City introduces new ethics ordinances

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 6, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The City of Tallahassee introduced two new ethics ordinances at Wednesday's City Commission meeting.

The new ordinances were drafted following criticism by the public that the city had a weak and unenforceable ethics code, as well as an ethics workshop.

The first ordinance lays out four key components.

Under it, elected or appointed officials may not corruptly use their position for special benefits or privileges; elected officials must file their state financial disclosure forms and quarterly gift disclosure forms with the city; they cannot solicit gifts from a city vendor or lobbyist; and they cannot accept a gift greater than $100 in the aggregate for the calendar year from any city vendor or lobbyist.

Penalties for breaking the code include a written reprimand, written letter of instruction, corrective action, referral to the appropriate agency, a fine of up to $1,000, additional ethics training, community service, and a fine of $25 per day that a financial disclosure is late.

Many have criticized the new ordinance, noting the use of the word "corruptly" as opposed to "intentionally." Legally, the word corrupt is harder to prove.

In an interview following the ethics workshop, Peter Butzin with Common Cause Florida said, "Look, there is a crisis of confidence not just in Tallahassee, but in government of every level.... This is about having an enforceable ethics code. And I don't see us any closer to that."

Butzin called the city's ethics code "unenforceable."

The second new ordinance changes how seat two of the Independent Ethics Board is filled.

Currently, the Chief Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit appoints that seat. But, because of judicial constraints, he has declined. Instead, the new ordinance will change the charter to allowed the Public Defender of the Second Judicial Circuit to fill that seat.

Following Wednesday's introduction to the ordinance, a public hearing has been set.

The first public hearing on the two new ordinances will be held on January 31.

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