Why do we need an improved ethics code?
Doesn’t Naples already have an ethics ordinance?
What will this cost us?
Isn't this just more unnecessary government bureaucracy?
Why are you proposing that this be placed in the Charter?
What is required to amend our Charter?
What will happen if the amendment is approved?
Florida has an ethics law. Why do we need a local one?
Is this approach being used elsewhere in Florida?
Are there specific issues needing stronger ethics oversight?
What is Ethics Naples?
I'm convinced. How can I help?
1. Why do we need an improved ethics code?
As Naples city officials face more and more complex and challenging issues, we want to make sure that we are embracing best practices in local governance.
With an up-to-date Ethics process, public officials – elected and appointed – would have effective guidance on how to best handle complex situations as well as achieve rapid resolution of any complaints.
Most importantly, the City’s residents would be assured of an independent and professional assessment of their concerns that our government is fully committed to the needs and desires of voters, taxpayers and residents.
2. Doesn’t Naples already have an ethics ordinance?
Our current code has significant shortcomings. Expert reviewers feel it fails to provide critically important features and protections such as:
There are no stipulated educational or consultative procedures or resources, one of the most important functions of modern ethics offices.
There are no dedicated staff to administer the ordinance or receive and manage complaints properly.
There are no investigative powers vested in the ordinance.
The ethics function is not independent; it falls under the supervision of the very staff and officials it purports to oversee.
There is no provision for budget or staff to execute any of these critical functions.
The proposed Ethics Code would correct these deficiencies and provide the City with an optimal ethics commission.
3. What will this cost us?
There will be an expense associated with having an effective and up-to-date ethics code in Naples. There will be need for a part-time ethics director with some clerical support. Specialist investigators exist who can be hired if and when necessary for investigations.
The Tallahassee Ethics Office – which serves a City government that is 3 1/2 times the size of the City of Naples (2,800 FTE versus 800 FTE) budgeted $338,000 in 2016 and spent $244,000. We should need a smaller budget given the proposed part-time director position.
The proposed amendment gives complete control of the ethics budget to City Council. It also requires personnel practices including salary levels to be consistent with those of the City. This ensures that every dollar spent on this activity will be fully subject to the control of our elected officials.
4. Isn't this just more unnecessary government bureaucracy?
Not really. Investing a small amount of resources in good ethics is only unnecessary if one believes that good ethics "just happens" without effort and oversight. What does seem to "just happen" is ethical problems cropping up everywhere, all the time!
If we are going to state that our City creed is "Ethics above all else" then our efforts must involve more than posturing, a poorly formulated and unworkable ethics ordinance without dedicated resources, overseen by the very persons covered by the ordinance.
Good ethics procedures are an important form of insurance. Spending about 1/1,000th of the City's budget is a minimal cost. We spend about $10,000,000 a year on our fire department, but have very few fires. Most of the budget is spent on inspections, education, false alarms and EMS backup - all "insurance" functions.
5. Why are you proposing that this be placed in the Charter?
The Charter amendment works at two levels:
Stability: The first level is to establish the essential elements of good ethics policy in the City's constitution - our Charter - so that voter approval will be necessary for changes to these essential elements.
Flexibility: The second level allows the Ethics Commission and City Council to work together to amend and implement the ethics code as necessary.
This two-level approach means that the essential ethics protections in the Charter - an independent commission, an ethics officer and basic ethics requirements - would require voter approval to change, but that practical aspects of implementation by ordinance would be possible by more routine government action.
6. What is required to amend our Charter?
Charter amendments are governed by Florida statute. They require 10% of the City's voters to sign a petition, which was achieved in 2018. Then the voters must approve the amendment.
7. What will happen if the amendment is approved?
Should voters approve the amendment, the Ethics Commission would be appointed and they would draft an amended ethics code consistent with the new Charter and State law to present to City Council for approval. When the new ethics code is approved, the Ethics Office would be formed and its policies established. City Council would have full review and approval authority over the budget for the Ethics Office.
