Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Deerfield Beach, A Conspiracy of Truth

A Conspiracy of Truth - 11/08/14

(Thanks for writing this Jeff, so much better than I could have.)

From:  www.deerfieldbeachusa.com

There's no question in my mind, after reading the IG report of her conduct as mayor and hearing other reports, that Jean Robb has committed malfeasance or misfeasance by her frequent violations of the city charter; and possibly, in some cases, she's violated criminal statutes. The latter is still under investigation. Meanwhile, Mayor Robb is dismissive of the report — her lawyer will take care of it — as if to suggest the report's findings are not to be taken too seriously.
 
 
However, the final report of the Broward Office of the Inspector General (OIG), just issued Nov. 7, 2014, Misconduct by Deerfield Beach Mayor Jean Robb, OIG 14-017, concluded that her pattern of unlawful behavior in contravention of the city charter is serious:
 
The OIG investigation found probable cause to believe that Mayor Robb engaged in misconduct when she attempted to use her position to obstruct City code enforcement efforts involving a local dealership that donated to her chosen causes. We found that Mayor Robb routinely abused her authority by directing staff members without the City Manager’s knowledge and approval. Given Mayor Robb’s long tenure in her position, we must conclude that such abuse was not accidental. Such actions contravene the City charter’s well-considered safeguards separating the executive from the legislature. They also have a predictably coercive effect on employees and circumvent controls designed to protect public resources and maintain governmental accountability. [Emphasis added.]
 
 
 The mayor did not file a formal response to the preliminary report that was issued about a month ago (so she hasn't denied the allegations), and she continues to wear a face of unconcerned indifference in her public appearances.
 
 
 Throughout her political career, Robb has faced attacks on her conduct and character. She's always managed to immerge relatively intact, and that could be the case here, though it doesn't look too good for her now. Also, through it all, she has maintained a loyal band of followers who love her to death and will support her to the bitter end. Unfortunately, the recurring allegations of misconduct distract from the more important business of the city, which is to make better lives for its residents. Mayor Robb, as well, ought to stick to city business rather than spend her time trying to get special privileges for her friends or concocting vendettas against people she less favors. It's in that arena where she gets into the most trouble.
 
 
If there is, now, a grand conspiracy against Mayor Robb to unseat her, as some may believe, it is more likely a conspiracy of truth. At the next stage of this investigation, the facts will out and consequences, follow.
 
 
 Malfeasance is a concept we (Florida) inherited from the law of England. It is a general principle that when a state separates from another state, the law of the former state continues in force until changed. This assures legal continuity. This is why if you should ever happen to be involved in a civil suit for breach of contract, the suit may be decided on legal principles established by English judges centuries ago before American independence.
 
 
At common law, malfeasance is a crime. It is sometimes referred to as a breach of public trust. Malfeasance can also be the basis of a civil tort action in some cases. It still is a crime in the Realm. A recent Canada Supreme Court case discussed it at length, and the UK Attorney General has advised British prosecutors they still may pursue criminal charges of malfeasance in applicable cases. In Florida, the governor's power to suspend a public official for malfeasance or misfeasance dates back to at least the post-Reconstruction constitution of 1885.
 
 
Malfeasance is essentially wrongdoing — a willful violation of the law. Under Florida law, it has been largely subsumed on the criminal side by statute (e.g., official misconduct), but can still result in civil penalties (misuse of office) or be grounds for suspension or recall.
 
 
In other words, malfeasance, misfeasance, breach of public trust, unlawful or unethical conduct — whatever you may call it — is no laughing matter, to be brushed off as a mere legal technicality.
 
 
A related question is why Mayor Robb is so blasé about these reports and the possible consequences — arrogantly so the way I read her. I don't think she is a crook or "crazy." At this point, she hasn't been accused of any crime that is malum in se: bribery, embezzlement, extortion, or oppression, for example. Nor has she been accused, yet, of falsifying public records, conflict of interest, or anything of that sort. Nonetheless, the evidence points to repeated, knowing violations of the city charter by her interference with the city's administration, undermining the council-manager form of government adopted in the charter.
 
 
Government codes of ethics are designed to preserve public integrity. If we had a mayor who was perfectly honest, we probably would not have to worry too much about public integrity. She would always tell the truth; act impartially, setting aside personal biases and prejudices; respect the rights and dignity of all people; and comply with the law whether she agrees with it or not. On the other hand, a thoroughly dishonest public official, from the standpoint of personal ethics, can fully comply with the standards of conduct set out in the ethics codes and never be accused of ethics violations. This, I believe, is the crux of the matter: Jean Robb is short in the personal integrity department. It's not that she does not have the intellectual or mental capacity to know "right" and "wrong" or that she does not totally understand the charter that governs the way the city is supposed to operate. She just doesn't want to do it that way. As the IG report stated: "Given Mayor Robb’s long tenure in her position, we must conclude that [her] abuse [of authority] was not accidental."
 
