A Debate Over Ethics

A Debate Over Ethics

A city led workshop scheduled for October 28th at city hall will shape the future of Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board (IEB). At the workshop, the city commission will consider crafting an ordinance based on recommendations submitted by the IEB.

The IEB recommendations will have to be approved by a majority of city commissioners.

Ahead of the workshop, The City Attorney’s Office (CAO) completed a review and analysis of the proposed recommendations of the IEB. The review included a comparison of the recommendations with other Florida local government jurisdictions and best practices.

Listed below are the IEB proposed changes and the CAO’s recommendations for select issues. Also include below are additional recommendations forwarded by the CAO. 

Who can be investigated for Misuse of Position?

The city’s current ordinance holds that the “misuse of position” language is applicable only to appointed and elected officials. The IEB has proposed expanding the reach of the provision to all city employees. 

The CAO, recognizing that all city employees are already subject to the state law prohibiting “misuse of position”, recommends that the IEB reach be limited to “covered individuals”, which includes elected and appointed officials.

Corrupt Standard or Should Have Known Standard

The IEB also proposes lowering the bar for prosecutions of the “misuse of office” provision to a “knew or should have known” standard, as opposed to a “corruptly” standard. 

The CAO recommends retaining the “corruptly” standard, which has been defined by the First District Court of Appeals (controlling for the City of Tallahassee) to mean “with wrongful intent,” and further defined by case law to mean that an individual acted “with reasonable notice that [his or] her conduct was inconsistent with the proper performance of [his  or] her public duties . . .” 

The CAO argues that retaining the “corruptly” standard will allow the IEB to rely on precedent established by the case law and opinions at the state level to conduct its own prosecutions of this provision.

What language do other jurisdictions consider for “misuse of office”?

The City of of Jacksonville uses an “intentional” standard that is applicable to all officers and employees.

Palm Beach County prohibits the “misuse of public office” by any official or employee who “knows or should know with the exercise of reasonable care” that doing so will result in a special benefit, but also prohibits the “corrupt misuse of official position” by an official or employee. 

And finally, Leon County’s proposed ordinance removes “corruptly” and uses a “knowingly and intentionally” standard. Leon County’s proposed amendments to its ethics code are scheduled for adoption on December 10, 2019.

Gifts

The IEB has proposed prohibiting the direct or indirect solicitation or acceptance of any gift of any value by any covered individual.  The proposed language acknowledges that the prohibition does not apply to gifts that are not for the personal benefit of a covered individual or his or her relative. 

The CAO recommends a prohibition against solicting a gift of any value, but retains the $100 threshold for accepting a gift as a reasonable way to avoid unintentional violations. 

Who is subject to penalties?

The IEB is seeking authority to issue “remedial orders,” defined as nonbinding declarations that include findings of fact and conclusions of law, which would address the actions of city employees.

The CAO would counsel against giving the IEB this authority, as it appears to usurp the charter-based authority of the appointed officials over their employees.

Restitution and Fines

The CAO views the IEB’s proposal that restitution be included as a potential part of a penalty for violations as reasonable for inclusion. The CAO notes it would be relatively easy to determine value of property that was misused. 

However, the CAO does not recommend that the IEB be given the authority to additionally order a fine equal to the “cumulative value of the pecuniary benefits resulting from the violations,” (i.e. financial benefits obtained by the violator) as this seems speculative and, therefore, difficult to measure and enforce.

While most local jurisdictions authorize fines up to $500 per violation, the CAO agrees with the IEB’s proposal of a $1,000 maximum per violation fine.

Investigative Costs

The CAO recommends adopting the IEB’s proposed language that would allow for the IEB to require that a complainant pay investigative costs if the IEB finds that the complainant filed an essentially frivolous complaint.

Subpoena Authority

The IEB proposal authorizes the IEB to subpoena any alleged violator, witness or documents for pre-probable cause investigations and for “any hearing” before the IEB.

