JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Allegations have surfaced of a top elected leader in Jacksonville flirting with young employees, drinking with them in the office, and inviting one into the shower.
An Action News viewer alerted our newsroom, concerned about alleged mismanagement by a publicly elected official, and married father, going unchecked.
Action News investigator Lynnsey Gardner began digging into these allegation of impropriety by Matt Shirk, our county public defender, for more than a month and it's been a challenge.
Gardner has been making official requests for more than a month. Apparently, our questions were too tough.
A published report shows the agency tried to hide documents from us. We know of at least two lies they've told Action News, raising questions about the ethics of the office.
Since July 22, Action News has been trying to get to the bottom of allegations of inappropriate behavior by Shirk in the workplace. We filed an open records request through his public information officer, Matt Bisbee.
Among several documents we specified: the initial resignation letter by the office's lead investigator, Alton Kelly. Bisbee called us back the next day.
He told us that letter did not exist. We now know Kelly submitted his resignation via email, a full seven days before our request.
That email was dated July 15, 2013. It reads:
"Please let this email tender my resignation. I have been trying for about four weeks to talk to you. Al Kelly, Director of Investigations."
Kelly sent that email directly to the Public Defender, Matt Shirk. He copied Shirk's Chief of Staff, Ron Mallett, and Denise Ostertag, the office's administrative director. The very next day, Ostertag responded, asking when the effective date would be.
What's more, on July 22, 2013 -- the day we filed our first request for public information -- Kelly claims he received a voice mail from Ron Mallett in which Mallett said, "Hey buddy, it's Ron. We've had a public information request regarding your resignation from Action News. Would you mind if we actually typed up a resignation letter so we don't have to use the email, and make it, uh, more official? Anyway, if you want to give me a call back or shoot me a text and let me know what you think."
The Florida Times-Union first reported this voice mail Sunday, weeks after our investigation started. Today the Public Defender's office told us that voice mail referenced in the Florida Times-Union was not complete. They claimed there was more information about needing a formal resignation date from Kelly, but we obtained the entire 28-second recording and that was never mentioned.
As stated above, there was no request for a resignation date.
Mallett tried to further explain he was mistaken in what he first told us and sent a supplemental text for that date. If he did send that and about 10 other texts he's now claiming exist, all of them should have been included in the personnel file.
We have three out of more than a dozen that Mallet now claims exist, something Bisbee said he is very concerned about. He told Action News on Monday he will now press for an internal investigation.
Action News will not stop digging to get the public the information they are entitled to and to make sure the Public Defender's Office is able to handle important court discovery and other critical documents within their office.
A spokesperson for the governor's office, Jackie Schutz, issued this statement:
"The allegations reported by the Florida Times Union are troubling, and if true, would be inconsistent with the high standards of ethical behavior Governor Scott expects from public officials. We’ve received the state attorney’s request. Our office is consulting with other state attorneys to determine who can take the assignment."