On November 29, 2012, Florida State University’s LeRoy Collins Institute (LCI) and Integrity Florida released the latest Tough Choices report that analyzes Florida’s local governments’ ethics reforms and policies. While Florida’s statewide ethics laws have been essentially frozen in time since Governor Reubin O’D. Askew championed reform in the 1970s, the report finds ethics reforms at the county and city level are alive and growing.
According to U.S. Department of Justice data, from 2000 – 2010, Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions.
While some of these convictions have been of state officials, many of these corruption scandals have involved local government officials. Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap analyzed survey results on ethical programs and reforms in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties focusing on the areas of ethics policy, ethics enforcement, lobbying, campaign financing and procurement.
In short, the results show that a majority of the counties surveyed provide ethics training for elected county officials, have adopted local ordinances regulating procurement practices, and put in place restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to the county. Close to half of the counties have designated a point person for ethics issues.
“Our analysis of Florida’s local government ethics policies discovered that counties all over Florida are acting as ethics reform laboratories, addressing their unique experience with public corruption through innovative reform solutions,” said Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida’s executive director and co-author of Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap. “It is our hope that by cataloging these positive changes that counties across Florida have implemented, we’ve developed a roadmap that other counties can follow to curb corruption.”
Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap also includes seven case studies of local governments who have undertaken ethics reform efforts in the wake of ethical charges or violations. The report finds that while initiated by scandal, the work done to create an ethical government in Broward, Duval/Jacksonville, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Sarasota Counties has made positive changes to curb public corruption.
“Our findings are encouraging in showing progress in the adoption of ethics laws across Florida counties,” said Dr. Carol Weissert, LCI director, political science professor at FSU and co-author of the report. “While there is always more to do, Florida counties are taking the initiative in creating an ethical culture and can serve as leaders for future state action in Florida and across the nation.”
The report’s 11-question survey was emailed at least twice to county administrators and county attorneys in all of Florida’s 67 counties in the fall of 2012. A link to the full report and an appendix containing the complete set of survey questions, responses and comments that often include website links to specific ordinances and codes can be found at www.collinsinstitute.fsu.edu and www.integrityflorida.org.
About the LeRoy Collins Institute: Established in 1988, the LeRoy Collins Institute is an independent, non-profit organization which studies and promotes creative solutions to key private and public issues facing the people of Florida and the nation. The Institute, located in Tallahassee at the Florida State University, is affiliated and works in collaboration with the State University System of Florida. Named in honor of former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, the Institute is governed by a distinguished board of directors, chaired by Allison DeFoor, D. Min. Other board members include executives, local elected officials and senior professionals from throughout the state.
About Integrity Florida: Integrity Florida is a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption. The organization’s vision is government in Florida that is the most open, ethical, responsive and accountable in the world.
Press conference announcing release of the Tough Choices report: