Why Do We Need a Code Of Ethics?
A position in government is a position of public trust. For this reason, the standards of behavior for public employees or public officials are often higher than those who are in the private sector.
As public employees in the state of Florida, your behavior is governed by Chapter 112, Florida Statutes. You are required by law to avoid any action that might result in or create the appearance of misconduct or conflict of interest.
Employees and Town Officials of the Town of White Springs are judged not only by your official actions and conduct, but also by our personal activities when they are related to the performance for the Town of White Springs.
The Town Officials, elected by the citizens of the Town of White Springs relies on its representatives to perform Town business efficiently and economically, to protect Town interests, and to meet the high ethical standards of public service.
Because high ethical standards are critical to a local government’s credibility, all Town employees as well as elected officials must be familiar with the ethic laws that regulate their behavior and must be concerned with how their behavior is viewed by the public.
The Town its employees, its city manager, and its elected officials share the responsibility for ensuring that high standards of ethical conduct are maintained within the Town government.
Although the Town’s Code of Ethics may seem new because recently the State of Florida has required all staff and officials take four hours of ethics classes a year,, the laws which it expresses are not new. They are state laws and, as public employees in the state of Florida, you have always been required to obey them. Even though White Springs Council Members, Staff and its City Manager seem to know that these laws exist, it has been fortunate for the Town that the officials and staff have escaped the many violations which have been brought to their attention several times by Joe Griffin. . With the increasing attention on ethical issues in the press and elsewhere, it is time for the Town of White Springs, its elected officials, its town manager and its staff understands what is right and what is wrong.
Constitutional officers and elected municipal officers are required by The State of Florida to receive a total of four hours training, per calendar year, in the area of ethics, public records, and open meetings. The Commission on Ethics does not track compliance or certify providers. Yet we understand certain council persons, such as Willie Jefferson, has not taken the required coursework. As to those that did, it is difficult to determine if ethical behavior has sunk in because there still has been great problems with following the public records laws and there are some discrepancies relating to open meetings.
“Visit the training page on the Commission’s website for up-to-date rules, opinions, audio/video training, and opportunities for live training conducted by Commission staff. A comprehensive online training course addressing Florida’s Code of Ethics, as well as Sunshine Law, and Public Records Act is available via a link on the Commission’s homepage.”
“A Brief Overview of the Ethics Law (Chapter 112, Part III, Florida Statutes) The ethics law in the State of Florida is based primarily on three principles: 1. “A public office is a public trust.” 2. A situation that “tempts to dishonor.” 3. No man can serve two masters. The first statement is from Article II, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution. The second statement is from Florida case law and opinions of the state Commission on Ethics. The third statement is from the Bible and Florida case law. The application of these three concepts in a situation where an elected or appointed public official is concerned about an issue of ethical behavior will generally yield an answer consistent with statutory and case law. “
The Ethics Manual states “You Can’t Always Know What to Do by Reading the Statute The ethics law for the State of Florida is set forth in Part III of Chapter 112, Florida Statutes. You can read the statute and still be somewhat uncertain as to your ethical duties. The statute is interpreted by Commission on Ethics formal opinions, informal opinions, Florida’s attorney general opinions, and case law.” Recently Joe Griffin provided Attorney General Opinions to assist Pam Tomlinson; however, Ms. Tomlinson and obviously the Town Manager did not agree that the opinions given by Joe Griffin appertained to the Town of White Springs or to them individually. The Town of White Springs continually makes their own laws and IT’S Town Manager and one staff member becomes angry if it is pointed out that the staff and its officials are wrong in their assumptions.
WHAT ARE THE UNIVERSAL VALUES WHICH GUIDE AND MOTIVATE ETHICAL BEHAVIOR? … IS WHITE SPRINGS UP FOR THE TASK? AS YOU CAN SEE WITH CORRUPTION ABOUND, IT MAY BE DIFFICULT FOR THE TOWN, ITS OFFICIALS, ITS CITY MANAGER AND ITS CITY CLERK/BOOKKEEPER TO EVEN UNDERSTAND THESE VALUES:.
- Caring for others
- Respect for others
- Responsible citizenship
- Fidelity or loyalty
- Pursuit of excellence
- Protection of Public Trust
- Fiscal responsibility
These values are the foundation of the high standard of conduct expected of Town Officials and employees. While it is true that some values will not apply to every situation, others will apply to all situations. Everything which is done on behalf of the Town must be motivated by ethical values. If you are successful in meeting and maintaining the high standard expected of you the Town’s government will be perceived as ethical, and its officials and employees will be trusted as conscientious and dedicated to working on behalf of the citizens of The Town of White Springs. Yet this is something which must be worked on because currently White Springs has a reputation of being corrupt and unethical and it certainly provides special strokes for special folks..
Although White Springs may not care about its public trust to citizens, it still is important that its employees and officials work within a value system, which will strengthen the public’s confidence in the Town’s ability to serve the public interest. This has not been of great importance to those who have been elected to serve our Town since it was felt the rules of the State did not apply to White Springs. Furthermore, there has been great anger against Joe Griffin who has pointed out the law time and time again, but to no avail. Either the council members are ignorant of all laws or they feel they are above the law.