8. Florida has an ethics law. Why do we need a local one?
There is a State ethics law, and cities may use it. But is is viewed by many as weak and ineffective. The State legislature has consistently refused to fund it at reasonable levels. The State Ethics Office has limited staff and budget to carry out its responsibilities in a state with a population of over 20 million people. Furthermore, its approach is "cookie cutter", slow and not well adapted to local needs or timetables.
The Naples Daily News has repeatedly noted the failings of the State Commission on Ethics.:
March 2017 editorial: "While these efforts to toughen ethics rules are commendable, any ordinance or law is only as good as its enforcement through a clearly defined complaint, independent investigation and disposition process. That's where the efforts came up short. conversation too often turned to relying on a state Ethics Commission that in our view has proven to be predictably forgiving to public officials."
April 2017 editorial: "Together, those two factors - the time it will take to reach a resolution and the predictability of how it will turn out- reinforce the reasons we've contended local public officials should devise a better way to have ethics complaints addressed more swiftly and closer to home."
February 2018 editorial: "[W]e've come to expect the state Ethics Commission to dismiss or not sanction those involved in most all complaints it receives about public officials across Florida."
The considerable defects in both State and City ethics codes leave us at this time without an adequate ethics code or procedures. Having a local capacity to deal with these issues would be much more efficient, and better protect our citizens and government officials.
9. Is this approach being used elsewhere in Florida?
Yes. Florida is a fertile field for ethics reform, and many cities including Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Sarasota have developed new ethics codes and procedures in recent years. Ethics reform is a national phenomenon and there are many efforts similar to that proposed for Naples being implemented across the country, not just in Florida.
10. Are there specific issues needing stronger ethics oversight?
Probably. Here are some issues from the last 5 years in Naples:
Conflict of interest regarding land development:
A controversial City Council approval of a commercial development project on Goodlette Frank Road led to an ethics violation complaint against a sitting City Councilor. Because our City’s ethics procedures are deficient, the charge was filed with the State ethics office. The issue dragged along for most of a year.
Astonishingly, the State Ethics Commission took the testimony of the two individuals involved (the City Councilor and the developer), did not call any of the plaintiff’s witnesses, and exonerated the City Councilor based on his own unchallenged testimony.
The Naples Daily News predicted exoneration shortly after the case was filed in April 2017 here, published the facts showing the evident conflict in January 2018 here, and in February 2018 noted here that they were not surprised at the outcome despite the evidence, stating: "... we weren’t surprised because we’ve come to expect the state Ethics Commission to dismiss or not sanction those involved in most all complaints it receives about public officials across Florida".
Brent Batten, columnist at the Naples Daily News, summarized the case here, noting: "As unlikely as it seems ... investigators with the ethics commission concluded they didn't have sufficient evidence to proceed with the ethics case."
Maybe they should have tried calling some of the witnesses?
Lobbying by developers:
Concerns have arisen regarding the potential for conflicts of interest and lobbying impacts related to recent commercial development projects and adverse changes in our Land Development Code leading to larger projects, more traffic and more congestion downtown.
Potential misapplication of CRA funding:
Many people have raised questions about undue influences resulting in inequitable use of Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds on Fifth Avenue, when so much work remains to be done east of Route 41 and in River Park.
Falsification of official reports:
The 2015 dismissal of the City of Naples fire chief after allegations of falsifying fire reports to increase departmental funding was an embarrassing headline and ethical failure.
Attempts to revoke the City's ethics code:
The City Council voted August 17, 2016 to revoke the entirety of our Ethics Code, after previous discussion of how it prevented Council members' ability to eat and drink at local social functions. This raised considerable concerns regarding our prior Council’s commitment to ethical excellence.
11. What is Ethics Naples?
Ethics Naples is a non-profit organization formed in 2017 in response to the above ethical issues. Our mission is to improve the transparency and accountability of local government in the City of Naples. The immediate goal of Ethics Naples is to amend the City Charter to include a “best practices” Ethics Code overseen and administered by an independent Naples Ethics Commission. See About Us for more information.
12. I'm convinced. How can I help?
You can help in several ways:
Please vote for the amendment on August 18, 2020
Please contribute to ETHICS NAPLES
Please encourage your friends, family and neighbors to vote for the amendment and support our campaign.