The CAO recommends that the IEB authority be limited to alleged violators, witnesses and documents over which the IEB has jurisdiction. The CAO also recommends that the IEB be authorized to make application to a court of competent jurisdiction it desires to subpoena individuals or records beyond its jurisdiction.

The CAO notes that the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission has broad subpoena power, but the Jacksonville Ethics Commission must first obtain authorization from a circuit or county judge to issue a subpoena “upon a facial demonstration of the relevancy or testimony to the enforcement of a provision of [the Ethics Code].”

City Attorney’s Other Recommendations

In addition to CAO recommendations related to IEB proposals, the CAO made additional recommendations.

These recommendations include appellate review of IEB final orders, a two-year statute of limitations for violations, and a process for dealing with “hotline” calls.

On the issue of full financial disclosure via Form 6, the CAO recommends waiting until after the 2020 legislative session for any action. The CAO notes that the state Commission on Ethics has proposed a legislative package that includes a requirement for all elected municipal officers to file Form 6.

Currently, city commissioners file Form 1. 

If the Commission decides to adopt a provision requiring vendors to disclose campaign contributions made to candidates, the CAO recommends the process be handled by the Treasurer Clerk’s office.

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4 Responses to "A Debate Over Ethics"

  1. Avatar
    Snidely Whiplash   October 27, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Great article great information.
    Let us not forget who is responsable for this series of “ethics” bandaids upon bandaids to try and regulate our elected, appointed, and rank and file city workers.
    It’s us the voters.
    Yes the bigger issue our communitty needs to come to grips with is the Democrat party and leftist leaning voters in our communitty are the cause of all the ethical abuses that have brought us to the ridiculous need to implement this series of ethics bandaids upon bandaids to make us feel good that we voters are not the root problem. But we are indeed the problem.
    These ethics bandaids, rules, procedures or what ever you all want to call it will not slow the corrupt roll of future local politicians one bit.
    Until us voters start to shift away from voting leftist we will continue the graft and corruption as usual.
    No new set of ethics rules will change anything.
    The enemy has been identified and it is us. The local voters.
    Thank God we were duped into thinking Jeremy Matlow would be just another dirty usual suspect with a D by his name.
    Thanks Mr. Matlow for being the one and only elected shining star we have!!!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Gabriel   October 28, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      Refreshing point of TRUTH!

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Mark   October 27, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    Leon County School Board, given the highly unethical behavior of Rocky Hanna why don’t you do the same?

    1. As a Principal Rocky dated teachers he evaluated.
    2. As a Principal Rocky bullied a teacher he dated into a transfer with a financial settlement.
    3. Rocky Hanna used his district email to settle a lawsuit when Hanna acknowledged he did not pay child support for 10 years.
    4. Rocky Hanna admitted to the school board attorney that he had NO first-hand knowledge of any wrong doing in the school system but Rocky admitted he gathered the documents in his notebook and that he wrote the misleading summaries in each section. He cost taxpayers over $600,000.
    5. Rocky hired Assistant Superintendent s paying them over $100,000 each without any interview process.
    6. Rocky enacted an employee vendetta non renewing staff on his “hit list”.
    7. As Superintendent Rocky takes over construction handing out contracts to those that gave him campaign contributions.

    Hello school board you have a problem.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Hope   October 28, 2019 at 4:26 am

      Mark,

      That does not even touch some of the things that went down by some elected officials and unfortunately their cohorts and employees … not even close.

      It is unimaginable some of the things they were willing to do that were so egregious, inhumane, and illegal. Their cover-ups were worse than their crimes.

      They are cowards and they are unindicted felons. Many still hold positions today and that is what is scary.

      They are in the state attorney’s office, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, the county, the court system, a few attorneys, a sitting judge and only one has been arrested for other crimes. A few have retired and one passed away.

      Three people did the right thing and have been blessed beyond belief.

      The truth is coming out and the truth will set you free.

      Stay tuned…

      Reply

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