Ethics Panel Independence Urged; the Bill Would Steer Clear of Accountability to Jacksonville Mayor

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Byline: MATT DIXON

Discussion of a bill that would sharpen the teeth of Jacksonville's chief ethics watchdog lasted more than two hours Monday night but was often dominated by one word.

"I'm glad she felt the need to put the word 'independent' in there. I think it's important," said Braxton Gilliam of legislation filed by City Councilwoman Glorious Johnson.

Johnson's bill would recommend that the city's ethics code include an "independent" ethics commission. The word independent is key because it means that the city's ethics officer would answer to the ethics commission, not the mayor.

"I never understood why the ethics officer answered to the mayor," commission member Helen Ludwig said. "Not that the mayor is doing anything wrong, but it could be an awkward situation."

The legislation was filed after a May 12 ethics commission subcommittee meeting that recommended reforms on how the city deals with everything from lobbyists to awarding contracts.

Talks had stagnated since a February recommendation by the Charter Review Commission that the city reinstate an Ethics Board into the city charter. That did not call for an independent ethics commission, as Johnson's bill does.

The Ethics Commission gave an initial nod of approval to that legislation Monday night but said it wants to have input as the legislation moves through the process. …