove Larry Downs Jr. from the board that oversees building contractors working in Escambia County.
Banks and LaCoste have several cases pending before the Competency Council alleging that they took payments for home remodeling jobs but did not complete the work.
Downs, who owns a plumbing company and has been on the board of directors since 2018, has stepped aside in the cases stating that he appeared to be inappropriate because he did plumbing work as a subcontractor to banks from 2015 to 2017. Downs said he also supported youth sports activities that were involved. where the banks.
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Downs said he stepped down from the Lacoste cases after learning that Lacoste was Banks’ brother-in-law.
“The only time I’d do something like that if I felt there could be a perception of impropriety,” Downs said. “That’s the only reason I did it. I don’t want anyone to feel like, ‘Well, Larry, he should’ve quit because he’s a friend’ or I just worked for him.”
While the attorney advising the Competency Council told Downs that he was allowed to step down, the commissioners did not believe the stepping down was legitimate.
Florida law allows for stepping down due to a “conflict of interest” or “conflict of interest emergence.” Former Florida Attorney General Views citing rulings of the Florida Ethics Commission that linked conflicts of interest to the official’s personal economic interests.
“I was frankly surprised that the attorney who was helping the Volunteer Council allowed this to happen, and that’s No. 1,” said committee chair Jeff Bergush. “But number 2, that’s not something that has to happen. I mean, when you volunteer on the board of directors, you have to make difficult votes. Sometimes when you make difficult votes, you have to vote things against the people that you know.”
Downs regularly attends local government meetings where he advocates for more libertarian and anti-regulatory policies at all levels of government.
“I have nothing against you personally,” said Bergoch. “I don’t agree with some of the things you have said about the lack of statutory law under the Constitution. I also don’t agree with your step-downs because, again, I don’t think they were appropriate. You had nothing for your own personal gain.” You didn’t have a conflict of interest that was really legitimate. I just think it was an easy way out of a tough vote.”
Downs said that in a case similar to that of Banks and Lacoste, he made a proposal to permanently revoke permit concessions to a government contractor, a much harsher punishment that other board members were willing to support.
“I’m not completely disorganized,” Downs said. “I just think the government is going too far.”
Downes said that if something needs to change with the Efficiency Board, the county commission should take action to change the ordinances under which it operates.
“Protocol, due process was carried out by everyone,” Downs said. “The board of directors has to follow that. Even the district attorney or the attorney who was appointed to this board just said now at the last meeting and the previous meeting, there’s nothing else you can do.”
Doug Underhill, who was the only one to vote without a vote on Downs’ removal, said he sees nothing out of place with Downs stepping down. Downs and Underhill have clashed publicly before, with Downs even going so far as to repeatedly challenge Underhill to fight him in a boxing match.
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“It’s interesting to me that we’re focusing on the one guy who stepped down and not on the eight… who didn’t hold the banks accountable when they had the opportunity,” Underhill said.
Commissioner Le Mon May said when the county commission on bank cases found out that it acted as aggressively as possible.
“When the situation was brought to my attention personally, we became very aggressive in trying to find a solution,” May said. “It’s, you’re right, it’s a system failure when people who put their savings in their lives are deceived and put to good use, and that’s just so disgusting to me.”
The committee voted Thursday to waive all building permit and inspection fees or refund previous permit fees for bank and Lacoste customers.
Commissioner Stephen Barry said Underhill’s view of the disqualification law was wrong and that Downes’ removal from the board had nothing to do with his political views or his public statements.
“It was voted down on the board, I think, unanimously after having been this behavior for a number of years,” Barry said, referring to Downes’ appointment to the board after years of public advocacy for an editorial. “So this is irrelevant, and drawing it any other way is just a deviation from what the issue is.”
With Downs removed, there are now two vacancies on the Contractor Competency Board.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.