Thursday, October 23, 2014

Does Deerfield Beach Have Broken Windows?

Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Local Government Ethics

Does the "broken windows" theory, as first stated in a 1982 Atlantic essay by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, apply to government ethics? The theory says that, if small things like broken windows are ignored, people will think that no one cares and, therefore, they will break more windows and move on to more serious misconduct. It's about setting norms and sending signals.

Forget the misuse of this theory in policing, where individuals are arrested for small offenses, sending them into the criminal justice system when they should not be. The focus of the theory was on fixing windows, showing that people do care, and sending the message that good conduct is the community norm.

Isn't this what a good local government ethics program is supposed to do:  try to prevent and fix the small instances of ethical misconduct through training, advice, and disclosure, so that the big ones don't happen? A good ethics officer should dispose of reports and complaints of minor misconduct and misconduct that isn't covered by the ethics code by talking with the official and trying to get her to understand why what she is alleged to have done (whether or not she actually did it, whether or not there is an enforceable rule involved) might be harmful to the government organization and the community if it were to become (or remain) common.

A well-run local government ethics program is a form of community policing, with the community being the government organization and the ethics officer being the police officer on the beat. This is, for example, the way my colleague Carla Miller does it in Jacksonville. The relationship between ethics officer and official is not primarily an adversarial relationship, but rather a service relationship, in which the ethics officer's role is to help keep officials (and the organization) on the straight and narrow so scandals don't undermine the public's trust in their community's government. It requires that the ethics officer have room for maneuver, a strategy, and clear goals.

It is harmful to the public's trust when every little report and complaint is taken past the investigation and warning/settlement stage into a full-fledged proceeding. Most matters should be dismissed before an enforcement proceeding begins, and those that begin should rarely get very far without a settlement, at least if the ethics officer-official relationship has been working. A leadership supportive of the government ethics program will help make this relationship work.

As it is, there are too few ethics officers to form these relationships, too many ethics programs feel they need to be primarily adversarial, and too much of the news media and too many good government groups do not appear to recognize the value of these relationships, of treating broken windows not as crimes, but rather as something to be fixed in order to set good norms and send the right messages before things go too far.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics
A good essay, but Mr. Wechsler's essay deals with folks who listen and correct their behavior when shown the error of their ways.

Unlike our Mayor who cannot seem to learn, and does not alter her behavior even when the "complaint is taken past the investigation and warning/settlement stage".   

Our Madam Mayor is still trying to go around the City Manager, and continues directly to ask staff to do her bidding.  She wanted an inappropriate notice put on the city web site, and was piqued when told no by the staff member and told that the City Manager would have to approve any posting. 


Jean, as you are not able to take advice or direction it's time you realize you are not the right person to be mayor, time to step down. You are an embarrassment to Deerfield Beach.


  1. Bett;

    After putting considerable thought into why Robb continues to flout City Charter and Florida Law, I've arrived at these three possibilites:

    1. She's too stupid to know about better
    2. She knows, but she just doesn't care
    3. She doesn't think she's doing anything wrong

    When I considered everything equal, I arrive at the conclusion Jean Robb doesn't think she's doing anything wrong, and this opinion is bolstered by her comments such as, "You folks are nit picking. You're out to get me. And the such."

    The phrase "sociopath" is a well-worn description tossed about on the Internets ... hell, that charge has been levied against me on countless occassions.

    While I don't think Robb is a sociopath, I think there are parts of her behavior that have sociopathetic tendancties. From's Profile of a Sociopath, they describe common features of descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths:

    Manipulative and Conning
    They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible.

    Robb: I'm in charge.

    Grandiose Sense of Self
    Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

    Robb: It's my city.

    Shallow Emotions ... Callousness/Lack of Empathy
    They are not genuine, neither are their promises.

    Robb: Leave's Ada's service to go watch a football game.

    Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
    Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim.

    Robb: Her life in general.

  2. Seems to me that you have hit the nail (sociopath) on the head.

  3. Bett, where was your musing and outrage during Peggy's tyrannical reign. When Noland, Ganz, and Hanson continuously lied and withheld truths from the public. I guess since Hanson has backed the SOB position regarding the beach. Your insistence on airing your obvious vendetta against the Honorable Mayor Jean Robb shows a clear lack of respect for her office and Jean herself. I sincerely wish you SOB'ers would get on your brooms and fly back to whatever frozen hell you originated from. Afterall, you aren't more than a snowbird clawing at Deerfield all the while Deerfield's residents with deep roots in Deerfield get stepped on, run over, and shifted aside as you watch.

    You jest about the "sociopath", but shouldn't you be concerned that you share the same logic and ideas as a sociopath, at least where the Honorable Mayor Jean Robb is concerned. This shared opinion makes me question your sanity and your motives.

  4. Carol;

    Did you ever replace the tablet with the stolen one you had to return to the PHA?

  5. Do you remember when Poitier, near the end of her days in office, was getting blasted from all sides as most everyone finally realized what a complete and utter dirtbag she was?

    And do you remember Robb getting up to speak before the commission, recalling "the good Poitier", a woman who picked green beans?

    As if vegetables could somehow wash away 4 decades of corruption.

    I say that to say this.

    When Robb is removed from office, and she will be, don't forget those who stood by her side ... loyal to a fault, willing to overlook countless infractions.

    There won't be any need to question anything at that point ... all traces of doubt will be removed.

    Say what you will about me .. but history has shown I nearly always on the right side of the equation.