When the city commission voted to create the Ethics Advisory Panel, they asked the committee to evaluate existing policies or procedures governing ethics, financial disclosure, or transparency of the city government, and prepare and submit a report including any amendments to current policy.
Based on today’s meeting, there will be major amendments to current policy.
The meeting began with the acknowledgement that an audio recording of one of the meetings had been completely deleted by accident. City staff purchased recovery software and were able to restore a majority of the recording.
However, comments made by City Auditor Sam McCall, about his view of an independent ethics process, were part of the recording that was deleted and never made into minutes of the meeting. Members of the panel agreed to ask Mr. McCall to complete the record with written comments.
The focus of the remainder of the meeting was on presentations by panel member Jay Landers on voting conflicts and Chairperson Martha Barnett on post employment issues.
Mr. Landers’ presentation indicated that Florida Statutes Chapter 112, the current law regulating voting conflicts, has a history of being interpreted rather strictly. For example, a violation was only upheld if an elected official had knowledge of a conflict on the precise day of the vote.
Mr. Landers’ argued, and the panel concurred, that more burden should be put on the elected officials by requiring standards consistent with “should of known” or “upon a reasonable inquiry” should know that a conflict exists. Also, the Panel agreed this standard should not just apply on the day of the vote, but for the 12 months before the vote. In other words if a city commissioner had a conflict that ended 11 months before a vote on an issue, that elected official would have a conflict on the day of the vote.
The Panel also agreed that a conflict should be identified as early as possible and the elected officials should not only not vote, but should not participate in any workshops or issue meetings that address the issue at conflict.
Chairman Martha Barnett discussed the fact that city had no post employment restrictions on elected officials. Post employment restrictions limit the ability of elected or appointed officials to take advantage of votes or relationships developed while serving in a public capacity.
Chairman Barnett recommended, and the Panel concurred, that some type of policy should be adopted that restrict employment opportunities for elected and appointed officials after their public service is complete. She noted that for state officials certain employment opportunities were limited for two years in areas relevant to an officials area of service.
Ms. Barnett also recommended that elected and appointed officials be required to disclose any ongoing negotiations to accept a new job while serving in their present capacity.
The Panel directed staff to come back with language that would implement these proposals to current policy and to also investigate enforcement mechanisms.
The next Ethics Advisory Panel meeting is May 21, 2013.