In order for White Springs to establish its identity as an ethical and professional government agency, the following values must be established to show that the Town of White Springs is committed to serving the community.
- Efficiency – There currently appears to be no efficiency whatsoever.
- Accessibility – The Town and its staff makes it as difficult as possible to secure public records and there is sometimes a cover-up by omitting important details from meeting minutes or on tape.
- Effectiveness – Not possible; nothing changes; laws are not followed including our charter and land development regulations. The Town should provide the best possible service to the public in the most cost-effective way. Yet they allow their Town Attorney fees run amuck; they allow grant money to disappear; they do not pay their bills on time; etc. etc. And if you make a Citizen’s complaint, the Town Council disregards the complaint as judge and jury even though the complaint is credible. What is sad is that our Councilman and former Mayor is an Attorney, which means he is judged by a higher standard of care and professionalism than the average prudent individual. Yet he does not appear to be concerned with his ethical behavior in following the laws of the State by the fact that he does not fight for what is right under the law. Shame on you Rhett Bullard!
- Responsiveness – One cannot secure meetings; one is told public record requests will not be answered for thirty days; and there is no opportunity to view records because there is no computer for one to view information. It sometimes takes up to sixty (60) requests to receive documents and excuses are many and frustrations are large. The Town officials and staff should answer each citizen’s questions thoughtfully, honestly and as fully as possible without violating Town policies or the rules of confidentiality. If you do not know the answer, help the citizen obtain the answer from the appropriate person and respond to complaints promptly. Right now, one has to forget the word “promptly”, because not a complaint has been answered as to its validity, as to its credibility or whether there may be changes based upon that complaint. You have elected Tanja Brown who may not even comprehend what she reads, but she carries a lot of hate for everyone and Willie Jefferson, former councilor who almost became one again has done nothing for the community except to raise sewer rates for our citizens and deny or veto any plan Griffin had to save the Citizen’s money. What a joke. And I’ve already discussed Rhett Bullard who will not fight for anything whatsoever if it involves a citizen or citizen’s complaint.
- Equity – Currently it is impossible for the Town to provide an equal level and quality of service to all citizens and all areas of the community. Throughout the Town’s history there has been nepotism and special strokes for special folks. Not all citizens have ever been treated equally.
- Proficiency – It would be virtually impossible for some of the Town Staff to strive for a high level of competency in performing duties and responsibilities; No one has the temperament to work constantly to improve one’s ability to serve the public
- Protection of public trust –The Town of White Springs should take no action or make no decision which will harm the public or which will weaken the public’s confidence in your ability to serve the public. Yet the Town has misspent, misappropriated, and not effectively stuck to budgets. There are no retained earnings for contingencies and the Town did not care that many of our citizens cannot afford the huge fees for sewer and for turning on water and sewer after it had been shut off. There have been excuse after excuse for this huge increase in water and sewer but the fingers point especially to Walter McKenzie who did not remember years back that the water rate was to increase yearly in small increments; Shirley Heath did not keep a tickler system; and the Citizens were hit with the increases all at one time. Yet Water pipes are in front of vacant lots and condemned houses where the Town could charge the owners a minimum fee per month. There are so many ways the Town could secure revenues but they would rather place any and all increases on the Citizen’s backs while they give $2.00 to $4.00 in savings per month to keep their council seats. Citizens you have to consider firing all these people who have not protected the public trust. It is time to bring in others. You have the power. Vote all these deviants out of office.
The Town of White Springs needs to adopt an ethics policy if there is any one among the council, the Town Manager or staff that has the ability to do so. Forget the Town Attorneys because for decades they also have appeared to be above the law, especially former Town Attorney Kennon who stated White Springs was not subject to the Laws of the State nor the Public Records laws. Former Mayor McKire agreed and placed it in writing as Kennon previously did and after Joe Griffin had enough, Koberlein made a motion to dismiss and collected almost $16,000 in court costs and fees, which we know he did not just include the McKire case in earned hours. He brought in three bankers boxes as if he worked that hard on the case but he managed to stop Joe Griffin from filing suits pro se.
White Springs needs for once to practice the golden rule: Do to and for others what you would like done to and for you in similar circumstances. Do not violate the rights of others; put the public good above what is good for you; set a good example; tolerate no illegal or unethical actions by anyone, no matter who it is Enough is enough.
Officials need to be objective and impartial in decision making; treat all persons with equal courtesy and concern. It is because of your lack of concern and biases that we the Griffins have shown our frustration.
Just as an FYI, Rhett, this law applies to you: A lawyer who has served or is currently serving as a public officer or employee is personally subject to the rules of professional conduct, including the prohibition against concurrent conflicts of interest stated in rule 4-1.7. In addition, such a lawyer may be subject to statutes and government regulations regarding conflict of interest. Such statutes and regulations may circumscribe the extent to which the government agency may give consent under this rule. See terminology for definition of informed consent.
The average experience has been that the great majority of elected officials want to act ethically. Most violations are committed unintentionally and without forethought Yet, I could not agree with such a comment when visualizing the unethical behaviors of the officials, past and present, of White Springs.