Local blogger Francis Paul Ripp, who writes The Ripp Report blog, has filed a complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission against Fairhope Councilman Robert Brown regarding his private business involvement with the renovations to the Eastern Shore Art Center.
In posts on his blog made Feb. 23 and Feb. 27, Ripp lays out his case against Brown, whom Ripp alleges got the contract because of his involvement on the board of the Eastern Shore Art Center.
“Mr Brown is a city councilman, a Board member, and city Representative, for the non-profit Eastern Shore Art Center and general partner of Mr Cliff Pittman (sic), Pittman (sic) and Brown Development Co. Mr. Pittman (sic) is a director of Single Tax,” Ripp wrote in the Feb. 23 post entitled “The Fairhope Jester”. “Brown and Pittman (sic) had advanced knowledge of the Eastern Shore Art Center, ESAC, construction contract and Mr Pittman (sic) voted to approve Single Tax money designated for the project. Mr. Brown told the Board of ESAC that he had ‘permission,’ in all his capacities, to proceed with Pittman-Brown (sic) securing the contract. He had no such permission and the ESAC Board failed to act as a proper board by allowing the contract without demanding an Ethics Advisory Opinion. Fact is Mr. Brown never applied for an advisory opinion. At this writing it is not known if ESAC bid out the job or just awarded it to Pittman Brown (sic) without competitive bids.”
Ripp cites a Aug. 11, 2017, letter given to him by Brown from the Alabama Ethics Commission as further proof Brown should not have been awarded the contract.
“What’s important is that you cannot use your office to create a benefit for ourself or any business with which you’re associated or your family,” the ethics letter states to Brown. “You may bid on the work but you cannot have used or use in the future your position to get it awarded.”
In his letter to the Alabama Ethics Commission, Ripp again said Brown should never have even bid on the contract.
“Mr. Brown should not have proceeded to secure the contract with Eastern Shore Art Center after receiving your very clear warning,” Ripp wrote. “If he were to proceed he would have had to request a formal opinion from the Ethics Commission, which he did not. This is a classic example of how elected officials use the Ethics Commission as a vehicle to justify their actions. Mr. Brown told the Board of the Art Center that he went to great pains to ‘Get Permission’ from the Ethics Commission to proceed. I doubt they ever read the Informal Opinion.”
Councilman Brown’s response
Brown responded to Ripp’s allegations in a March 2 post entitled “What is the truth? Part 2” on his campaign Facebook page Robert Brown For Our Hometown.
Brown’s post reads as follows:
“This week I’ll turn my attention to a local blogger. I do not give his actions or writings much credit. And I don’t believe many other citizens do. However, I feel both the citizens that support me or those that live in reality, deserve the truth. Otherwise this individual goes unchecked and his innuendo could creep into some people’s mind.
“He published in his blog that our business name is Pittman Brown Development Co. Wrong, first Pitman has one ’t’ not two and we are legally HC Pitman Inc., doing business as Pitman Brown. ‘We’ have never developed anything. I am a builder, for those that don’t know. I stated I was a builder at open forums while campaigning, I have nothing to hide, and I am actually proud of my profession.
“So this blogger filed an ethics complaint with the Alabama ethics commission against me this week. His claim is that I shouldn’t have taken the bid for the work being performed at the Eastern Shore Art Center. I anticipated his actions so I took preemptive measures to be sure.
“I sent a request to the ethics commission prior to bidding on the project. I felt I was fine bidding on the project but wanted clarification. The Alabama ethics commission asked some questions and I answered them. The Alabama ethics commission‘s final response was and I state;
“what’s important is you cannot use your office to create a benefit for yourself or any businesses with which you were associated or your family. You may bid on the work but you cannot have used or use in the future your position to get it awarded.“
“I did not use my position as Fairhope city councilman to get it rewarded. We were awarded the project because of our reputation.
“This blogger continues to mislead and attempt to negatively influence our town. What he doesn’t mention or know is over the years our company has performed many projects for both the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation and the Eastern Shore Art Center. Before I was elected to City Council or an ESAC board member. Over the years we have also done projects for FHS Booster club; I built the pantry for Ecumenical Ministries, Cliff built the Pelican’s Nest for FEEF to name a few. We have and will continue to work with and for our partners in our community. The blogger claims he’s not sure if the project was bid out. The ESAC is a nonprofit; they don’t follow municipal bid law where projects are publicly bid.
“I can handle criticism and understand it comes along with being a public official. But I will not allow those who seek to divide our city to do so untruthfully.”