COUNTY COMMISSION DEBATES ETHICS GIFT RULES-Andrew Stelzer
This morning, the Hillsborough county commission discussed the issue of whether commissioners should be able to accept gifts worth more than 100 dollars. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer was there and filed this report.
Commissioner Kathy Castor tried to bring up the issue last month, following a series of newspaper articles in the St Pete times which detailed how Jim Norman as a member of the Tampa Sports Authority, sat in a box at Tampa bay bucs games, and got free food and alcohol, which added up to hundreds of dollars per game. Norman was also allowed to bring guests, and give away the tickets to people if he himself couldnÃ¢â¬â¢t attend the game. But Castor did not mention the bucs games, she instead said it was a matter of making the public confident that the commission members arenÃ¢â¬â¢t influenced in their decisions.
ACT-castor Ã¢â¬ÅIn my 2 years here I have not witnessed any problems..but this is a large government, many businesses that do work with us. This policy would establish a very bright line rule that we arenÃ¢â¬â¢t going to accept any money from themÃ¢â¬Â¦this is broader than state statute its very narrow, but I think its appropriate to set the bar higher..Ã¢â¬?
Castors proposal never received a second, as several other commissioners objected to the limit. Commissioner Ken Hagan said he researched other counties throughout the state, and none of the dozen or so he researched had limits on gifts other than those imposed by state law.
ACT--Hagan Ã¢â¬ËEven the city of tamps policy doesnÃ¢â¬â¢t do it, state reps and senators arenÃ¢â¬â¢t prevented form accepting gifts. I also researched other stadiums, Tropicana st Pete has a suite, they do not offer free drinkÃ¢â¬Â¦the one that really stuck me was Alltel, 2 boxes, catering is pad for by the mayors office. So the bottom line is that HillsboroughÃ¢â¬â¢s are no different, and apparently the sports authorities..even the author of the motion hasnÃ¢â¬â¢t witnessed widespread..Ã¢â¬?Ã¢â¬?
Commissioner Brian Blair said that Commission members should be held to standards of honesty not be a new restriction, but by their personal ethics.
ACT-Blair Ã¢â¬ÅWhen we first run we follow a code of ethicsÃ¢â¬âNO CONTRIBUTIONÃ¢â¬âits still a gift. My point is that from the time of our candidacyÃ¢â¬Â¦.we abide by state law. If anybodies unethical..and I think everybody here is ethical and has proven to be ethicalÃ¢â¬Â¦.and id like to thank you for tickets to the outback bowlÃ¢â¬?
Commissioner Rhonda Storms said that she thinks extra tickets to football games should be given to charity, instead of to other county commissioners as has been done, and added that the voters are what hold politicians accountable.
ACT-storms Ã¢â¬ÅThere were two politicians who were held accountable, because the electorate said you are too tight with the Glazers, and they paid everything. Their boss said you are too tight. You will lose your job and that the purpose of the public recordÃ¢â¬Â¦.if e are talking about campaign contributions, I am for that.Ã¢â¬?
And commissioner Mark Sharpe said he thinks participating in banquets and other events is an important part of a commissioner job.
ACT-Sharpe Ã¢â¬ÅThere are gifts that are totally inappropriate, others are appropriate. We get invited even as a candidate to everything, and those by the broad definition are considered gifts. Sometimes I get invited to 10 or 15 in a dayÃ¢â¬Â¦my concern is that we in an effort donÃ¢â¬â¢t try in one instance..if we begin to set guidelines that we establish we cant do our job effectively, and they take us to a function, its comped, an I supposed to call my wife, do I have to call the county attorney and ask, and I prefer the rules that we have, report and then IÃ¢â¬â¢m held accountable..Ã¢â¬?
Castor began backing off her resolution, but said she will continue to work towards tighter ethics standards.
ACT-castor Ã¢â¬ÅWell I respect my colleagues comments but I disagree, thereÃ¢â¬â¢s been no time when I couldnÃ¢â¬â¢t participate in an event. We are not entitled just because we are elected, the taxpayers do not expect us to have admittance fees and golf gamesÃ¢â¬Â¦contributions are different. But I can see it didnÃ¢â¬â¢t get a second its not headed anywhere..Ã¢â¬?
The commission members then became defensive, wanting not to be seen as if they were dodging an ethical issue. Commissioner Sharpe.
ACT-Sharpe Ã¢â¬ËI donÃ¢â¬â¢t want anyone to think because we arenÃ¢â¬â¢t seconding this, we arenÃ¢â¬â¢t supporting ethics. I think this position by you misses that mark.Ã¢â¬?
ACT-storms Ã¢â¬ËIm chafing at the implication that somehow if I donÃ¢â¬â¢t support this position I am not supporting high ethical standards..Ã¢â¬?Ã¢â¬Ëif you say its immoral once you are electedÃ¢â¬Â¦.ill accept that as an amendment to the motion..Ã¢â¬?
The resolution passed without a second, and Storms suggestion to tie the 100 limit to campaign donations also was never followed up on. Afterwards, Commissioner Blair defended the practice of receiving gifts.
ACT-Blair Ã¢â¬ÅIf we get a perk here or there, I think they understand. Were paid a lot less than most of the department heads.
The commission also received an audit of the HARTLINE transportation agency, which detailed the fact that millions of dollars have been unaccounted for. Several years ago, Jon Dausman had filed for whistle blower status after reveling to HARTLINE, who he worked for at the time, that the construction costs of the streetcar were being hidden and were unaccounted for.
ACT-Dausman Ã¢â¬ÅCommissioner Scott asked for the city, the city said its ok, but of course as we all know, 3 and a half million was still owed to the city, then they found another 650,000 dollars. The final amounts have been increased in a year.Ã¢â¬?
Commissioner Storms took the opportunity to Criticize the Streetcar.
ACT Ã¢â¬ÅA month ago we were told right before December it would cost 3 million dollars, well we didnÃ¢â¬â¢t do it, then they said ok we can do it for 2 million. Based on this audit, whatÃ¢â¬â¢s the real truth? I want to encourage us this proves otherwise, and that is appallingÃ¢â¬Â¦and I want to say personally to you thanks you in the face of great public pressure, of arrogant continued funding of the street carÃ¢â¬Â¦Ã¢â¬?
Earlier this week, The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously to postpone deciding how to allocate $3 million dollars and await a recommendation from its staff
For WMNF news, IÃ¢â¬â¢m Andrew Stelzercomments powered by Disqus