As the government watchdog group Integrity Florida approaches its third year of policing the ethical lapses of public officials and exposing the state’s institutional weaknesses, it released its year-end report on progress and remaining obstacles. We applaud the nonpartisan organization for its efforts and results.
The influential magazine Florida Trend named ethics reform one of its “12 Best Ideas For a Better Florida in 2014,” and profiled the group started by Dan Krassner and Ben Wilcox in 2011. It echoed Integrity Florida’s call for building on recent strengthening in ethics reform, including allowing the Florida Commission on Ethics to independently begin investigations and increasing penalties for violations.
Among Integrity Florida’s biggest targets is Enterprise Florida, the powerful quasi-private economic development group it criticizes for insider dealings, pay-to-play policies and lack of accountability when taxpayer funds used as incentives to lure new businesses fail to produce promised jobs. Integrity Florida called the organization “our state’s most glaring example of cronyism and institutional corruption” and released a report showing $20 million in subsidies had gone to companies who are represented in the Enterprise Florida board.
Members of the organization, chosen by the governor and legislative leadership, are under pressure to deliver on Gov. Rick Scott’s promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. PolitiFact Florida, the Pulitzer Prize-winning scorekeeper run by the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald has labeled Scott’s promise a middling “In The Works,” but notes that the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimated in 2011 that the state would add more than 1 million jobs regardless of who was governor.
Partly in response to Integrity Florida’s exposure of inflated job promises and Enterprise Florida’s failure to raise matching funds from the private sector, the Legislature this year passed a law requiring an outside auditor to review state subsidy programs and deals and approved only a fraction of the subsidy funding sought by Scott.
Also among the ethics progress this year was Scott’s appointment of an inspector general for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also completed an extension audit of state vendor contracts that showed more than half had significant deficiencies that left taxpayers unprotected in the way of contract breaches or failures to perform, according to Integrity Florida’s year-end summary.
In 2014, Integrity Florida will be pushing for bills that would increase public access to information about health care options and restaurant inspection results. We’d like to see them add school grading, student testing and physician complaint, lawsuit and disciplinary action information to the reform targets. While the state does post such data, it is often hidden within Byzantine website menus and written in opaque technical jargon.
In two years, Integrity Florida has put state and local officials on notice and we’re encouraged that the response has mostly been cooperation not defensiveness — with the exception of Enterprise Florida — and we look forward to more ethic reform progress in 2014.