TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida has earned the dubious distinction over the past decade as one of the most politically corrupt states in the nation. Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010.
But now there are encouraging signs the state is turning around its terrible reputation for political corruption and leading some innovative ethics reforms.
A new report from Integrity Florida and the LeRoy Collins Institute finds cities and counties across the state are instituting tough new ethics reforms that go beyond requirements in state law.
Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have hired an inspector general or internal auditor to focus on corruption.
Sarasota County employs an ethics officer and Duval County has created an ethics commission to perform the same role.
The report says counties plagued by corruption in the past, such as Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, are instituting tough ethics reforms.
Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida says those are steps that should help boost Floridians' trust in government.
"Ethics reform is not all about just cracking down on corruption. Ethics reform at the county and state level is also about creating a culture of trust and integrity in government."
Miami-Dade and Orange counties have taken steps to reduce voting conflicts. Broward County has developed a searchable online database of financial disclosure statements from politicians.
Others are spearheading ethics training for employees and using stricter contracting policies. In Indian River County, any contract over $25,000 must be competitively bid.
"You have in Duval County in the Jacksonville area, you have a local ethics commission. You have one as well in Miami-Dade and you have one in Palm Beach County. The Palm Beach County model has won a National Association of Counties award and that was after Palm Beach was referred to as 'corruption county' in Time Magazine. The community there responded," said Krassner.
Now, the new legislative leaders in Florida's House and Senate are also talking about pursuing ethics reforms at the state level. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford are promising to pursue the issue in next year's legislative session.
Krassner says he hopes the Florida Legislature takes a closer look at the report entitled, "Tough Choices: Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap."
"We'd encourage all county officials that have been involved in ethics at the local level to bring your ideas to Tallahassee. Come before the Legislature and share your experiences of what's working and what's not at the local level, what state laws are working and which ones could be improved."
First Coast News