COMMENTARY | The whistleblower who was instrumental in convincing city officials to launch an investigation into former city Inspector General Lisa Green — which culminated in her resignation under pressure in January — was fired earlier this year, according to records and interviews.
The whistleblower, Andrew McFarlane, the office’s former director of investigations, maintains he was fired “without cause” and was provided no reason for his termination in February by interim Inspector General Sheryl Goodman.
McFarlane filed a wide-ranging complaint after he left the office alleging his termination was retaliation for his role as a whistleblower and for having raised concerns about the way the office was handling a remarkably long-running investigation into the former head of the city’s Office of Sports and Entertainment. The results of that investigation have still not been released.
The highly secretive nature of the office has made it difficult to determine what precisely was behind Goodman’s decision.
Goodman, who left city employment in March when the City Council confirmed a permanent leader of the office, said she “cannot confirm or discuss any open investigation.”
L.E. Hutton, the chief assistant state attorney and chair of the inspector general oversight committee, likewise could not comment on McFarlane’s departure or his subsequent complaint. “As is the case with all complaints, any allegations will be investigated to determine their merit,” he said.
Secretive Inspector General’s office in disarray
McFarlane was the first employee in the office to become one of several whistleblowers who accused Green, the former inspector general, of a broad range of misdeeds, including discrimination, repeatedly making sexual comments about herself and her colleagues, and lacking the neutrality necessary to conduct investigations of city officials.
Green denied those allegations and characterized herself as a demanding boss under attack by under-performing employees, singling out McFarlane, her No. 2 in charge at the time, in particular. But attorneys in the city’s Office of General Counsel investigated those accusations and found many of them substantiated by records and a series of sworn interviews with office employees — findings that convinced the oversight committee to convert those allegations into formal charges against Green, which put her on track for potential firing before she eventually resigned.
Together, the records painted a picture of the secretive office in disarray and divided by personal and professional grudges, jealousies and anger.
A source of dispute between McFarlane and Green was the investigation into Ryan Ali, the former head of the city’s Office of Sports and Entertainment.
The office ordinarily does not confirm or deny the existence of open investigations, but Green, in a sworn interview with city attorneys last year, revealed that the yet-to-be released report was 100 pages long and divided into four sections — a mammoth effort she said was languishing because McFarlane wasn’t meeting deadlines.
McFarlane has accused Green and, later, Goodman, of mishandling the case, alleging that important findings made by investigators would be left out of the final product.
Investigation into Office of Sports and Entertainment continues
The records pertaining to open inspector general investigations remain confidential until a final report is released, so it’s difficult to litigate the merits of the back-and-forth allegations among the former inspector general employees.
But this is abundantly clear: The Ali investigation has long been fraught with controversy, and the IG’s office has struggled under multiple leaders to complete it. Goodman, who the oversight committee hired to provide stability while the search for a permanent leader was underway, made it a point to finish up long-delayed reports that Green failed to complete.
But the report still didn’t come out by the time Goodman had finished up her interim duties in March, when the Jacksonville City Council approved the hiring of Matthew Lascell, a former director in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, as the new inspector general.
That means the Ali report is being passed on to its third inspector general.
Lascell said he “cannot disclose information or verify the existence of an ongoing investigation.”
“I assure you it is my intention to release all investigations in accordance with policies and procedures,” he said. “I never want to sacrifice thoroughness for the sake of expedience, but truly understand and appreciate the need for timeliness and transparency.”
Ali’s attorney said he had no comment for this column.
The Ali investigation dates at least back to September 2020, when Mayor Lenny Curry’s office informed him he had been placed on administrative leave. By December of that year, Ali had resigned. “I have always placed the best interests of the taxpayers above those of career government bureaucrats,” Ali wrote in his resignation letter.
He had become a divisive figure within the Office of Sports and Entertainment almost from the beginning. Multiple employees there believed he was unqualified to lead them — prior to hiring Ali, the mayor’s office filed legislation watering down the requirements for the post — and ultimately many of them came to believe he fostered a toxic work environment.
At the same time, Ali was widely known to be a friend of the Curry family.
It’s unlikely the topics the Inspector General’s Office focused on were limited to complaints about his leadership style — the office is set up to examine allegations of waste, fraud or abuse — but it’s unclear what those other accusations were. Either way, the complaints were enough to generate a draft inspector general report 100 pages long.
Among the findings city attorneys made about Green’s leadership of the Office of Inspector General was an allegation she lacked the neutrality necessary to conduct investigations (an accusation she denied). That alleged tendency cut both ways: Some employees said Green seemed deferential to high-powered city officials; others said she would convince herself an employee was guilty of wrongdoing from the outset and work backwards from there.
Those allegations will loom over the Ali report, whenever it’s released.
Although much of the daily workings of the Office of Inspector General are shrouded in secrecy, my reporting shows this clearly: Lascell, the new inspector general, inherited an office still struggling to move beyond Green’s troubled tenure. McFarlane is not the only employee who has moved on since February.
Righting the ship is a more complicated task than resolving the controversy around one long-delayed investigation, but it would be a good start.
Nate Monroe is a metro columnist for the Florida Times-Union. His column regularly appears every Thursday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter @NateMonroeTU.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Man who blew whistle on Jacksonville inspector general was fired