Ocala Star Banner by
April 23, 2017
If you build a house, would you put up walls or add a roof without having a strong foundation? Without a solid base, and an ethical builder who is strictly regulated to guarantee compliance with the law, it should be no surprise if your house falls down.
Building a government works the same way. There must be a solid foundation for the laws governing the conduct of every public position holder and every public function. Otherwise, governance falls down, through gaping holes, and corruption rises.
In Florida the critical foundation of governance is missing a fundamental component. Since around 1985, the State has NOT had a government misconduct — malfeasance — statute. Although implied, in the Florida Constitution there is nothing specific about honest services. No wonder this state ranks 11th most corrupt in the nation, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Thirty-two years ago the Florida Supreme Court found the existing government misconduct law, such as it was, vague and therefore unconstitutional. So the Legislature repealed section 839.25(1)(a), Florida Statutes. Since then, grand jury after grand jury has called for replacement of that statute. Yet, now in 2017, that necessary law still remains missing.
A state without governance is like a house built without permits. Why would you build it?
In 1989, a statewide grand jury presentment (Case No. 74,094) noted the Legislature had not closed “this gaping hole.” In May 2009, a Palm Beach grand jury went substantially further, making numerous recommendations to “address the most pressing of the issues which have led us to this crisis of confidence in good governance.”
Next, in 2010, another statewide grand jury reviewed the prior recommendations and expanded on them. The Legislature then acted, but hardly in the needed way.
We know the recent legislation failed because the Auditor General’s Performance Audit (2014-194) called on the Legislature to address systemic conflicts of interest, clarify dual office violations, add enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with governing law, and establish penalties for violations — all of this to protect the due process rights of property owners statewide. Yet, there has been no meaningful or adequate response by the Legislature. Not one bill has been filed.
This situation involved the executive branch, their regulatory state agency, county commissioners, school board members, private citizens appointed by local authorities, employees of at least three local constitutional officers, nonprofits whose members are on public payrolls, quasi-judicial officers, and outside advisory personnel. Yet none of these violations are covered by the legislation resulting from the 2010 grand jury presentment. The Commission on Ethics claims it does not have jurisdiction to accept complaints if there are violations of law as identified by that audit.
That gaping hole remains.
What is the remedy to effectively shore up the foundation of our government?
The Constitutional Revision Commission (“CRC”) is meeting. Many citizens are calling for change. Their interest gives the CRC the chance to build a foundation of ethical, lawful, accountable governance into the Florida Constitution. By proposing the insertion of a description of malfeasance, adding a penalty for violations, and defining by inclusion every single public position, every single public position holder, and every single public function enumerated in each of the grand jury presentments, the CRC efforts can include a definition of honest services so what is expected is clear to everyone.
Because the CRC is meeting around the state, that entity has the opportunity to learn from private citizens and to make sure state or local government lapses of good faith are addressed in meaningful and adequate ways. After all, the Legislature has had ample time to fill in all the missing statutory standards, but has failed to do so effectively. That leaves the constitution as the much needed long-lasting recourse.
This is not a political matter. In the 32 years this foundational law has been missing, eight governors have served. Those governors have been representative of both major political parties. Still the “gaping hole” has not been filled and corruption has only grown.
So now, the people need to do the job of setting a re-enforced foundation of our government, once and for all. The people need to demand inclusion in our state constitution so that clear values cannot be lobbied away, to ensure our house of governance will stand strong. [READ MORE]
— Sheila Anderson is a real estate professional and tax representative for people and businesses who challenge their tax bills. She lives in Ocala.