LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida find Florida’s counties moving beyond state in ethics reforms

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Today, 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 cataloguing these positive changes that counties 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: the data show 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.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.