Stewart’s Blog: Until Citizens Demand More from Local Government, They Will Get Less

Stewart’s Blog: Until Citizens Demand More from Local Government, They Will Get Less

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.

For example:

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.

10 Responses to "Stewart’s Blog: Until Citizens Demand More from Local Government, They Will Get Less"

  1. Our local media will never be aggressive (with the exception of Tallahassee Reports). They are all too afraid to be black balled by the City. And they depend on the City to give them news. Don’t forget, when Andy Adcock tried to dig and get answers, the City quietly shut off the news to him and WCTV. Interviews with city officials became harder to schedule and press releases for lost in the fax machine and email. It took them firing him for the City to “forgive” WCTV. The citizens of Tally never hear the true stories, they just get the City Spin.

  2. This could be the start of an enumerated citizens contract with the City of Tallahassee. If it were, I wonder which elected officials would agree to sign it?

  3. Make it a two way street. Sitting on the ethics committee disqualifies the participant from select local offices (mayor, commissioner, city manager, city attorney, etc.) Holding any of those offices disqualifies the employee from serving on the ethics commission.

  4. Steve has mastered the court of public opinion, the only tool available for positive change.

    The outcome of the Governor’s race is but one example.

    Thank you sir!

  5. You will find that the Ethics Office initially received a large number of requests for assistsance but Meadows-Keefe dismissed them continually and people recognized the Ethics office as just another city scam. Publish every request received ever received by the Ethics Department. Publish every call and every email received; you will be amazed. Come on FBI.

    1. If enough citizens knew this we could vote to amend the charter and abolish this office and quit wasting money on it. While we are at it we could get rid of the mayor position and put it back like it was in the good ol’ days.

  6. Why would giving the ethics office more authority and power to levy fines make a difference? In watching the ethics meetings and looking at their agenda they don’t get many calls anyway and when they do that lady just sends it to City staff to investigate like the football tickets. I guess it could be argued she did not have the power to investigate or levy finds against Fernandez but did she or the board every speak up when City staff determined the football tickets came in under the reporting threshold? If so I never heard about it. We need to abolish this office and have all of the ethics complaints go straight to the Florida Ethics Commission. We are wasting out tax money on the ethics office.

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