LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — A man facing felony charges for fraudulently approving building inspections in Lynn Haven after Hurricane Michael received strong support from two individuals who are now themselves facing felony charges.
Michael Gordon, 59, of Lynn Haven is charged with public order crimes and fraud. Investigators said Gordon ordered employees to inspect buildings even though they were not qualified to perform the inspections. According to an employee Gordon was doing this both in Lynn Haven and in Bay County when he worked as a building inspector for the Bay County Building Department.
According to records obtained from the County Gordon was hired in 1981 as a building official and resigned in 2009. A document obtained by News 13 and filed with Bay County states that Gordon was told he would be fired in July of 2009 after he admitted to being involved in a relationship with his secretary. He resigned rather than face termination.
After quitting his job at the county Gordon was hired as a building inspector for Panama City Beach. He was not a direct employee of the city but was hired as a third-party contractor.
Lynn Haven Chief Rickie Ramie said last week that Gordon’s actions will mean that homes and buildings across the city will need to be reinspected. He added that he was concerned about the safety of those living and working in those structures.
Video of a Lynn Haven City Commission meeting from May of 2019 shows that Gordon enjoyed strong support from then-Mayor Margo Anderson and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction. Anderson and Finch now face federal charges for corruption and bribery.
Prosecutors have charged nine people in the case. Five of them have already pleaded guilty while Finch, Anderson, former City Attorney Adam Albritton, and former City Commissioner Antonius Barnes are awaiting trial.
In the May meeting, Finch and Anderson pointed out that EPCI, the company tasked with building inspections had quit and urged the commission to hire Gordon.
“Our citizens have come in for week after week,” Anderson said. “My phone every day is ringing with people telling me they can’t get this done, they can’t get a permit, they can’t get an inspection and this has been going on for months.”
Finch, as is his style, was even more blunt, and noted that he could not get the power turned on at one of his buildings because he could not get ECPI to finish their work.
“I would fire their ass,” he said. “Put Gordon in there.”
The commission was then cautioned by Albritton that some due diligence needed to be done before hiring Gordon. In particular, he was concerned that the city would be on the hook to keep paying ECPI while also paying Gordon because the contract had not formally ended.
The short time frame suggested, at one point as little as 24 hours, was not good enough for Finch.
“If you put it off you just keep putting everything else off,” he said. “We didn’t elect no lawyer up here. And he’s a friend of mine. I don’t listen to my lawyer most of the time. Some day if I go to the courthouse I’m going to listen to him but I don’t listen to him on business decisions.”
Commissioner Judy Tinder also weighed in.
“It’s just like having someone come to the emergency room and they’re bleeding to death. We can’t not take any actions and put everybody on hold,” she said. “We need to at least put a bandaid on it until we can call in specialists.”
Anderson added that her personal connection with Gordon influenced her recommendation.
“I am certainly not trying to push Mike Gordon down anybody’s throat. I just happen to know him personally. The beach (The City of Panama City Beach) is very pleased with what he has done out there,” she said. “I am certainly not trying to push anyone on anyone. I just, I know this man personally. He has great integrity. He lives in Lynn Haven. He is someone who will work to help Lynn Haven.”
The commission then hired Gordon with a unanimous vote.
Panama City Beach officials confirmed Monday that they are terminating their contract with Gordon following his arrest. The Lynn Haven City Commission is scheduled to discuss Gordon’s employment during their Tuesday morning meeting.