December 14, 2009

Toothless ethics commission is seeking fangs

Criticized as a toothless tiger, the Commission on Ethics wants more authority to investigate and punish wayward officials in Florida.

The watchdog agency wants to seize the moment at a time when a string of scandals has seized public attention and a statewide grand jury is launching a major public corruption inquiry.

But only the Legislature can expand or restrict the commission's powers. Legislators have long been wary of giving the agency more clout, partly out of a fear that it would lead to witch hunts aimed at lawmakers themselves. Read story here.

October 07, 2009

Thrasher will lead Senate's ethics and elections committee

Former House Speaker and lobbyist John Thrasher, who last night officially won the special election to fill the Jacksonville seat long held by the late Sen. Jim King, just got his committee assignments.

The most notable: He will chair the Senate's ethics and elections committee, which deals with election laws and conduct standards for elections officials. The committee also plays a pivotal role in confirming -- or denying -- the appointments by the governor to agencies like the Public Service Commission.

Many of Gov. Charlie Crist's most recent appointees have not yet been confirmed by the committee, after  former chairman Sen. J.D. Alexander (not exactly Crist's best bud) claimed the committee ran out of time during the spring session.

Thrasher, most recently a lobbyist for Southern Strategies, was found guilty in 2001 of violating ethics law by inviting lobbyists to a lunch before he was cleared to lobby.

September 28, 2009

Amid racist flier inquiry, Morgan ponders trial bar lobby exit

John Morgan, trial lawyer bigwig of Morgan & Morgan fame, is real close to quitting the Florida Justice Association (the lobby group for Florida trial lawyers) because of its admitted involvement in the recent distribution of a racially charged campaign flier.

But after urging from Morgan & Morgan attorney and black caucus member Rep. Darryl Rouson, Morgan told the Times/Herald he has agreed to hold off his decision until the conclusion of an investigation being conducted by former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan.

"The key for me is, did anyone in our organization see that piece before it went out? If they did they should have been raising holy hell, they should have called a press conference to denounce it," Morgan said. "I want to know, did someone in our organization, in the fever to win, give up all that we stand for and all of our principles?"

Continue reading "Amid racist flier inquiry, Morgan ponders trial bar lobby exit" »

September 11, 2009

Fasano to PSC chair: Suspend utility rate hearings

Sen. Mike Fasano, outspoken in recent weeks about the PSC uproar over lobbyists at utility execs' houses and PSC staffers exchanging Blackberry PIN numbers, just sent a letter to PSC chair Matt Carter asking that hearings for proposed rate hikes for FPL and Progress be "suspended immediately." Fasano, R-New Port Richey, says the PSC should not be deciding on the utilities' requested rate hikes until investigations into the recent controversy are complete.

Read it here:

Continue reading "Fasano to PSC chair: Suspend utility rate hearings " »

April 04, 2009

Ethics-related forms tough to find

Want to find a financial disclosure form for your mayor? Trying to investigate whether your county commissioner has disclosed any recent conflicts of interest? Curious about whether a city commissioner has disclosed some pricey freebies from developers?

You better be ready to do some good old-fashioned telephone dialing and probably drive around to various government offices to check out the documents.

Although government agencies have vastly expanded what they put online -- lengthy budget documents, decades of minutes and in Coral Gables even a video showing residents how to drive through a traffic circle -- they have avoided putting documents online that are about elected officials' finances. Government agencies say they get too many and that it would be difficult to do, but is that just an excuse?

Read more here:


February 17, 2009

The lonely Senate Ethics and Elections Committee

The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections is meeting over in the Knott right now and discussing public financing of campaigns. Emotional stuff.

Which raises one of the overlooked changes in the House this year. There is no longer an Ethics and Elections Committee. The change came under House Speaker Ray Sansom.

But that's not to say the House does not care about ethics or elections. Those issues now fall under the Governmental Affairs Policy Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami.

June 25, 2008

Bush pioneer says insider trading allegations "will be proven wrong"

Prominent Broward physician Zachariah P. Zachariah, facing allegations that he broke federal securities laws, denies he bought stock in two companies based on inside information that they were about to be acquired.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, in a civil lawsuit filed last month, alleges that Zachariah received at least $585,000 in profits on information unavailable to the public.

Zachariah, 59, director of cardiology at Fort Lauderdale's Holy Cross Hospital and president of the Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute, refuted many of the SEC's allegations in court papers filed Monday night in Fort Lauderdale federal court.

Zachariah, who has raised millions of dollars for Republican candidates, also declared his innocence in an e-mail Tuesday.

''I have spent my career devoted to medicine, to public service and to charitable work, and I am very disappointed that this civil lawsuit has been brought,'' he said. ``However, I have the greatest faith in our legal system, and I firmly believe that the allegations in this lawsuit will be proven wrong.'' More here.

May 28, 2008

New South Florida corruption case

For the third time in two years, scandal has rocked Opa-locka City Hall, with the arrest Wednesday of an influential city consultant accused of demanding more than $300,000 in kickbacks from a city contractor.

Investigators say Emmanuel Nwadike, a private engineer under contract to the city, has acted as Opa-locka's chief engineer for the past six years, scoping out public-works projects, drawing up bid proposals and recommending construction firms for city jobs.

Nwadike used his position to steer about $2.4 million in city contracts to one firm, Hard J Construction, whose owner, MacDonald Jumbo, paid Nwadike about $348,000 in 2005 and 2006, according to an arrest report. More here.

Miami police chief to settle ethics case

Miami Police Chief John Timoney has reached a tentative settlement with the Florida Commission on Ethics, an agreement calling for the chief to pay a $500 fine and admit wrongdoing in connection with his 14-month extended ''test drive'' of a Lexus hybrid SUV.

The chief enjoyed free use of that vehicle -- with no insurance payments either -- courtesy of the Lexus of Kendall dealership. But Timoney never declared the SUV as a gift in required government-disclosure forms.

The proposed settlement says Timoney ''recognizes'' that he violated state disclosure laws.

Timoney's office declined comment Wednesday, saying the settlement has not yet received final approval -- which could come when the state ethics panel meets June 6.

April 25, 2008

Zapata and the Ethics Commission

Just days after the Florida Commission on Ethics decided that probable cause existed that Miami police chief John Timoney broke state ethics laws, a Miami legislator has filed a proposal to make sure it would never happen again.

Rep. Juan Zapata has filed an amendment to an ethics bill, HB 1113, scheduled to be heard on Friday that would require that the state commission dismiss any complaint if that person had also had their case dealt with by a county ethics commission. (Since Miami-Dade County is the only county with a full blown commission, it really only applies to them.)

The provision would not end Timoney's case. But if the law had been in place previously the state ethics commission could not proceed with the case against the chief. The Miami Herald previously reported that back in January the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust fined Timoney $500 -- plus $342.50 in administrative costs -- for the chief's failure to disclose his 14-month extended "test drive" of a Lexus hybrid SUV.

In August 2007,
WFOR-CBS 4 reported that Timoney ad driven the SUV free of charge for more than a year. The report prompted the chief to buy the vehicle at sticker price -- $54,269.11.

(UPDATE: The amendment was withdrawn by Rep. Julio Robaina on behalf of Zapata.)