 
Thus, she does "stupid" things. She hardly ever admits to her mistakes. She resists making amends. If she does apologize, it's half-hearted and she goes back to her old ways. No, she will claim, she didn't demand code enforcement ease up on the car dealer who gave money to her favorite causes — she just asked if. Like she asked if (just if) a certain person could be blocked from her city email account. Nor did she tell city employees to issue a city parking sticker to her pastor or seek to exclude a potential contractor she doesn't like for some reason from a contract bid. She, she will say, was misunderstood . . . or they are lying. Just like Sheriff Israel lied. As Maj. Burns ("M*A*S*H") said, "I wouldn't be so paranoid if everyone wasn't against me."
 
 
If Jean Robb, in the face of the evidence, does not atone or resign, the city may have no choice but to act. The commission cannot let this behavior go unchecked. As Mr. Ganz indicated at the last city commission meeting, if Robb's behavior continues, the city must do something. The commission has options, he said, which is true.
 
 
 If my thesis that Mayor Robb has committed malfeasance or misfeasance is correct, the commission could ask the governor to suspend her from office. That would an option — a good first one to explore.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Advice on how to stay out of jail---from a lobbyist who didn’t


By Kevin A. Ring October 24


Virginia’s legislators and governor should embrace a total ban on gifts of any value from private interests, including lobbyists, to lawmakers. I say this not because I think politicians can be bought with a free cheeseburger or Redskins tickets. I do not believe that at all, but it seems clear that a great majority of the general public does.

I should know. In 2010, a federal jury convicted me of honest services fraud, a junior varsity form of bribery, for giving numerous small gifts to members of Congress and their staffs while I worked as a lobbyist.

From my prison bunk in Maryland, I offer this unsolicited but hard-learned advice for the commonwealth’s lawmakers and lobbyists:

Zero is the right “limit.” Lawmakers should not pick some low-dollar value for a gift limit. Go with zero. First, if you create a limit, no matter how reasonable-sounding, people will try to abuse it. When Congress limited gifts to $50 in the 1990s, the late Abe Pollin allegedly responded by setting the value of a ticket to a Verizon Center skybox at $48. Second, do not be fooled into thinking that limiting the size of permissible gifts solves the problem. Numerous psychologists and behavioral economists have confirmed the principle of reciprocity: People are hard-wired to repay even small favors or gifts. For officeholders, this benign, evolutionary instinct could come back to hurt them.

Any legal prohibition should also apply to lobbyists, not just the public officials they are trying to influence. I say this to protect lobbyists, not hurt them. Every lobbyist knows that conflicted feeling when a lawmaker whose help you need asks you for something you know he or she probably should not take. You want to say “yes” for your and your client’s benefit. And, let’s face it, if a gift prohibition applies only to the officeholder, a lobbyist will find it easy to do the wrong thing. The lobbyist’s other choice is to remind the lawmaker that he or she shouldn’t be asking for a particular gift. Your service as the lawmaker’s moral conscience will not be welcomed in most cases. Far better to be able to say, “Sorry, I would love to help, but I could go to jail if I say yes.”

If you don’t act, the feds will. A career-climbing federal prosecutor enjoys nothing so much as playing white knight to the scourge of public corruption, especially the corruption found in an opposing political party. Congress has given ambitious prosecutors a powerful weapon in the federal honest service statute. The law is so broad that every public official in the country — from a U.S. senator to a local dogcatcher — is subject to prosecution for accepting gifts from private interests.

If you get caught, you will almost certainly be convicted. News flash to lawmakers: The public doesn’t like you all that much, and it likes lobbyists even less. The level of cynicism about public officials and lobbyists is too high in my view for a healthy democracy, but it is real and you best beware. Most employees (read: prospective jurors) are not offered free meals, tickets and trips at their jobs and see no reason that public servants deserve such freebies.

I appreciate that many Virginia lawmakers might think that their integrity is being unfairly attacked because of the misdeeds of former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R). Get over it. When 12 politician-hating laypeople convene in a jury room to decide what they think about powerful public servants accepting gifts from those who want power used on their behalf, they will not care how strongly you feel about your integrity. They will be happy to convict you.

Some lawmakers might worry that a ban on gifts will lead to fewer opportunities to meet with constituents and conduct commonwealth business in informal social settings. These relaxed events can improve government responsiveness by increasing interaction between the public and its elected leaders. And, some might be candid enough to admit, free hospitality and gifts make the job a little more fun. I get it. But I promise the commonwealth’s leaders and lobbyists that even without free gifts, being in politics will be more fun than being in prison.

The writer is an inmate at Cumberland Federal Prison Camp. Before entering prison, he was a freelance writer in Kensington and, before that, a federal lobbyist.