Monthly Meeting - Thursday, March 7, 2019- 1:30 p.m. - Palm Beach County Robert Weisman Governmental Center - 6th floor BCC Chambers
Agenda and Attachments
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The following questions pertain only to the new ethics rules for Palm Beach County and the municipalities therein. You may have more requirements under the Florida statutes.
What is the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics? The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics reviews, interprets, renders advisory opinions and enforces the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics, Lobbyist Registration and Post Employment Ordinances. The Code of Ethics is more restrictive than the State ethics laws and is designed to foster renewed public trust in local government. The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics only enforces local governmental ethics laws. It does not enforce any other laws, even those that may involve ethical issues. For example, the commission does not enforce state law. For violations of the state Code of Ethics, please contact the State of Florida Commission on Ethics.
Who does the Code of Ethics apply to? The Code of Ethics applies to all elected and appointed county and municipal employees and officials, including advisory board members within Palm Beach County. It does not apply to constitutional offices such as the Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector or Clerk and Comptroller.
What laws does the Commission on Ethics enforce? The Commission on Ethics has jurisdiction throughout Palm Beach County, including the 38 municipalities within its borders, provided the subject matter falls within one of the following ordinances under its authority:
Our specific statutory authority is derived from Article V, Division 8, § 2-254 of the Palm Beach County Code. This ordinance gives the Commission on Ethics the power to review, interpret, enforce and render opinions regarding the County ethics ordinances.
How do I file a complaint? Any person may file a complaint with the Commission on Ethics. The Commission on Ethics has an on-line complaint form with instructions that you may fill out and print for mailing or delivery. Complaints must be in writing, allege a violation of one of the ordinances mentioned above, be based substantially on personal knowledge and signed under oath or affirmation by the complaining person. If you have any questions about the complaint process or would like to speak with a member of our staff please call the Palm Beach County Ethics Hotline at 877.766.5920.
Must I identify myself when I make an ethics allegation? In order to file a complaint you must identify yourself on the complaint form. However, the commission does have a hot-line 877.766.5920 and staff will take anonymous information or you may send your complaint anonymously by mail to 300 North Dixie Highway, Suite 450, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. There must be sufficient, reliable information given by the anonymous complainant showing a violation of the county ethics ordinances before the ethics commission staff will start any inquiry into the alleged conduct.
I’ve gone before my local commission or advisory board on a matter of importance to me and they did nothing. I think that their decision is unethical and I’m ready to file a complaint. What information do I need to have when I talk to you? For the Commission on Ethics to be able to process your complaint, you must have evidence based on your own personal knowledge that the action or inaction by the government official, employee or advisory board member resulted in a financial benefit to a defined person or business (e.g., an official’s relative, customer, client or outside employer) when the benefit is not shared by similarly situated members of the general public. It is not an ethics code violation for an official to merely be “wrong” in their decision making. Nor is it necessarily a code of ethics violation when an official violates a county or municipal policy. Policy violations should be referred to the appropriate county or municipal officials.
I am a volunteer and was appointed to sit on a board. Am I subject to the ethics ordinance? All county, municipal and city advisory board members are subject to the ethics ordinances if they are selected by the Board of County Commissioners, municipal governing body, mayor or other chief executive officer of a municipality.
What is a gift statement? Who has to file it? Under the new ordinance, all county and municipal employees, officials, or advisory board members are required to complete a gift disclosure form. Certain “reporting individuals” already have a quarterly requirement under state law. For more specific questions, please view the gift disclosure instruction form or call our office at 561.355.1915.
When do I file my gift statement? Under the county ethics code, the gift reporting calendar year is October 1st -September 30th. Gift reports are due no later than November 1st for the previous reporting year.
What is the purpose of gift reporting? Through transparency and access to information, including non-exempt gifts received by public officials and employees, public trust and confidence in government will be improved.
What is a gift? A gift is essentially anything of value. Political contributions, gifts from relatives or members of your household, and awards for professional or civic achievement are exempted from the gift law. For all exemptions and more information, please see our gift disclosure instruction form.
Is there any limitation placed on the acceptance and solicitations of gifts, gratuities, or other things of value? Yes. County and municipal officials, employees and advisory board members may not solicit or accept gifts valued at more than $100 dollars from lobbyists, principals or employers of lobbyists. Under no circumstances may a county or municipal official, employee or advisory board member accept a gratuity or tip for the performance of their official duties.
