The City’s Ethics Board Seeks More Authority

The City’s Ethics Board Seeks More Authority

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.

4 Responses to "The City’s Ethics Board Seeks More Authority"

  1. You miss the point. It has nothing to do with the City Commissioners. They don’t make decisions on siting cell phone towers or approving leases; their staff does. The conflict of interest goes way beyond the politics of the elected city commissioners. We can always recall them. It is at the staff level that we have no clue what is going on, nor the ability to do anything unless things are exposed.

  2. Is anyone concerned about the conflict of interest when it comes to cell phone towers? the city regulates within the city who gets one and where they will go. The county does the same in the county. Unfortunately, the city also receives revenue from the very same companies they are regulating. The city leases space to telecom companies for cell towers on city property such as parks, utility easements, power substations, etc. Getting revenue from companies you have power over to approve or disapprove towers is a direct conflict of interest.

  3. I really hope the city puts this on its agenda and addresses this soon. It has no incentive to and I can see this becoming a weird fight if they start cherry picking specific issues. I wonder if the ethics boards even has the teeth to get this to the commission meeting in the first place. Seems like you need some sympathetic players on staff or on the commission. I wish agenda items could be forced somehow by citizens, maybe by petition.

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