New legislation threatens the functionality of local ethics panels around the state, and at least one sees it as a potential existential threat.
The Jacksonville Ethics Commission plans to discuss bills in the House and the Senate (SB 7014/HB 1597) in a special meeting Monday at 4 p.m., amid concerns from Kirby Oberdorfer, the director of Jacksonville’s Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight, that the legislation would make these panels “lap dogs instead of watchdogs” by gutting their ability to launch independent investigations.
The Senate measure has already passed unanimously and is now in messages in the House, where a similar bill is still in the committee process.
The bill seems to shut the door on certain complaints, including those based on “hearsay,” a condition which has riled editorial pages. It also requires complaints to be signed under oath, meaning that aspirant whistleblowers will have to put their names and their reputations on their gripes.
“The bill leaves both state and local ethics commissions toothless in considering complaints of wrongdoings that aren’t done right out in the open for all the world to see,” charged the Palm Beach Post.
City Council members are expected to be on hand, likely including former Florida Ethics Commission member Matt Carlucci, who condemned the legislation and the process in a recent op-ed.
“The bill in question (SB 7014) introduces prohibitive measures that overburden citizens seeking to lodge legitimate complaints. It mandates that complainants possess personal knowledge of the alleged ethics violation and effectively strips local ethics commissions of their ability to initiate independent investigations.