Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Heels of Scandal, Plaudits on Ethics; Last Year's Purchasing Scandal, Which Led to the Arrest of [Derived Headline]

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

On Heels of Scandal, Plaudits on Ethics; Last Year's Purchasing Scandal, Which Led to the Arrest of [Derived Headline]

Article excerpt

SARASOTA COUNTY

Last year's purchasing scandal, which led to the arrest of one county employee and the firing or forced resignations of a dozen others, apparently has a silver lining.

The turmoil prompted numerous reforms associated with ethical standards, and landed Sarasota County among a handful of other counties in the state to be singled out as a bright spot by an independent report released Thursday.

The report, from Florida State University's LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida, analyzes the ethics policies of county governments in the state and state corruption laws. It is not gentle when dealing with the state's reputation, beginning the report with "Florida has long been ethically challenged."

The report criticized state-level corruption laws as weak and outdated. But it also called the ethics policies of Sarasota -- as well as other counties that have suffered scandals and made subsequent reforms -- "exemplary."

Most of the Sarasota County policies lauded by the report were implemented after last year's purchasing scandal. Independent inquiries uncovered ethical lapses and favoritism in how contracts were awarded.

The county got special recognition for the new position of an ethics and compliance officer to investigate problems and conduct ethics training for staff, as well as a new hotline for anonymous reporting of fraud, waste or abuse. Sarasota County has also rewritten its ethics policy and a new purchasing code is in the works.

"The report finds that while initiated by scandal, the work done to create an ethical government in Broward, Duval/Jacksonville, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Sarasota counties has made positive changes to curb public corruption," the report's authors said.

Though Sarasota County commissioners said they were pleased to get recognition for the new policies, they were hesitant to say the work is done.

"We're making progress," Commissioner Christine Robinson said. "The end result is what I'm looking for, to be the absolute model for the state of Florida. We're not there yet."

Others noted that while the report focused on ethics policies in place, it did not thoroughly examine their effectiveness. …

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