The Jacksonville Ethics Commission legislative subcommittee continued its inquiry Friday into conflicts of interest, transparency issues, and post-employment matters.
The issue has a new urgency in light of the exploration of the sale of JEA, which could potentially offer incentives to outgoing officeholders and candidates.
The discussion included those issues (and corollaries) such as the use of aides by elected officials to handle personal business, as things that need tighter language than what the current ethics code has.
Language regarding soliciting future employment fell under scrutiny also, with a semantic discussion of what it means to “solicit,” and whether that “employment” is primary or secondary.
Likewise, the “revolving door” between the city and a private company that does business with the city, one that has in the past allowed city employees to get paid after leaving public service, was worthy of scrutiny.
“Is there a scenario where someone could leave the city, see something advantageous for them in private,” wondered panel chair Mary Bland Love. “We have young lawyers and staff moving from firm to firm all the time.”
Bans on political solicitation in government premises, asserted panel member Joseph Rogan, are not being enforced by the Supervisor of Elections. Rogan said that in light of that, it might be a good idea to strengthen ethics code language.
Likewise, said Rogan, the lack of an explicit ban on solicitations, via using the title of the office, could constitute misuse of position.
“If you want something done, you should go to a particular lobbyist,” Rogan pointed out as one potential example of abuse (purely a hypothetical), that could be remedied by stronger code language.
City employees acting (again hypothetically) as agents for outside parties dealing with the city was another area of scrutiny.
The relevant code language, committee members agreed, was “hard to read” and nebulous, and in need of an overhaul.
Likewise, consultant positions that are taken by city employees — “moonlighting” — was another area of inquiry.
Client disclosure issues, including city lobbyists working for other clients, and outside counsel (such as that used in the current lawsuit against opioid manufacturers), were spotlighted as needing another draft to tighten language.
As well, tightening of codes, including retaining records in the wake of an ethics investigation, was also a discussion point.
While the Public Records Act forbids destruction of records, the panel discussed potential gaps in its own code, including what evidence must be retained (voicemails, for example) and issues of “decorum” within city agencies.