Panel Rejects Ethics Reforms; WHAT Mayor Sought More Money to Create an Ethics Office. WHY NOT Council Members Cite the Expense, and Laws Already on the Books

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH KORMANIK

The Jacksonville City Council's Finance Committee voted down ethics reforms Monday that Mayor John Peyton proposed as part of the public relations effort following spending scandals at City Hall.

The administration wanted $39,000 to add to the $36,000 already allocated for an ethics office. Peyton tapped former federal prosecutor and ethics expert Carla Miller to head the office.

But council members said the city did not need to hire an ethics officer and provide a staff, calling the moves "window dressing" and questioning the independence of the ethics officer, who would report directly to Peyton.

"If the laws on the books had been followed, there never would have been a problem in the first place," Councilman Stephen Joost said.

Council members also said the city could not afford the position at a time when they are cutting the budget and eliminating other positions.

In an interview after the council's decision, Peyton vowed to continue to push for the reforms.

"There are plenty of examples lately which demonstrate our need to have better compliance," he said.

Peyton was referring to two exclusive city contracts given to firms owned by his friends - ProLogic Consulting Inc., owned by his former Chief of Staff Scott Teagle, and GreenBean Corporate Organizing Solutions, owned by Sheila Green, who worked on Peyton's first mayoral campaign.

ProLogic was not eligible for city work because it had not been in business for three years as required under city law.

Two weeks ago, Peyton visited the council to apologize for the deals. He also reminded members of their own ethics issues: Half the council is under investigation by a Duval County grand jury for possible violations of the state's open meetings law.

Peyton introduced his ethics reforms that night. Most were implemented by executive order and needed no council authorization, such as starting a confidential employee hot line to report ethics violations. Miller has been working for the city as a volunteer and already started implementing Peyton's reforms.

But council members could not be convinced to spend money to complete the reforms. They argued that the office would be redundant since the city already has ethics laws and experts in place.

Councilman Jay Jabour pointed out that the council already is considering a bill that would strengthen the city's ethics laws and volunteer Ethics Commission and questioned the need for the ethics officer.

But Peyton told the Times-Union the city has a "demonstrated need" for someone of Miller's experience.

"We'll continue to try to build the case," he said.

beth.kormanik@jacksonville.com (904) 359-4619

CITY COUNCIL AGENDA

A look at some of the items the Jacksonville City Council will consider, and public hearings it will hold, at its meeting at 5 p. …