Ethics Advisory Panel
In September 2012, the City Commission approved the creation of a citizens' Ethics Advisory Panel (EAP) whose purpose was to examine the various City policies, procedures, and practices relating to ethics, financial disclosures, and transparency of the government. The review was conducted to evaluate existing practices, seeking to ensure that polices were adequate to serve their purpose, understood by those who are to abide by them, and to ensure the various policies and procedures were accessible.
Over the course of eight months, the Panel conducted eighteen meetings to gather information and evaluate the City's current practices, including conducting two public hearings to solicit input from the community. At the conclusion of its efforts, the Panel submitted a list of recommendations to the City Commission, at which time the Panel was decommissioned. Since that time, the City Commission has taken the following actions in response to the recommendations of the Ethics Advisory Panel.
- Authorized the City Auditor and City Attorney to jointly hire a qualified person having legal experience to serve as the city government's independent Ethics Officer. This new official's office will be administratively located in the City Auditor's wing on the second floor of City Hall, and the official will report jointly to the City Auditor and City Attorney.
City Ethics Officer position description (created June 2014).
- Instructed the City Treasurer-Clerk to convene a Charter Review Committee in Spring 2015 to review the City Charter and, as part of this broader effort, to request committee members to evaluate the need to elevate the Ethics Officer position from a staff-level position to a Charter-level official who would be selected by and serve at the pleasure of the City Commission.
- Instructed staff to create a formal, comprehensive Code of Ethics capable of being posted to a single, easily-accessible location on the City's website. Further, that this Code of Ethics contain references to all pertinent state and local laws and ordinances governing ethics. In addition, create a handbook to serve as a quick reference or "pocket guide" to this larger, comprehensive Code of Ethics.
The Code of Ethics will contain links to information such as:
- Adopted a preamble for inclusion in the newly-created Code of Ethics to read as follows:
Whereas the citizens of Tallahassee have determined that they will be best served by adopting a municipal form of local government; and whereas the citizens have vested in the public officials and employees of that municipal government the responsibility and trust for operating that government for the benefit of its citizens; and whereas those citizens are entitled to a government that is open, ethical, responsive and accountable to the highest degree possible; now, therefore, the following ethics code is adopted:
- Adopted additional language to the standard loyalty oath sworn by all public employees. The additional oath to read as follows:
I further solemnly swear or affirm that I have a commitment to the public trust, the highest standards of professionalism and ethics including a commitment to the constant appearance of propriety, always putting public trust first and never allowing personal benefit to affect my decisions and service as a public servant.
- Affirmed current practice and authorized staff to ensure that only the most ethical individuals are employed, appointed, and/or promoted.
- Expanded the scope of the existing Fraud Hotline to also address ethical concerns, and renamed said hotline to the Ethics and Fraud Hotline. In addition, staff was instructed to formulate the necessary procedures and policies to govern the effective management of said hotline.
Information concerning the hotline can be accessed by visiting the City's Fraud Hotline web page.
- Enacted a requirement, in addition to the standard Form-1 financial disclosure form required by state statute, require Elected Officials to disclose additional information relative to:
- Business relationships with City vendors.
- Business relationships with City employees.
- Membership on corporate boards.
- Membership on not-for-profit boards.
- Land Ownership (in any form, whether located in Florida or another jurisdiction).
The definition of "business relationships" as contained in the Florida Ethics Commission's Form-6 will be utilized. Completed disclosure forms are currently in the custody of the Leon County Supervisor of Elections.
- Authorized expansion of the disclosure requirements contained in section 706.06(D) of the City's Personnel Policies & Procedures Manual (relating to disclosing offers of employment extended by City vendors) to also apply to the elected City Commissioners.
- Authorized new requirements to mandate Elected Officials to abstain from voting if, under a duty of "reasonable inquiry," the Official knew or should likely have known that the measure would inure to his or her special private gain or loss. This new requirement would also contain procedures outlining when a conflict must be orally announced during an open meeting, when a voting abstention would be necessary and if the official must leave the meeting Chambers during discussion of such matters, and provisions for the City Commission to censure any official who commits a clear violation of said regulations.
- Enacted a requirement that Elected Officials participate in an initial comprehensive ethics training course within 60 days of taking office, with refresher ethics training conducted on an annual basis thereafter, with documentation of course completion filed in the official's personnel file. This training to include education for officials and their aides (when applicable) on voting conflicts, gift ban statutes, campaign contribution limits, and restrictions on campaigning within government buildings. In addition, ethics training will be offered to candidates seeking election to the City Commission.
- Enacted a requirement that City employees complete an in-depth ethics training course within 180 days of joining the workforce and then every 3 years thereafter, with at least a 1-hour refresher ethics course during those years in which employees are not required to attend an in-depth course. Supervisors, senior managers, and executives/appointed officials will be required to complete additional targeted or level-appropriate ethics training.
- Enacted a requirement that members of quasi-judicial and other citizen-staffed advisory boards and advisory committees complete annual ethics training, with quasi-judicial board members undergoing additional training commiserate with their decision-making capacity. When possible, web-based training will be utilized.
- Instructed the City Ethics Officer to include an evaluation and report on the effectiveness of these training programs as part of the annual ethics report presented to the City Commission. In addition, data collected via this evaluation, feedback from training attendees, and data collected by the Ethics and Fraud Hotline will be used to improve future training course content.
- Adopted Ordinance No. 14-O-12 to repeal the Charitable Contribution preference points program in relation to the competitive bidding process.
- Instructed staff to include standardized "boilerplate" language in City contracts to put vendors on notice that they must adhere to the City's ethics policies.
- Approved additional disclosure requirements for lobbying firms engaged to lobby at the state or federal level on behalf of the City of Tallahassee. Such firms will be required to disclose - on a continuing basis - a complete list of their clients. In addition, should a conflict of interest be identified, the City will implement procedures whereby the City may waive any such conflict. Furthermore, information concerning the City's lobbyists will be made available on the City's website.
State of Florida, US Senate, and US House of Representatives registries are accessible online.
- Approved greater monitoring of lobbying firms who lobby the City government to ensure these firms' compliance with the lobbying ordinance, with the results of the monitoring effort being included in the annual ethics report to be prepared by the new Ethics Officer. In addition, if non-compliance is discovered, new procedures will provide for suspension of lobbyists until compliance is attained, and the City Commission will be alerted to any instances of non-compliance. At the conclusion of the monitoring period, the Commission directed staff to evaluate the need to institute progressive fines for repeat offenders.
- Prohibited future Appointed Officials (in addition to Elected Officials) from appearing before the City Commission for compensation for a 2-year period after the official leaves the employ of the City.
- Authorized creation of a 5-member advisory committee to monitor the implementation of the adopted ethics enhancements and to present a report to the City Commission at the conclusion of one year.