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Posted on March 20, 2017
The City’s Ethics Board, which was created by a citizen’s referendum in 2014, is asking the City Commission to consider changes to current policies and the ethics code that “will enhance Board functions and continue building an even stronger ethical environment in City government.”
In a letter to the City Commission, which also serves as an annual report, the Ethics Board outlined their rationale for the proposed changes.
The City of Tallahassee Charter Amendment included language that tasked the Ethics Board with assisting the City Commission in the development of the ethics code and recommending proposed ordinances, resolutions, or charter amendments to the City Commission.
Recently the Ethics Board counsel concluded the Board lacks concurrent jurisdiction with the Florida Commission on Ethics. This finding significantly limits the Board’s formal jurisdiction and, as a result, Board members, the public, and stakeholders have frequently voiced concerns.
The Board reviewed the state ethics laws and ordinances of several Florida counties and municipalities and recommends that the City Commission amend relevant ordinances to allow for complaints to be addressed in four areas:
Misuse of position. (See, e.g., 112.313(6), F.S.; s. 602.401, Jacksonville Ordinances; and s. 2-443, Palm Beach County Ordinances.) The Board believes they should be able to address complaints concerning any City official or employee who uses his or her public position for more than minimal private benefit of any person.
Conflicting employment. (See, e.g., 112.313 (7), F.S.; s. 602.403, Jacksonville Ordinances; and s. 18-18 Miami-Dade County Ordinances.) We believe the Board should be able to address complaints about any City official or employee whose private employment creates a conflict with his or her public employment to such an extent it affects public confidence.
Lobbyist registration. We believe the Board should be able to address complaints about any person failing to register as a lobbyist when so required by the City Ethics Code.(See, e.g., s. 112.313(1) and (2), F.S.; and s. 2-444, Palm Beach County Ordinances.) We believe the Board should be able to address complaints about any City official or employee who solicits or accepts gifts from non-family members when those gifts can be perceived as influencing official behavior.
With regards to policies and procedures,the Board recommends changes that address outside employment, lobbyists registration, gifts and ethics education.
Outside employment. The Board recommends the City establish a mechanism to track all City employee’s outside employment. The reason for this suggestion is that several issues regarding outside employment have come to the Board’s and Ethics Officer’s attention.
Lobbyists registration. The City currently registers “paid” lobbyists. Other jurisdictions have more detailed descriptions of the persons who are excluded or exempted from lobbyist registration. We believe that publishing a list delineating exclusions and exemptions will benefit open debate on matters of importance.
Gifts. The City review its policies, procedures, and ordinances concerning the solicitation and acceptance of gifts by City officials and employees. While state law already addresses this issue, we believe that stricter standards customized to our community can benefit the reality and perception of the City’s ethical environment.
Ethics Education. The City implements an Ethics Education program, rather than its current Ethics “Training” program. The Board believes the current learning materials and process are excellent. However, we believe that everyone within City government is aware that government ethics and standards require ongoing education, rather than routine “training.” People are “trained” for performance of a task. People are “educated” for evolving understanding of broad topics such as ethics. You may consider using the Independent Ethics Officer in the same or similar circumstances at your Department-wide meetings as we do at the beginning of each of our Board meetings.