“ETHICS above all else” – Questions About the Proposal to Repeal Naples Ethics Code

“ETHICS above all else” – Questions About the Proposal to Repeal Naples Ethics Code
(an issues paper by Citizens For Preserving Naples)
All Naples citizens – including the City Council – share the commitment to the highest ethical
standards embodied in the lead motto emblazoned on the City’s website: “ETHICS above all
That is why we are concerned and have questions about a proposal (scheduled for possible
enactment on September 7, 2016) to repeal the Naples Code of Ethics (Article IX, of the Naples
Code) and revert to sole reliance on the bare minimum ethical safeguards of the Florida State
Ethics Code, F.S. 112.311 et seq.
Before presenting our questions, we would like to confirm some points of common
understanding about the current relationship between the state ethics code and the City Ethics
• The state code currently applies to establish a minimum ethical floor for the conduct of
City officials and employees.
• Further, state law provides that local governments have authority to adopt more rigorous
ethical requirements.
• And where there is any question of conflict between a state requirement and a city code
requirement, the more stringent ethical requirement controls.
Given this framework, we respectfully have a number of questions:
1. If the state statute is already in place and governs Naples officials as a set of minimum
ethical requirements – why do we need to repeal the Naples Code which affords Naples the
opportunity to require higher and more rigorous ethical standards?
2. What current provisions of the Naples Ethics Code provide more stringent or more
comprehensive ethical requirements than the state code?
By way of example, it appears that the City Code is more specific in listing the various City
officials and employees covered by the code. Further, the City Code appears to be potentially
more restrictive in policing gratuities, indirect business relationships, or other financial
connections between city officials and those who are either regulated by City ordinances or who
are seeking city approvals for real estate development.
The city attorney has provided a comparative review of the Naples code versus the State Law
noting a few areas potentially requiring clarification. His review does not, however, identify the
specific areas where the current city of Naples code is more stringent. It would be useful for the
Council and the public to know what specific provisions of the current City Code are more
stringent as to ethical requirements and why.
3, Are there areas of the current Naples code that should be amended to avoid well
intentioned officials and city managerial staff from inadvertently finding themselves in potential
conflict with the code of ethics? What are the specifics of these concerns and how can these
concerns be addressed without weakening the City Code or creating a conflict with the minimum
requirements of the state code?
4- What additional ethical safeguards would be helpful to insure high levels of ethical
conduct; and which safeguards should be considered for adoption as part of strengthening the
existing Naples Ethic Code?
Instead of repealing the current City Code and falling back on the minimum safeguards of the
state code, why doesn’t the City Council instead – in collaborative consultation with the Naples
citizenry and with legal experts on ethics -- investigate, consider, and enact additional ethical
safeguards. Other Florida communities (e.g., Miami, Jacksonville) have adopted more rigorous
ethical safeguards. What can we learn from them?
4. What is the enforcement mechanism to police and correct ethical violations – and what
are the limitations of the existing enforcement mechanisms at the state level and under the
Naples Code?
Certainly an overtaxed state Commission on Ethics in Tallahassee enforcing a weaker state
ethics code likely does not have sufficient legal authority or resources to provide adequate
oversite to enforce a more stringent Naples ethic code. Equally concerning, the existing Naples
Ethics Code appears to leave enforcement and policing of the Naples Code to the local states
attorney (Section 2-979) without explaining the legal basis for the states attorney authority or
spelling out “appropriate action”. Alternatively, informal enforcement of the ethical
requirements of the Naples Code appears to be in the hands of the Naples City Attorney. But
respectfully, asking the City Attorney to police (and perhaps challenge) the conduct of the very
City Council members who vote on his employment and compensation raises an inherent conflict
of interest. Other cities in Florida address this concern by providing for independent
enforcement mechanisms – i.e., independent of the very officials whose ethical conduct is being
policed. Why doesn’t Naples?
Given these questions, we respectfully ask the City Council to vote to reject the proposal
currently under consideration to repeal the Naples Ethics Code. Instead, we ask the Council to
lead us in a community effort to investigate and adopt more rigorous ethical standards as part of
a reinvigorated Naples Ethics Code yet also recognizing that in some areas the code may need to
be relaxed to avoid well intentioned officials and city staff inadvertently finding themselves in a
potential conflict with the code.
At a minimum we ask that any further consideration of repealing the existing Naples Ethics
Code be postponed until the questions we have raised in this letter have been addressed as part of
comprehensive effort to make Naples the premier city in Florida as to standards of ethical
“ETHICS above all else” should not just be a slogan – it should be an ethical imperative.