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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
Commentary

Taking steps to build an ethics code that’s a model for the nation


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For nearly a century, the Florida League of Cities has worked tirelessly for our member cities and for locally elected leaders and the citizens they represent.

During that time, we have steadfastly supported tough ethics standards, guidelines and laws for all of Florida’s public officials. We believe in the unwavering concept of holding wrongdoers accountable, of ensuring full and appropriate transparency and honesty in government, and we support giving the right enforcement agencies the tools they need to root out corruption and malfeasance.

In short, we believe in a judicious and well-reasoned code of ethics for public officials in order to protect and preserve the public trust.

However, some aspects of Florida law — although well-intended — were adopted decades ago and are today impractical and unreasonable for local public officials.

As such, we support modest changes that would better reflect real-world circumstances, such as those proposed by good government advocates Sen. Jeff Clemens (SB 606) and Rep. Charles David “Dave” Hood Jr. (HB 655).

Their bills are well reasoned, thoughtful and fair in that they, first and foremost, ensure tough new restrictions and ethics guidelines remain firmly in place.

But the bills also seek to find a balance in discouraging “gotcha” politics and costly (to taxpayers) incentives for disgruntled naysayers to bring honest governance to a halt.

There are some who think if you have ideas that differ from theirs, that you are “anti-ethics,” and they offer press releases filled with false and empty attacks not backed by fact, logic or reason. They somehow claim, despite our tireless efforts for the past nine decades, that the Florida League of Cities, somehow, no longer values integrity in our state. This could not be further from the truth.

Through our support of Clemens’ and Hood’s bills, we hope to engage in a dialogue with all parties to find workable, sensible and realistic solutions that benefit everyone involved.

Although one of the critics of the Florida League of Cities — a novice group that seeks donations to promote their causes and who themselves came under fire in their first year of existence because of questionable donations — makes unfounded allegations and misstates our position, we will remain steadfast in our desire to champion integrity and honesty in local government.

But we will not stand idly by to be falsely accused of such absurdities. We have been and will remain champions of ethics reform, and we remain committed to prudent, thoughtful and balanced reforms that best serve local communities throughout Florida.

To be clear, we applauded the Florida Legislature then and we applaud it now for pushing tough new ethics guidelines.

We look forward to further exploring these and other ideas so Florida can have a code of ethics for government officials that will be a model for the nation. And we look forward to doing so without the name calling and schoolyard mudslinging of those who seek only to make news and raise funds.

 

Scott Dudley is the director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida League of Cities.

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