Integrity Florida will address opportunities to improve county-level ethics laws in Tampa Bay

4:10 PM, Nov 28, 2012   |    comments
The cover of a report issued by Integrity Florida, that looks at improving ethics policies in counties across the state.
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TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Integrity Florida, a non-partisan watchdog group in Tallahassee, will release a report Thursday morning assessing opportunities to tighten up Florida's notoriously-loose ethics laws by addressing them at the county level.

The report will identify a number of areas Greater Tampa Bay counties could adopt better ethics policies to make officials more accountable. 

Recent scandals in Hillsborough County alone have affected former commissioner Jim Norman, former commissioner Kevin White, and former Property Appraiser Rob Turner.

"Because it's been about 36 years since the state legislature acted on ethics reform," said Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida, "our state ethics laws are essentially frozen in time. But local governments are allowed to go further than state law."

Integrity Florida will delve into progress made by individual Florida counties, including local ethics commissions created in Duval, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties.  In Tampa Bay, a number of findings stand out:

Hillsborough County
While the county has yet to adopt ethics ordinances any stricter than the state's, Integrity Florida compliments the county's lobbyist registry and gift-restriction policy.  Yet no formal ethics training leaves room for improvement.

Pinellas County
Required ethics training is a feather in the county's cap and staff is currently drawing up a new ordinance to address commissioners' possible conflicts-of-interest, which are currently unregulated.  The county also requires lobbyists to register.

Sarasota County
Integrity Florida applauds Sarasota County for hiring a full-time ethics officer and capping financial donations to local political candidates at just $200.  All employees and elected officials also attend ethics training to help - among other things - detect and report fraud.

Polk County
Integrity Florida reports Polk County does little to combat ethics issues other than adherence to state law; with no local ethics commission, lobbyist registry, or conflict-of-interest policy, there is room for improvement.

Manatee County
Ethics training is provided to staff and officials on a periodic basis, but few county ordinances govern ethics.

Integrity Florida will release its full report, "Tough Choices: Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap," Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in Tallahassee.

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