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When “Ethics” Go Too Far

When “Ethics” Go too Far

While some people feel that The National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics can sometimes be burdonsome, it is time tested and works extremely well. It sets a standard of what’s expected of Realtors, gets reviewed annually and Realtors are expected to be familiar the “Code”.

Recently Palm Beach County, Florida enacted its own code of ethics. Its mission is defined as follows: “…to foster integrity in public service, to promote the public’s trust and confidence in that service, and to prevent conflicts between private interests and public duties.” The ethics policy was created to deter public officials and municipal board members from being induced to vote on certain policies via gifts or other benefits. While the spirit of the code is a necessity, it appears that the Palm Beach County Government has swung the pendulum a little too far on this issue.

According to the Boca Raton Mayor, Susan Whelchel, she has spent over 24K of her own money to attend various events that she’s expected to attend as Mayor. These events include, but are not limited to, attending Chamber of Commerce functions, cocktail parties and ribben cutting ceramonies. With a $9,000 per year mayoral salary, I guess only the wealthy, or at least the upper middle class, will now only be able to afford to be a Mayor in Palm Beach County.

Let’s look at a few other challenges that the ethics rules are going to create:

1. Elected official and/or board members are expected to keep a record of “freebies” they receive. It’s burdonsome for elected officials and/or board members to “log” every time they attend a cocktail hour or ribbon cutting ceramony and are given a pig-in-a-blanket.

2. It is expensive for private business to train each and every existing and/or new employee in the ethics rules. It’s just as expensive for businesses to insure that their employees are abiding by the rule.

3. Citizens are going to be reluctant to serve on various municipal boards because they don’t want to have to bother with creating a log for every cocktail hour they attend. The same goes for elected officials.

Case in Point: Steve Abrams, a Palm Beach County Commissioner, was speaking at our Leadership Boca Class last week. He was speaking in the confines of a government building. During the meeting a lunch was served which was sponsored by a local law firm. His speech immediately followed a presentation by Alan S. Johnson, Esq. Mr. Johnson is the Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and is entrusted with the very difficult task of overseeing the new ethics rules. When Mr. Abrams spoke, he was given a cup of water which was delivered to him during his presentation. The water appeared to be out of the tap. Mr. Johnson, on the other hand, was drinking from a bottle of water which, I believe MAY have been, part of the luncheon materials sponsored by the local law firm (unconfirmed). When it was Mr. Abrams turn to speak he, in a very coy manner, said that he appreciated the opportunity to speak to our group and he wondered where Mr. Johnson got his water from. Good for you Steve! Perhaps someone should investigate whether or not Mr. Johnson accepted an illegal bottle of water from a local law firm.

While I doubt Mr. Johnson would accept a bottle of free water at an event he was asked to speak at, under the new law it may merit a potential investigation if not logged properly.

Is this type of public policy we are now going to have to focus on? Are there going to be investigations for each droplet of sponsored bottled water or pig-in -a-blanket consumed by our elected officials or board members? If so, I feel bad not only for Mr. Abrams or Ms. Whelchel, but for all other elected officials who have to deal with this type of minutia. Mr. Abrams, Ms. Whelchel and Mr. Johnson should each have a right to receive a bottle of water as a freebie and not have to be burdoned with the task of “logging” it!

While the Ethics Commission was voted in by Palm Beach County residents in November 2010 by a 72% to 28% margin, I’m not sure whether the voters realized it would cost each of their municipalities 300K to operate. According to my math, 38 municipalities at 300K each equates to $11,400,000 annually.

Why does it take $11,400,000, annually, to operate the Commission on Ethics?!? Are they nuts!

I am all for ethical government! But, it seems that the Ethics Commission could have consulted the NAR for their expertise on how to govern, operate and run a well respected ethics program.

Here’s a new angle on this issue: Is it ethical to spend $11,400,000 of the tax payer dollars for enforcing a law which was so terribly crafted?

Rick Schuster
Licensed Real Estate Broker – Jaycee Realty, Inc.
Licensed Title Insurance Agent – Home Guardian Title, Inc.
Licensed Mortgage Broker – Leading Edge Mortgage Corp

20283 State Road 7 – Ste 400
Boca Raton, FL 33498
561-206-2835 – via Google Voice
561-988-2546 -Fax

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