On February 5th, 2013, Tallahassee City Manager Anita Favors-Thompson made a presentation to the Ethics Advisory Panel. The ethics panel was created by the city commission to look into the recent ethical issues surrounding the city commission. The Panel is gathering information and looking at various options from creating an ethics commission, an ethic officer position, and requiring more ethics training.
The City Manager’s presentation provided background information by informing the Panel about transparency efforts implemented by the City that included the recent addition to the website of a database that allows citizens to track city expenditures. She also spoke of the newly-adopted “Cone of Silence” ordinance which prohibits vendors from communicating with City staff or officials once the procurement process reaches a certain stage and was adopted when the city commission decided to register lobbyists.
City Manager Thompson also informed the Panel that the City of Tallahassee was not a typical Florida municipal government in that it was rare for a city to own and operate an airport, electric power generating stations, and a transit system in addition to a host of other public works such as a natural gas utility, water utility, solid waste service, stormwater, etc. Due to the large-scale nature of City operations, City Manager Thompson noted that the City procures a vast array of goods and services – many of which are very expensive.
City Manager Thompson discussed the Commissioner-to-City Manager relationship and reiterated that the City Charter specifically prohibits the elected officials from giving direction to rank-and-file employees. City Manager Thompson stated that the Commissioners are limited to setting major policy decisions, which are then implemented by the four Appointed Officials, and that the commissioners did not make any hiring decisions other than to appoint a City Manager, City Attorney, Treasurer-Clerk, and City Auditor – and to hire their own Commission Aides.
City Manager Thompson indicated she has recognized the Panel’s interest in several key areas impacting the elected officers including education & training, awareness, professionalism, etc. City Manager Thompson expressed that frank and open discussions with the officials were necessary and that such discussions do typically occur when newly-elected commissioners first begin their terms in office. In addition, City Manager Thompson also noted that similar discussion occur with each Commissioners’ aide to ensure each aide knows the City Charter prohibition on interference and to explain why the boundary was established and necessary.
Chair Barnett thanked the City Manager for a thorough review and inquired if the City Manager had any specific recommendations for the Panel to consider. City Manager Thompson responded that she has reviewed the Panel’s deliberations to-date and that she recognizes there is interest in designating a single employee to serve as an Ethics Officer or Ethics Advocate, which City Manager Thompson reiterated that these duties have historically been the responsibility of the City Attorney and his staff. City Manager Thompson agreed that designating someone to serve in this official capacity would place organizational emphasis on ethics and would provide the public with a definitive, single point of contact to express their concerns.