Friday, March 08, 2013

The Rick Scott Failure On Ethics Reform ... by gimleteye

Governor Rick Scott is garnering headlines for flip-flopping on positions like health care, generating quoteables from outraged Tea Party supporters. The problem with this angle is that it skips past the story how Scott's inexperience as a politician lead him to mistakes and omissions. These serious leadership deficits were the result of indifference or lack of understanding of public policy. Scott, after all, was a political newcomer who understood public policy through the filter of business success, having earned a fortune through a sharp understanding of health care reimbursement rules and regulations.

One of the best examples of Governor Scott's weakness as a political figure is the failure to support meaningful ethics reform; the result is coming clear in this session of the legislature.

To track back briefly: the worst outcome of the financial crisis, triggered in the late 2000's after an housing boom that landed in a devastating crate -- taking the fortunes of the state with it -- was the failure to hold any public officials accountable for the culture of speculation.

Because the federal executive branch held none to account, the speculators at the heart of the Growth Machine breathed sighs of relief, waited a while, and continued on their ways. Governor Scott was elected in a general atmosphere of "let's get on with it", "don't look backward", and the Tea Party confidence that the best leadership goal was to embrace the literal destruction of public policy and all the bureaucrats on the tax payer payroll. As a result, the speculators are largely still in control of the governing apparatus, both at the local and state legislative levels.

This is where ethics reform -- or lack, thereof -- comes into play. Or should.

As Scott ascended to the Governor's Mansion in early 2011, a special grand jury report on corruption and ethics was released in Tallahassee. Eye On Miami actually read the report.

Today, the Miami Herald reports, "Any discussion of changes to state ethics laws in 2011 likely would have included Phil Claypool, who was then executive director of the Commission on Ethics.

“I do not remember any communications with the governor’s office about the grand jury report and its recommendations for changes in the ethics laws,” Claypool said. “That doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, just that I don’t recall anything like that.”

Scott in effect missed an opportunity to own the anti-corruption issue — and now the Florida Senate largely owns it. Scott may sign an ethics bill that ethics watchdogs consider too weak because it opens gaping new loopholes in laws they say are already too weak."

In January 2011 we wrote about the, "19th State Grand Jury Report on Public Corruption. The Herald might have tracked back for readers, as we will do here:

"The report illustrates how the rush to privatize government services lead to corruption in Florida. The Grand Jury then urges action. "In order for government to function, the people must have faith in their elected officials. Unfortunately, one only needs to read the newspaper headlines across the State of Florida realize that public corruption is pervasive at all levels of government."

The Florida Independent reported, "Miami Beach Democrat and former state Sen. Dan Gelber, who lost the attorney general’s race to Bondi last month and is a well-known advocate for tougher ethics rules, acknowledges that the grand jury recommendations may be well intentioned, but ultimately lie at the mercy of a legislature weary of reform. “The problem has not been the ideas. It’s been the unwillingness of the Legislature to really reform itself and public offices around the state,” [Gelber] said. “The Legislature refuses to seriously address public corruption."

According to the St. Pete Times, "The grand jury used the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to underscore the depth of the problem. In that agency, supervisors flagrantly circumvented purchasing rules, a practice that become common knowledge and prompted other employees to act unethically, the panel says. "We were told employees would steal items such as flat screen televisions from the office. Depending upon the position of the employee, the supervisor often took no action," the report says. "Due to the unethical conduct at the supervisory level, a systemic acceptance of corruption was born." The report does not identify the leadership of the FWC, Rodney Barreto, who is a close confidante of Jeb!

In a 2004 report by AFCME, "Shady Deals in the Sunshine State: the Florida Model of Privatization sounded an alarm. In 2005 the Florida legislature passed SB 1146. Although the bill prohibited lobbyists from becoming members of the state's ethics commission and clamped down on former state employees who want to lobby state government, it was vetoed by then Governor Jeb Bush in June 2005. Jeb! claimed, "This legislation could have a Draconian impact on the ability of the state to recruit employees who eventually aspire to return to the private sector."

State attorney general Pam Bondi did not include public corruption among her top priorities. Bondi "Ideologically and philosophically ... stands with Florida's business community" according to Associated Industries' jackass-in-chief, Barney Bishop. One of Bondi's first hires was Chief of Staff Carlos Muniz, a protege of Senator Marco Rubio. Muniz was a deputy general counsel for former Governor Jeb Bush and later a partner for GrayRobinson. As to GrayRobinson, according to a St. Pete Times report, in 2006 GrayRobinson received a lucrative contract for legal services from the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority. Bondi was a county prosecutor in Hillsborough. The Authority's board ignored a selection committee recommendation to re-hire the authority's legal counsel. The contract was awarded to Gray Robinson, with all four of Bush's appointees voting to over-ride the selection committee's recommendation. "Gray Robinson ... has links to Bush. Karen Unger, who is married to Gray Robinson partner Jason Unger, served as Bush's campaign manager in 2004." ("Road Agency Under Fire Again", Sept. 2, 2006, St. Pete Times)

Florida led the nation in the number of public officials convicted in federal corruption cases from 1998 to 2007. Counting from 2000 forward, Florida still had more federal corruption convictions than any other state. "We're number 1", St. Pete Times columnist Howard Troxler crows.

If actions speak louder than words, the Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida legislature will quickly move to embrace the recommendations of the Florida Grand Jury Report on Public Corruption, including criminalizing offenses by public officials and eliminating loopholes."

Of course, that did not happen. Instead, what is happening now is that an ethics reform bill has emerged from the Florida Senate that actually creates bigger loopholes for the Great Destroyers to walk through.

Governor Scott's failed leadership on ethics reform is just one example why he must be a one-term -- a regrettable one-term governor. But who will the Democrats set out, to defeat him?


Anonymous said...

Just add this to the long list of failures by this governor. Given his dismal performance, I was surprised that he even considered running again. But he can rest assured, we will relieve him, no matter how long we have to stand in line to vote him out!

Anonymous said...

Dan Gelber or one of the democratic mayors is where we need look for new leadership. But it is difficult for me to move to the election while we still do not know who hacked those 2,500 extra absentee ballots. I certainly don't want Scott or anyone else getting a 2,500 vote head start over other candidates.