CITY ETHICS; the Right Direction

Article excerpt

Good move by the City Council in recently approving some ethics upgrades that could lead to more public confidence.

The changes are a framework for future improvements, an important step toward a much improved ethics infrastructure.

For starters, the legislation approved 17-0 by council reinserts language about ethics in the city's charter that was removed in the early 1970s.

That includes:

- Establishing an ethics commission with more independence.

- Having the ethics officer report to the ethics commission.

- Creating a system for commission fines and penalties.

- Giving the commission a way to gather documents and testimony.

NO EXCEPTIONS

More significantly, the legislation would extend the core city government's ethics guidelines, hotline, training and education to the entire consolidated government.

That means the constitutional officers, JEA, Jacksonville Port Authority, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the Duval County School Board.

The unification of all those government entities for ethics purposes is especially important.

They control budgets that are about six times more than the city's $1 billion budget. It's fine that the independent authorities have their own ethics programs of some kind, but being subject to broader accountability by an independent body is a better check for taxpayers.

Ethics guidelines with some teeth are important in assuring taxpayers that their resources will be properly managed and that public officials and employees who use their positions for personal gain or abuse city guidelines will face consequences.

Jacksonville, stunned by embarrassing government scandals and miscues in recent years, needs a stronger system.

Florida has a state ethics commission. But it's a toothless tiger that can't enforce local ordinances.

The current ethics commission lacks the resources and independence it needs to be the watchdog the public deserves. …