The Leon County Commission voted to moved forward with changes to ethics ordinance.
The only public hearing for an ordinance to amend the Leon County Code of Ethics will be held at 6:00 pm at the December 10th County Commission meeting. The proposed ordinance includes amendments to language, the ethics complaint process, and other issues related to ethical conduct.
The Code of Ethics is found in Chapter 2, Article XII of the Leon County Code of Laws. According to the proposed ordinance, the purpose of Article XII is “to continue to provide a high level of transparency and ethical conduct in Leon County government.”
A main focus of the ordinance is changes in the language of the Code of Ethics.
The word “corruptly” and its definition will be removed and replaced with the terms “knowingly and intentionally” in Section 2-661, regarding misuse of public position. The definitions of “gift” and “material interest” will also be amended.
In addition to the language changes, another major amendment is a change in the ethics complaint process. In Section 2-653, a new edit specifies that ethics complaints “must be in writing and filed with the County Attorney.”
The ordinance also includes a change in the workplace harassment complaint process.
Section 2-666(d)4 states, “A person who is accused of engaging harassing behavior will be given the opportunity to provide a written response, but not a verbal response. Therefore, any responses to allegations of workplace harassment must be in writing.”
Another change is lowering the threshold for conflict of interest exemptions for some business transactions. In Section 2-675(c)6, the threshold will be lowered from $500 to $250.
“This means there will be no conflict of interest in an employment or contractual relationship if the total dollar amount of transactions between the business entity and the County do not exceed $250 per calendar year,” staff reports.
In addition to these changes, the ordinance proposes changes in the areas of penalties, gift acceptance and solicitation, lobbying restrictions, interference in real estate transactions, and voting conflicts.
Leon County Staff Analysis
Penalties. Section 2-654 will have two amendments, as follows.
• The term “intentional” is being removed from Section 2-654(a). Thus, the penalty for “an intentional violation” of the Code of Ethics will be changed to penalty “for a violation.” There will be no distinction between an intentional violation and unintentional violation.
• A sentence is being added to Section 2-654(b) to provide a penalty in the event a lobbying firm has a repeat violation for failing to file the required quarterly compensation reports.
Solicitation or acceptance of things of value. In Sections 2-660(b) and (c), the phrase “knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know” is being changed to “knows, or should know.” In other words, things of value should not be solicited or accepted from others when the person “knows, or should know” that it was given to influence a vote or favorable action.
Misuse of public position. In Section 2-661 the term “corruptly” is being replaced by the terms “knowingly and intentionally.” Thus, no person “shall knowingly and intentionally use or attempt to use his or her public position” to secure a special privilege or benefit.
Workplace harassment. In Section 2-666(d)4 regarding the procedures for investigating and resolving harassment complaints, a person who is accused of engaging in harassing behavior will be given the opportunity to provide a written response, but not a verbal response. Therefore, any responses to allegations of workplace harassment must be in writing.
Lobbying restrictions following vacation of office. For purposes of clarity, the title of Section 2-667 is being changed from “Lobbying restrictions following vacation of office” to “Restrictions on lobbying by former County Commissioners.” Also, the terms “following vacation” of office, will be changed to “after vacating” office. In other words, the term “vacation” will not be used.
Non-interference in county real estate transactions. In Section 2-670(c), the term “coerce” is being replaced by the terms “compel or constrain.” The section will then read, “No County Commissioner shall directly or indirectly compel or constrain, or attempt to compel or constrain, the County Administrator, the County Attorney, the Property Manager, or any other county employee, with regard to any County Real Estate Transaction.”
Voting conflicts. In Sections 2-672(b) and (c), the phrase “or employed” is being added so that the voting conflict provisions will pertain to a principal by whom a County Commissioner or member of an advisory body “is retained or employed.”
Exemption for certain business transactions. The proposed amendment will lower the monetary threshold in Section 2-675(c)6 from $500 to $250. This means there will be no conflict of interest in an employment or contractual relationship if the total dollar amount of transactions between the business entity and the County do not exceed $250 per calendar year.
Exemptions. Adds volunteers to the exemptions in Section 2-681(3), so that a person who communicates with County Commissioners or county employees in an individual capacity for the purpose of self-representation, or on behalf of a family members, “or who volunteers” without compensation or reimbursement, will not be considered a lobbyist.