Monday, April 20, 2009

Ethics Training for Deerfield Commissioners

Our newly seated city commissioners are going to have a workshop on the Sunshine Law and State Ethics Law. Will it do any good? Plato didn’t think so.

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. - Plato

We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life. – Edwin Markham

If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it. – Marcus Aurelius

Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest. – Mark Twain

When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses. – Shirley Chisholm

Genuine politics -- even politics worthy of the name -- the only politics I am willing to devote myself to -- is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole. – Vaclav Havel

From the Deerfield Beach City web site:

Ethics Workshop - Apr. 30On Thursday, April 30, at 6 PM, the City of Deerfield Beach will hold a workshop to discuss Ethics and The Sunshine Law. This state law training session will take place in the City Commission Chamber at City Hall, 150 NE 2nd Avenue. Interested parties are encouraged to attend. For more information, contact the City Clerk's office at 954-480-4200.

I understand that the commission is going to hear from Norm Ostrau Director of Florida Atlantic University's new Public Ethics Academy. http://www.ethics.state.fl.us/publications/Ostrau_bio.pdf .

The introduction on their website says:
“Public confidence in the integrity of governmental officials and institutions has become an urgent public problem. The case records of the Florida Commission on Ethics indicate that elected officials, appointed officials, civil servants, and contracted employees are all susceptible to ethical breaches”. http://www.fau.edu/spa/pea/index.html

Some Google results on “Norm Ostrau FAU:

FAU academy to probe: What makes public officials go bad?
By KIMBERLY MILLER
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 22, 2009

Palm Beach County's public fraud is now fodder for university study.
Florida Atlantic University opened the Public Ethics Academy this month, motivated by the parade of elected officials who have found themselves recently charged, or imprisoned, for crimes committed in office.

The academy, housed in FAU's School of Public Administration, will research ethics laws, provide ethics training for public officials, develop model legislation, and generally ask the question: "What has made people think the public sector is a place to enrich themselves rather than a place to perform public service?"

"This arose out of alarm with public officials being arrested and put in prison," said Hugh Miller, School of Public Administration director. "We started talking about this a year ago, and it just seems not to have stopped."

Earlier this month, former County Commissioner Mary McCarty was charged with conspiring to defraud the public of her honest services. Her husband, Kevin McCarty, pleaded guilty to failing to report her crimes.

Prosecutors say Mary McCarty failed to disclose her financial interest in bond issues that profited both her and her husband. She is also accused of taking free hotel stays from a developer seeking favorable decisions from the commission.

Her arrest was preceded by those of four local politicians: former County Commissioners Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti, and former West Palm Beach City Commissioners Ray Liberti and Jim Exline.

Miller said corruption in Broward and Miami-Dade counties also contributes to the need for the new academy, which hopes to pay for itself through endowments and money earned from ethics classes.

Norman Ostrau, a former deputy county attorney for Broward County who served on the Florida Elections Commission, is overseeing the academy on a voluntary basis.
"We keep being vexed by people with questions about integrity in government, and every week we see another urgent problem in the newspaper," Miller said. "Maybe we just need a more ethical culture."

At least one local official isn't sure the academy will be able to make a dent in political corruption.
Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, said unethical behavior is so widespread, it will be hard to curtail.

"I wish them well, but I remain skeptical," Dinerstein said about the academy. "Officials think if they haven't broken the law, they are engaged in acceptable government policy. They don't recognize there is a very wide space of legal but unacceptable practices."

Miller said part of the academy's work will be to conduct training seminars on ethical behavior. People don't always realize they are doing something unethical, he said.

Also, some government offices have ethics policies that contradict each other, or don't know how to write an ethics policy.

Marty Rogol, chairman of the ethics committee for Leadership Palm Beach County, welcomes FAU's new academy.

"From what I've seen in this county, the more the merrier in terms of people getting involved in this issue," Rogol said.

The academy will hold its first event noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 4 in Fort Lauderdale. Speakers will include former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio and FAU Trustees Chairwoman Nancy Blosser. For more information call (954) 762-5140.

From the Sun Sentinel:

FAU creates Public Ethics Academy in wake of political scandals
Members will conduct research and provide training.
By Scott Travis South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 5, 2009

Fort Lauderdale - As one South Florida politician after another became embroiled in scandal, Florida Atlantic University decided it was time to devote more attention to the study of ethics.So the university's School of Public Administration in Fort Lauderdale created a new Public Ethics Academy, intended to research ethics and provide training for local government agencies.

