LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — Lynn Haven Commissioner Judy Tinder has made no secret of her support of former Mayor Margo Anderson.
That support hasn’t waivered even as Anderson and James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, face federal bribery charges and a host of related accusations from the FBI and federal prosecutors.
During a hearing in the case in April Tinder traveled from Lynn Haven to Tallahassee and watched the proceedings with the audience. Tinder was joined by another local woman.
Together, the two could be heard complaining about the charges against Finch and Anderson and expressing their wish that Judge Mark Walker would throw out the case.
But on Monday, because she was named a witness for the proceeding Tinder could not show her support in the audience.
Instead, she took the stand.
Tinder’s testimony covered several issues that could be relevant in the case. One is the accusation that contractors working for Lynn Haven illegally cleaned up Anderson’s yard following Hurricane Michael and then billed the city for the work.
Tinder testified that she was summoned to Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford’s office and that he interviewed her about the issue while FBI Agent Lawrence Borghini was in the room.
Anderson’s defense is that the workers did not clean her property but instead cleared a city-owned easement attached to her property. Tinder, who was neighbors with Anderson and shares the same easement, supported Anderson’s position when questioned by Ford.
She added that the Sheriff should know the property was an easement because inmates at the jail had been used in the past to clean it. News 13 asked her about that issue Thursday.
“Let me tell you, they have prisoners from the sheriff’s office come and clean up that creek. And in the time I’ve lived there, I know they’ve been there at least five or six times, you know, somewhere in that area. And they have prisoners come and clean it out,” Tinder said. “And so I asked Ford, why would you have prisoners come and clean out my property?” if it was not a city-owned easement.
She added that Ford got angry with her responses but noted that she never backed down from her belief that investigators were wrong about the issue.
She also said Thursday that city workers never cleaned out her property.
“No, they never came to my house, I can tell you that,” Tinder said. “And what they did go do behind Margo’s house, but it was city property. You know, city easement is they had to clean out back there because they had a lot of fallen trees and stuff. But I don’t believe any of that was on her property.”
Another accusation in the case is that Anderson and Finch were allegedly trying to pressure city officials to hire Phoenix to rebuild city hall. City Manager Vickie Gainer also testified about this issue and it was revealed that Police Chief Rickie Ramie secretly made tape recordings of a meeting between himself, Gainer, Anderson, and Finch.
Anderson and Finch’s defense on this issue is that Finch never wanted a no-bid contract but did want the city to change the way the project would be accomplished. Finch allegedly believed that a contract with a single company would mean that the new city hall could be built faster and cheaper.
At the hearing, Finch and Anderson’s defense team stressed that Finch initially told the commission that he would bid on it and then do the work if he won the bid. When the issue became controversial, Finch allegedly told the commission that he would not bid on the project but still urged city leaders to do the project his way and save the city money.
On Thursday, Tinder said no one ever asked her to approve a no-bid deal.
“Heavens, no. Absolutely not,” she said. “Guaranteed. No, no, absolutely not.”
Tinder also said that investigators asked her if she ever accepted money from Finch.
“They called me in the sheriff’s office and they asked me if I had borrowed money from James Finch. And I couldn’t even believe it. And I just laughed,” Tinder said. “And I said, not only no, but hell no. I don’t know him well enough to borrow money from him, you know?”
Citing his role in the federal case Sheriff Ford declined to comment Thursday.