Deficiencies in Naples' ethics policy

Download a one pager on the need for an improved ethics policy here.

Summary:

  • The failings of the State and City ethics codes

  • Current "best practices" for City and County ethics practice

  • Why we need to update our ethics policy

Trust in government requires open public records, open public meetings and a strong, enforceable code of ethics. Florida law gives us the first two.

 However, the State Ethics Commission does not serve cities well:

  • "… a state Ethics Commission that in our view has proven to be predictably forgiving to public officials." (Naples Daily News, Editorial, 3/18/17)
  • "… the [State] ethics commission is slow to respond given its broad statewide responsibility and periodic meetings, plus it’s weak in punishment." (NDN, Editorial, 4/6/17)
  • "… 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…" (NDN, Editorial, 2/1/18)

The City ethics code is also weak, complicated and unusable.
Its web page for complaints is here, its references to State rules are here, and the current ethics ordinance is here. The problems include:

  • NOT INDEPENDENT: It is overseen by the same officials it regulates (City Counsel and City Attorney).

  • HARD TO USE: There is no dedicated office or hotline, and any one of 5 different officials has to be approached to file a complaint:
    State Attorney, Collier County Sheriff, Naples Police Department of Internal Affairs, City Manager or Mayor's Office.

  • LACK OF PROCEDURES: The manner in which a complaint is handled, who evaluates it, how it is investigated, protection for complainant and alleged violator and confidentiality provisions are not stipulated other than reference to "qualified investigators" or the local court.

  • MINIMAL EDUCATION COMPONENT: There are no provisions for a full ethics education program for all employees, elected officials and advisory board members.

  • NO COVERAGE OF LOBBYISTS: Lobbyists are not registered and their meetings with City government officials and employees are not monitored, regulated or reported publicly in any way.

  • STANDARD OF PROOF: The requirement for any significant penalty is "willful and corrupt" behavior. Ethical lapses are not generally "willful and corrupt" and so this effectively neuters the ethics code.

 

A high level of ethics performance requires best practices.
Ethics Naples spent a year consulting with Florida ethics commissions, ethics experts and lawyers to draft the Charter amendment including these provisions:

  • INDEPENDENCE: The ethics process must be overseen by an independent Commission, not by City officials and employees. This is critical both for the integrity of the process and citizen trust.

  • EDUCATION:  After independence, education, training and available consultation with an expert in ethics is the single most important activity for an ethics program.  Stop the trouble before it starts.

  • CITIZEN ACCESS: There have to be straightforward ways to raise concerns and file complaints, including an anonymous hotline.

  • EFFECTIVE AND FAIR INVESTIGATIONS: It is critical that there be clear procedures for investigations that are competent, fair, quick and confidential.

  • FOCUS: A qualified individual needs to have primary responsibility for the implementation of the City's ethics policy and procedures.

  • OVERSIGHT OF LOBBYISTS: Individuals seeking to influence City employees and officials must register and their visits must be public record.

 

We may be a small city physically, but in terms of property values – and corresponding temptations – we are bigger than many cities in Florida. Let's get a world-class ethics policy in place for our world-class city. The time to do this is before a crisis, not after the newspaper headlines appear.

TO FIND OUT MORE:
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© 2020 by  Ethics Naples, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.

Contact us at email@ethicsnaples.org

Paid political advertisement paid for by Ethics Naples, Inc., P.O. Box 1384, Naples, FL 34106-1384