Saturday, May 26, 2007

Should Elected Officials be Held to a Higher Standard ?

Prison Scandal Is Latest Ethics Lapse
From kickbacks to jobs, some staffers chosen by Gov. Bush have dodgy morals.

TALLAHASSEE -- Immediately after Gov. Jeb Bush took office in 1999, he announced a code of ethics that he said would raise the state Capitol to a higher standard.

It included a wide range of requirements of his employees. No gifts worth more than $25 could be accepted and employees had to take a course on ethics, among other things.

The expectations, though, haven't always been met, and perhaps the worst breach of the standards he set came this week when former Corrections Secretary James Crosby was charged with taking kickbacks from a company that sells snacks to prison visitors.

Crosby however isn't the first of Bush's appointments to face questions on ethics, but rather the latest addition to a list of agency heads who haven't made the best choices.

Some examples:

• In 1999, Department of Business and Professional Regulations Secretary Cynthia Henderson said "I didn't use my best judgment" after taking an Outback Steakhouse corporate jet to the Kentucky Derby. She was in charge of regulating restaurants, among other businesses.

• In 2001, the head of the State Technology Office, Roy Cales, resigned after he was arrested and charged with grand theft. Authorities said he forged a letter to secure a $36,600 bank loan on which he later defaulted. The original document, however, was missing and a jury acquitted Cales.

• In 2003, investigators found former Lottery Secretary David Griffin broke ethics codes by accepting gifts of food from companies doing business with the department. Griffin had already left the position before the investigation began.

• In 2004, Department of Children & Families Secretary Jerry Regier resigned after an investigation showed he took favors from contractors.

• In 2005, Bush fired Elder Affairs Secretary Terry White after sexual harassment allegations were made against him.

• In April, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Guy Tunnell resigned after accusations that he mishandled the investigation into a death at a juvenile boot camp he created when he served as Bay County sheriff.

And while not illegal, two former department heads raised eyebrows when they resigned to take jobs with companies they contracted with or regulated.

Former State Technology Office head Kim Bahrami went to work for BearingPoint, a company she awarded a controversial $126 million contract. Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs took a job with International Paper Co. As the department head, Struhs put together a government-financed project designed largely to help bring the company's Pensacola area mill into compliance with pollution standards.

"We have been incredibly fortunate to have some truly dedicated public servants working in the governor's administration through his tenure. We have agency heads who are serving with distinction," said Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj. "Unfortunately sometimes the actions of a few detract from the good work of the majority."

Unless the appointees had a history of ethics problems, there was no way for Bush to know that there would be problems with agency heads, said former Gov. Bob Martinez.

Former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham would not address Bush's choices directly, but said a governor not only needs to know his appointees very well, but has to make sure there are checks in place to catch problems.

"You need to have some systems in place to alert you if you have someone that's going off the reservation," Graham said. "You don't want to find out about an ethical mistake by reading it in the newspaper. If you do, your management systems have failed."

Former Bush Chief of Staff Kathleen Shanahan emphasized that Bush has made thousands of appointments and there have been problems with very few.

"He can't micromanage everybody's decisions," she said.