The Ethics Commission appears to be irrelevant in promoting good ethics of our government officials in my view.
What is ethics? According to the dictionary "it is the moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. The branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles." It is not about breaking laws. It is about public trust and most of all: principles.
When the ethics commission does not highlight bad behavior they fall short and encourage more bad behavior. Moral Hazard it is called. When they give ethics opinions they appear to just give cover for the commissioners to do bad things all over again. They have to end their opinions with something like: If I were you I wouldn't do this. Although legal it doesn't look good to the public. It appears to be skirting the laws, at the very least it doesn't appear ethical.
What the Ethics Commission is missing is common sense. For instance lets take Lynda Bell. I never said her daughter or her husband made EXTRA money because of Lynda's misguided fence ordinance. What I said was it was disingenuous of Lynda to NOT MENTION TO HER FELLOW COMMISSIONERS AND THE PUBLIC that her daughter owned a fence company and that LYNDA HERSELF had the fence company registered at her own home. To me that was unethical especially when you listen to the tape of the meeting. She appeared to be lying. To the Miami Herald and columnist Fred Grimm it was unethical. The Ethics Commission, on the other hand, they focused on whether Jenna made EXTRA money because of the resolution. Why?
Anyway I feel like the Commission has lost their way. They are stuck on laws and not addressing behavior. They should have said that Lynda Bell's daughter did not profit from the resolution BUT more importantly, Bell was wrong not to disclose to the public and fellow commissioners that a fence company was registered at her home.
And, does anyone believe that Lynda is not helping to run that company?
Mind you -- I didn't ask for an ethics opinion, I sent them my column as an FYI, here is what I got in return:
I am in receipt of your recent blog post concerning Lynda Bell sponsoring and voting on an ordinance that would repeal the County’s prohibition of chain link fences on certain properties. You were concerned that it was a conflict of interest for her because her daughter owns a fence installation company. Although the Ethics Commission was not asked to issue an opinion on this issue, this situation would not present a conflict.Have they lost their way or what? I thought this was condescending and at the same time stupid. Now we have The Ethics Commissioner, The State Attorney and the Inspector General all out of the same office. Heaven help us.
In other opinions, which I have attached for your convenience, the Ethics Commission has held that there is no conflict in similar situations. Commissioner Bells daughters company, Fence Assured, would not be affected by the passage of this ordinance in any way different than the hundreds of other fence installation companies in Miami-Dade County. In fact, a quick check of the YellowPages.com shows almost 200 listings under “fence installers” alone. Moreover, Fence Assured does not only sell chain link fences (which are often the least expensive), but also fences made of wood, aluminum, dura fence, wrought iron, balconies and railings. Further, Fence Assured also services commercial and industrial fencing, not covered by the ordinance.
The fence ordinance, unlike the Health care law for example, does not mandate citizens to purchase chain link fences and certainly does not mandate they be purchased from a particular fence installation company.
In short, many fence companies may or may not benefit by the passage of this ordinance, it is far too speculative to conclude that Fence Assured will benefit from this ordinance any more or less than other companies. I realize you may not agree with that analysis but there are several examples of similar situations also in the State Ethics Commission as well.
P.S. When the Ethics Commission does an investigation, they go ask the people you complained about (they don't tell you what they said until they close the case and it is too late for you to elaborate) what happened don't check on it, just repeat the stupid excuse of what the offending people told them. You don't even get the opportunity to correct or comment on the testimony they get that is NOT under oath. "Nope, didn't do it but thanks for asking."