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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2021 1 month ago

Former Mayor Milissa Holland cleared of six Ethics Commission allegations, faulted for one

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The commission found probable cause to believe that Holland violated ethics rules by using her city email account to send two emails promoting her employer, Coastal Cloud.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

The Florida Commission on Ethics has cleared former Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland of six of the seven accusations levied against her in a complaint by a former city staff member. 

"I am thankful that the commission unanimously saw through and confirmed what I have stated from the very beginning: That the allegations in the complaint were shown to have no merit."

 

— MILISSA HOLLAND, former Palm Coast mayor

The commission, in a hearing on Holland's case, found probable cause for the allegation that Holland had "misused her public position and/or public resources" by sending two emails promoting her employer, Coastal Cloud, from her official city email account to the city of Orlando, the commission stated in a press release.

Holland had said the emails were sent from her city email account inadvertently.

"Upon leaving the Ethics commission meeting I was extremely grateful of the outcome," Holland said. "Other than what I have already acknowledged and addressed to the public, the media and the commission several months ago in regards to the two emails sent, I am thankful that the commission unanimously saw through and confirmed what I have stated from the very beginning: That the allegations in the complaint were shown to have no merit."

She said she looked forward to resolving the one outstanding allegation with the commission, and called the allegations "a political stunt."

"We must move past this as a community," she said. "We must rise above this, as our future is reliant on this. It has been my distinct honor to have served this community for several years and will continue to advocate for the best of Palm Coast moving forward."

The commission, contravening the commission advocate who'd prosecuted the case, found no probable cause to believe that Holland "had a conflicting employment or contractual relationship that created a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between her private interests and the performance of her public duties, or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of her public duties," according to the press release from the Ethics Commission.

Commissioners in a July 23 hearing on Holland's case noted that the city had not paid Coastal Cloud and did not have an ongoing contractual relationship with Coastal Cloud. 

As to the emails, Holland's attorney Mark Herron told commissioners at the hearing, Holland had committed an "innocent and inadvertent mistake" by sending the emails when logged into the wrong account — an error he said he'd made himself, from time to time, when writing emails from a phone or iPad the had multiple email accounts online.

"We can’t get to the point where every inadvertent and mistaken use of an email system turns into an ethics violation," Herron said. 

One commissioner was sympathetic, saying he'd made that mistake as well and that he believed that the context and wording of Holland's emails suggested that she hadn't meant to send them from her city email account. But the other commissioners were not convinced: One said that even if Holland had sent the emails from her official account inadvertently, public officials have a responsibility to be careful in their use of technology. 

Holland, elected in November 2016, had been hired as director of business development for Coastal Cloud in the summer of 2017. Later that year, the city entered a contract with Coastal Cloud for the construction of the city's citizen engagement platform, Palm Coast Connect.

The contract entailed no payment from the city to Coastal Cloud; the only cost to the city came in the form of annual license fees for the city's use of the Salesforce software platform required to run Palm Coast Connect.

In 2018, Holland sent two emails promoting Coastal Cloud to Orlando city staff members from her official account, and the commission found probable cause that those two emails constituted an ethics violation. Holland said she'd sent them from her city email account inadvertently. 

She was not faulted for an October 2017 email from her city email account to elected officials around the state — including to Palm Coast City Councilmen Nick Klufas and then-Palm Coast City Councilman Bob Cuff — promoting Coastal Cloud. She'd told the Palm Coast Observer in a July 2, 2020, interview, that she hadn't actually written the email — Coastal Cloud's marketing department had done so based on interviews with her, she said — and had not authorized its sending from her official city email account. 

Other allegations for which the commission found no probable cause were that Holland had improperly commingled city business with her private employment interests though the city's contract with Coastal Cloud; that she misused her position to influence the city's actions regarding a technology study; that Coastal Cloud's sponsoring of the city's Hackathon event was improper; and that she'd misused her public position to write recommendation letters for her employer's daughter.

— Brian McMillan contributed to this story.

‚ÄčThis story has been updated to clarify which of Holland's emails led to the commission's finding of probable cause.

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