Report says Palm Beach and other counties setting pace for ethics reformby John Kennedy | November 29th, 2012
Palm Beach and other counties looking to shed a dark history of corruption are setting a pace for reform that could be modeled by other governments and state officials, advocacy organizations said Thursday.
Integrity Florida and the Leroy Collins Institute released a report which showed a majority of Florida’s 45 counties surveyed require ethics training for elected officials, regulate contracting practices, and restrict gifts from lobbyists to officials. Most also have designated a county point person for ethics issues, the report found.
“In many of these instances, these reforms did follow corruption,” said Carol Weissert, director of the Collins Institute. “But I think what we’re seeing counties where they’re not having corruption and they’re still trying to make these changes.”
Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, said some county officials acknowledge the stricter oversight measures enacted locally were prompted by an absence of tough state ethics laws.
“City and county governments can go further than the state, but they can’t be weaker than what the state requires,” Krassner said.
He said the survey of local standards can be a guide for Florida’s new legislative leaders, who have spoken of toughening standards state officials must meet. Both House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have created new ethics committees expected to propose measures for next year’s Legislature.
The survey listed Palm Beach County as a model for many. The county created its own ethics commission in 2010, enacted a tougher ethics code a year later and hired an inspector general empowered to look for fraud and abuse in the county.
Palm Beach’s reforms were hard earned. The county was branded the “Capital of Florida Corruption,” in 2009 by Time magazine and saw four county commissioners convicted of corruption charges and a pair of West Palm Beach city commissioners sent to prison for felonies over a five-year period.