The academy opened Wednesday with its first seminar, featuring representatives from academia, media and politics at FAU's downtown Fort Lauderdale campus. The academy is receiving its money from training services, including a contract with Hollywood.

In Palm Beach County, three county commissioners, Mary McCarty, Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti, have been arrested or imprisoned in recent years on corruption-related charges.

Broward County has had high-profile corruption allegations, as well, including cases involving former Sheriff Ken Jenne, former Hollywood Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom, former Deerfield Beach Mayor Al Capellini and former Deerfield Beach Commissioner Steve Gonot.

""There is just an absolute need," said Norman Ostrau, a former chairman of the State Ethics Commission and the leader of the new academy.

James Svara, a government ethics professor at Arizona State University, is a guest professor at FAU. Svara said some public officials are ignorant of the rules. Some also rationalize that they deserve kickbacks or that they go with the territory. That is why government bodies should have strong ethics policies, Svara said.

Marco Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House and also a panelist, said one mistake of politicians is protecting themselves only from what is illegal when they also should consider what might look bad.
"Your enemies will use almost anything against you," he said. "I don't think you should do anything you're not willing to put on your campaign material. Don't do anything you wouldn't be proud to brag about."
Staff Writer Anthony Man contributed to this report. Scott Travis can be reached at stravis@SunSentinel.com or 561-243- 6637.


Mike Mayo said:
Ethical politics shouldn't be oxymoron

Michael Mayo
News Columnist
February 5, 2009

I climbed inside an ivory tower Wednesday. The occasion: The opening of Florida Atlantic University's new Public Ethics Academy.

They've got their work cut out for them. With Palm Beach County politicians being hauled off by the wagonload and Broward politicians raising eyebrows with possible conflicts, South Florida's mistrust of elected leaders keeps growing.

For some reason, academy director Norm Ostrau invited me to take part in the first panel discussion. Obviously, they'll let anybody in the joint.

Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio also took part.

He explained some of his missteps in office, like failing to disclose a home equity loan. And he castigated the newest former House speaker, Ray Sansom, for taking a hometown college job, which led him to resign this week.

"It's as much about perception as anything else," Rubio said. "He took the job on the same day he was sworn in as speaker."Any decent politician knows you wait until after you leave office to take the sweetheart local thank-you gig.

Rubio's mantra: "If you wouldn't brag about it, don't do it.

"Law professor Bruce Rogow had simple advice for politicians: "Don't do anything you wouldn't want your worst enemy to know.

"He's not a fan of restrictive ethics rules, saying the ballot box acts as the most effective deterrent.

He has more faith in voters than me. How to explain all the ethically challenged locals who keep winning re-election? Like the Broward commissioner who once voted on a county contract involving a trash hauler while he was a paid lobbyist for the company. Or the Broward commissioner who voted on town grants written by her husband that helped him get a raise and a $15,000 bonus.

Both were fined by the state Ethics Commission. But ethics law is mostly toothless.That leaves it to the federal government, with its broader anti-corruption statutes, to do the heavy lifting. In Palm Beach County, five elected officials have been toppled by a federal probe.

How should Florida be revamped? First, I'd take Maine's big-picture approach. Its ethics law states: "It's not enough that public officers avoid acts of misconduct. They must also scrupulously avoid acts which may create an appearance of misconduct.

"Next, I'd add some consistency. State legislators are allowed to vote when they have conflicts, but local officials aren't. I say anybody with a conflict should abstain.

I'd also like to see other restrictions embraced statewide, like the one Broward voters approved last year. Besides being barred from voting, officials with conflicts now can't advocate or discuss the matter on the dais.

Finally, I'd add prison to the punishment mix. In Massachusetts, public officials who break conflict-of-interest laws face prison. In Florida, conflict violators only face fines, unless criminal "corrupt intent" can be proven.

Ostrau, a former legislator and ex-chairman of the Florida Ethics Commission, also wants changes. He'd like the commission given authority to initiate investigations.

Rubio, mulling bids for U.S. Senate and governor, cut out early. A politician has only so much time for the high-minded talk in ivory towers.

Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at mmayo@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4508.


Check out Michael Mayo's blog and see what he has to say on issues ranging from property taxes to Water restrictions at SunSentinel.com/mayoblog
Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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