Ethics in City Government; A Model Law Takes Effect

Article excerpt

It took too long to formalize the city's Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight, but Jacksonville now has in place an ethics office that could become a model for other cities.

The City Council's approval of the Ethics Commission's selection of Carla Miller as director and funding for the office effectively implements a charter provision setting up a truly independent ethics office.

For the first time, the city's chief ethics officer has been appointed by the Ethics Commission, which is made up of volunteers.

The newly expanded office is charged with coordinating the oversight, ethics and anti-corruption efforts of all agencies of the consolidated city.

In addition to the executive agencies under the mayor, the office will now have jurisdiction over the constitutional officers, JEA, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville Airport Authority and the Jacksonville Port Authority.

"The office is to make sure that all situations of fraud, waste, corruption and conflicts of interest will be investigated," Braxton Gillam, chair of the Ethics Commission, noted in citing the implementing legislation.

BROAD DUTIES

That is a broad scope of responsibility and one that invites all government employees, contractors and citizens to contact the ethics office when they suspect misdeeds or possible conflicts of interest.

Expansion of jurisdiction to independent authorities point to a growing workload, which should prompt the City Council to review budgeting for the office for the coming year.

The office now is funded at $142,000 annually, which includes a salary of $75,000 for Miller, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on the city's ethics program as a volunteer or as a paid staffer since 1996. Given the responsibilities, the director's job should pay more than that.

The council should also consider whether additional support staff is needed, especially if the workload increases as much as could be expected.

Meanwhile, Miller is urging city employees and the public to report suspected wrongdoing and conflicts of interest. …