Why are there gift limits? Restrictions on accepting gifts prevent outside interests from giving things of value to county and city employees and officials. The gift limits are designed to avoid the appearance that these solicitations and donations are made to obtain access or otherwise ingratiate the lobbyist to the public employee or official.
Are invitations to events considered gifts? Probably. An invitation or a ticket to an event is generally considered a gift unless there is an exception that applies. If you are unsure, please email your specific question with detailed circumstances to us at email@example.com.
I’m a county employee who deals with residents every day. One of my regular customers brings me a publix gift card for excellent service. Can I accept the publix gift card? How about a bottle of wine? No. You cannot accept a gift of any value given to you because of the way you perform your duties as a public employee. This includes thank you gifts.
What are travel expenses and why are they subject to regulation? As a public employee or official, you cannot accept payment or reimbursement of any travel expenses from a government contractor, vendor, service provider, bidder or proposer doing business with your employer. Travel expenses include, but are not limited to, transportation, lodging, meals, registration fees and incidentals. This prohibition can be waived by the county commission or applicable municipal governing body. This prohibition does not apply to reimbursements paid by other governments or organizations to which your employer is a member when the travel is related to that membership.
What is the general rule regarding the misuse of a city or county official’s position? A county or municipal official or employee cannot use their position in any way, when they know or should know with the exercise of reasonable care that it would result in special financial benefit to themselves, their families or household members or any of the employers and employees of these persons, their own outside employer, business or fellow employees, a customer or client of that outside employer or business, someone to whom they owe a debt greater than $10,000 (other than a bank) or a non-profit organization where they serve as an officer or director.
May a public employee or official have an outside business or employment? Yes, provided that their outside employer or business does not have contracts with the government they serve. If their outside employer or business does transact business or contract with their local government, an official will generally need to obtain a waiver from the local governing body. An employee needs to show that no conflict exists between the business and his or her public employer and then get approval from both a supervisor and chief administrator.
May an official or employee contract with a county or city agency? No. Public employees and officials may not enter into a contract or transaction to provide goods or services with the public entity he or she serves (county or municipality), unless an exception applies. For more information, please contact us at 877.766.5920.
Is the prohibition on contracts with a county or municipal agency absolute? No. There are exceptions to the contractual relations section of the code, including sole source or emergency contracts, minor transactions under $500 annually, or sealed bid contracts under certain circumstances and with full disclosure. Moreover, officials may apply for a waiver of this prohibition by a supermajority of the governing body after full public disclosure. For more information, please call or email us at 877-766-5920, firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is lobbying? Lobbying is seeking to influence a decision, through oral or written communication or an attempt to obtain the good will, of any county commissioner, advisory board member or public employee with respect to the passage, defeat or modification of anything which may foreseeably be presented for consideration to the advisory board, county or municipal governing body.
How do I know if someone is a lobbyist or employs lobbyists? Please review the searchable database for all Lobbyists in Palm Beach County.
Do ethics laws impose any restrictions on county employees after they leave county service? Yes. The commission on ethics is charged with enforcing the post-employment ordinance. Depending on the public position, former employees must refrain from representing anyone, other than the governing body he or she served, in any matter before that government for a certain period of time. The length of time varies from six (6) months to two (2) years depending on the public position they previously held. A full text of the post-employment ordinance is available on our website or simply click here.
What penalties can the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics impose? The Commission can impose civil penalties only, including fines up to $500 dollars and a public reprimand. In addition, the ethics commission may issue a letter of instruction in minor cases, and has the power to impose restitution where the violator or a third party received a monetary benefit as a result of the violation. The county or local governing body may rescind or void contracts, licenses, permits and other transactions if the contractual relationship section or lobbyist registration ordinances are violated.
Is a violation of the code of ethics a crime? Most sections of the Code of Ethics can be prosecuted by the state attorney if the violation is willful. The maximum penalty for a willful violation is a year in the county jail, $1,000 fine, or both.
Can I attend meetings of the Ethics Commission? Yes. The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics meets on the first Thursday of every month at 1:30 p.m. in the County Commission Chambers on the 6th floor of the Governmental Center located at 301 North Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. You are welcome and encouraged to attend our meetings. If you cannot attend, the meeting is broadcast on access cable channel 20 and can be found listed by date on our website in the Meetings section.
I want to review the agenda and attachments for a meeting. How can I obtain a copy? A complete copy of the agenda and attachments can be located on our website under the Meetings section at the top of home page on our website.
I still have questions. How do I get help? Please feel free to contact us via email at email@example.com or call our hotline at 877.766.5920.