Authorities subject to City Ethics Code
Judging by the recent cold weather it is safe to say spring hasn’t arrived, but the Jacksonville City Council took care of a little bit of house cleaning on Tuesday regarding its Ethics Code.
District 1 Council member Clay Yarborough decided to polish the City’s Ethics Code after being involved with the debate to extend the runway at Craig Municipal Airport last year. The district Yarborough represents could have been affected by the proposed expansion, so he was able to see the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, an independent authority of the City of Jacksonville, in action.
“Councilman Bishop and I had to deal with the Craig Airport issue,” said Yarborough. “While working on that I realized that there might be some ways for the JAA to be a little more transparent with the way we do business.”
This caused Yarborough to sponsor Ordinance 2008-839, “to eliminate any ambiguity or question about whether the definition of ‘Consolidated City of Jacksonville’ includes the boards, commissions, authorities and Constitutional Officers of the City,” he said.
Yarborough sought the help of the City’s Ethics Commission and Ethics Officer Carla Miller to clarify the language of Ordinance Code Chapter 602- Ethics Code.
“Most people would assume that the authorities have the same restrictions the executive branch has, but they didn’t,” said Miller. “I commend him for recognizing this and making a change. More transparency is always a good thing.”
Deputy General Counsel Steve Rohan crafted the language of the ordinance and it was unanimously recommended for approval by the Ethics Commission when Yarborough asked for its support. It was enacted on Jan. 13 with no debate from other members of the City Council.
“We’ve been complying with the Ethics Code and will continue to do so,” said Debbie Jones, Community Relations Administrator for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority. “We support the latest Ethics Ordinance and we will continue to work with the City to provide a more transparent environment.”
The Jacksonville Electric Authority has a sizeable ethics program with a hotline that was created three years ago and employees are required to take exams on ethics about every two years.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to provide full transparency,” said Nancy Rubin, Jacksonville Port Authority Director of Communication and Public Relations. “As we work hard to bring good things to this city we are willing to provide any public information that is requested by the City, state or the public on how we do business. We realize this is a public service that we all provide and that is something we all take very seriously.”
The ordinance more clearly defined “Consolidated City of Jacksonville “ to include “the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government of the City of Jacksonville, as well as its constitutional officers, and dependent and independent agencies, boards and commissions.”
The Legislative intent and declaration of policy: aspirational goals section also had some new language including, “…and that imposing ethical standards upon officials, officers and employees of all of these agencies serves an important public purpose and serves the public welfare.”
The chapter also states, “Such officers and employees shall strive to meet the highest standards of ethics consistent with this Code…” The code includes rules for reporting gifts and registering lobbyists, and all dependent and independent authorities are required to comply with these now that the legislation has been revised.
“We have to make sure we are providing that appropriate check and balance for these authorities,” said Yarborough. “In the future, things will change. City Council members and authority board members will step down from their positions and new people will fill those seats. The Code could change in the future, but right now the reins need to be a little tighter.”