Despite many in Tallahassee believing our city would never face issues of corruption or scandal, this week saw former City Commissioner Scott Maddox and former City staffer Paige Carter-Smith plead guilty to 3 of 48 counts of federal indictments.
These revelations leave the citizens of our city wondering what’s next. The pair will face fines and potential jail time. The continuing investigation may ensnare fellow accomplices who have not yet been identified. But, the most important steps will be those that the City takes to ensure this type of scandal never rocks Tallahassee again.
The Citizens for Ethics Reform, made up of concerned citizens and activists, put ethics and campaign finance reform on the ballot in 2014. An overwhelming 67% of Tallahassee voters approved the charter amendment, which created Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board. Our organization has attended all Ethics Board’s meetings, attempting to ensure that its composition, rules and proposed ordinances, match the voters demand to end Tallahassee’s culture of corruption.
Last year, during campaign season, all candidates for Tallahassee Mayor and City Commission pledged support for a more effective and enforceable ethics ordinance. Out of five seats, four are now filled with first-term commissioners who bring new perspective and potential for change to our city.
In April, after nearly a year of careful deliberation, the Ethics Board delivered recommendations for a sweeping re-write of Tallahassee’s notoriously weak ethics laws to the City Commission. If enacted, Tallahassee will finally have an ethics ordinance with teeth. So far, commissioners have not considered the recommendations.
Tallahassee faces many challenges, but few have garnered the attention or support as much as the issue of ethics reform. We believe that this is a defining issue for our city and suggest our mayor and commissioners, both new and seasoned, make good on their commitment to reform our ethics code.
To protect our local government and avoid future issues of impropriety, we urge the City Commission to approve all the recommendations submitted by the Ethics Board no later than the end of this year. We believe these measures will provide much-needed oversight which will restore the citizens’ trust in our city’s governance.
Submitted by Citizens for Ethics Reform: Catherine Baer, The Tea Party Network, Peter Butzin, Common Cause, Ben Wilcox, Integrity Florida, Marilyn Wills, Tallahassee League of Women Voters