While 2018 is in the rear view mirror, it is fair to conclude what happened last year in local government will continue to be a factor moving forward in 2019.
For example, next week there will be a court hearing addressing the Dr. Erwin Jackson lawsuit alleging Florida Sunshine Law violations by the City of Tallahassee during the appointment process for Scott Maddox’s replacement.
Later this month, the Florida Commission on Ethics will deal with allegations against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. In addition, the Commission must put the finishing touches on the ethics case involving former Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez.
And then there is the federal trial of former city officials Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith on charges that include bribery, extortion and bank fraud. This indictment emerged from an FBI investigation which we are told is “ongoing.”
What 2018 verified was we have a corruption, ethical, and transparency problem in local government. And when I say local government, I mean the Board of Leon County Commissioners, the Tallahassee City Commission and Leon County Schools.
Of course the City of Tallahassee is front and center right now, but there are clues that other local government entities have been contaminated by the same self enrich, self-promotion, look the other-way, and reward the insiders mentality.
And while the government entities I mentioned above – which collect approximately $1 billion of your money each year – are ultimately responsible for the problems we face, there are plenty of non-governmental organizations which have provided cover for questionable transactions.
The coming months will determine just how bad it is, but make no mistake, given the facts we now know, it is bad.
The only way this is ever going to change is if citizens demand change. I do not think this change will occur because of elections. No, I believe it will only change if citizens of all walks of life -supported by an aggressive local media -continually demand specific changes.
Professional lobbyists that follow the rules provide a vital role in our pluralistic democracy. However, citizen’s should demand stiffer penalties for rule violators and should demand that local government lobbyists should not be vendors of the government they are lobbying.
Citizens should demand that elected officials that are paid by non-profits provide quarterly disclosure of all donors who are contributing to their employer.
Citizens should demand that the City of Tallahassee implement a code of ethics that gives the Independent Ethics Board the authority to investigate and levy penalties when appropriate.
Citizens should demand the elected leader of each local government entity – Leon County, City of Tallahassee, and Superintendent – hold a monthly press conference.
Citizens should demand that no person with a desire to run for political office should serve on the City of Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board.
Business owners should demand self -interested representation based on business principals, not representation based on insider priorities in favor of a few powerful interests.
These are just a few demands that would help provide major obstacles to behavior that is not in the best interest of our community.
In 2019 Tallahassee Reports will continue to provide local government reporting that highlights successes and identifies problems that are holding our community back from reaching new heights.