During their latest meeting the Deerfield Beach Ethics Committee went around and around about how to prevent Caryl and Chaz from submitting “frivolous” complaints. No they didn’t say that, no names were mentioned. But there was a lot of discussion about the cost of the only complaints that have been filed so far, (Caryl and Chaz are the only ones who have filed complaints) and how to write a provision which would deter “people” from, as Gloria Battle said, filing “fruitless” claims. In an attempt to prevent the filing of frivolous complaints, she wanted people whose claims were not upheld to pay the cost of the research, and she wanted to have language about this in the code. On its face that may seem like a good idea to some, but in practice it is not.
As I have said before, the code is new, some breaking in is to be expected, and, frankly, some cost to investigating code violations is to be expected; even at the risk of a few groundless filings it is much cheaper than the consequences of not having a code and doing business as usual in Deerfield Beach.
The fact that all Caryl’s and Chaz’s claims were found NOT to be in violation of the ethics code does not mean that they were frivolous. Caryl and Chaz, in my opinion, thought that there were grounds for their complaints; they were not trying to “get” a commissioner out of spite or malice. So, even if the claims went nowhere, and even if they cost the city to investigate them, they would not be considered malicious or frivolous.
At the meeting, a definition from the State about frivolous/malicious filings was distributed by attorney/facilitator Andy Maurodis which said something like a claim is considered malicious if filed by someone whose intent is to be damaging and contains falsehoods. However he pointed out that very few suits against those claims at the State level had been upheld.
But, let’s imagine what would happen if we had some language about that in our code. Citizen X gets ticked off at Commissioner Y, and files a bunch of false complaints which are then dismissed after some research by the attorney, and a hefty bill. The city sends a bill to Mr. X for. Let’s say, $8,000. Mr. X laughs and tears the bill up and tosses it. After a few more bills and much laughter, what happens? Does the city sue Mr. X? First, that would probably cost the city much more than Mr. X “owes”, and second, the Commission would have to vote to start the suit, and I am pretty sure that the Constitution has some provision about a party to a suit voting about it.
Many actions by elected officials are controversial, and open to criticism; sometimes scathing, and sometimes quite believable. But all should be taken with a large dose of the salt shaker. Elected officials have a public forum where they can present their viewpoints, and defend themselves. The public should be questioning decisions and actions by elected officials, and the officials should explain and defend them. Perhaps if this was done there would have been no complaints.