Why is Commissioner Dale A Holness attempting to relax ethical restrictions on Broward County Commissioners regarding “charitable organizations”?
In what has become characteristic style, Commissioner Dale A Holness tried to slip one under the wire in the county commission meeting Tuesday. If you were watching, but not really listening, the exchange between commissioners would have seemed normal.
Close to the mid-day break for lunch, Mayor Tim Ryan was trying to get through the Agenda Items pulled for discussion, and the item being discussed was Motion to Direct the County Attorney to draft an Ordinance amending the Broward County Elected Official Code of Ethics – better known as the “Elected Officials Ethics Code”. Mayor Ryan had made the decision to recommend two ordinances – the first would be non-controversial items that all the commissioners could agree needed to be amended in the “Elected Officials Ethics Code” – the second ordinance would be one that was a “work in progress” giving commissioners the ability to pull remove and add things to before it going to it’s final Motion to Direct. Mayor Ryan was valiantly attempting to end the morning session on time and leaving further discussion for after the break by stating, “I’m a little reluctant to go any further on items…”
His efforts to break for lunch were interrupted by Commissioner Dale A Holness who blurted “Charitable Items!” When Mayor Ryan stopped, Holness continued. “On the item above procurement – Charitable fundraising. Yes, it is quite clear that there is a process and a procedure for us to go through, uh, to carry out the efforts we would seek, and it’s still, in my mind, somewhat restrictive because sometimes you might inadvertently support a charitable organization, … uh, you might be out somewhere and suggest to folks that they support this event or support something along that line, uh, so I think that what the provisions are here I think are quite thorough for us to follow, uh, and there shouldn’t be any objections to us supporting this as going forward.”
What? Say that again? “…carry out the efforts we would seek…”? “…inadvertently support a charitable organization..”? The “provisions” that Commissioner Holness was referring to were those he had submitted as items to be included in the draft Ordinance– listed below:
Allow staff of elected official to assist without Board approval provided:
- A prior disclosure is filed;
- Neither staff nor the elected official receives any financial benefit or compensation from the charity; and
- There is no direct expenditure of public funds by the official’s governmental entity.
Clarify that code requirements do not apply to charitable fundraising sponsored or expressly authorized by the governmental entity (housekeeping change).
After Holness had finished his statement, Commissioner Ryan opened it up for comment from the dais, and the reason for Holness’ attempt to slip the issue in prior to the lunch break became clear… perhaps he hoped the other commissioner would be much more interested in getting to lunch vs. actual governance. If so, he was doomed to disappointment. Commissioners Lois Wexler and Stacy Ritter were quick to respond, voicing their concerns on the inappropriateness of Holness’ submission. Commissioner Wexler left no doubt on where she stands on the matter saying ” I would NEVER ask that of my staff, especially since my staff is being paid by the taxpayers for Broward County – there is a process in place that we’ve been following for years… I don’t see why it needs to be amended/addressed any further than what is already in place.”
Wexler’s sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Ritter, as she stated ” I agree with Commissioner Wexler – I would never ask my staff to charitable fundraise on my behalf…” She then went on to point out that the bullet point prohibiting a direct expenditure of public funds was invalid because the salaries paid to staffers and elected officials are, in fact, public funds.
Commissioner Beam Furr also expressed his discomfort with having the submission added, after which Mayor Ryan pulled the submission from the first Ordinance.
Here’s the video:
Publisher’s note: Apologies – the original video on publication date experienced some glitches – the new version, uploaded 6/19, should be working- thanks for your patience
The nagging question though is WHY would Holness want the code to be relaxed with regard charitable fundraising? Commissioner Ritter may have hit upon the answer in her comments against the submission when she stated “If I need to raise money for a charity, I’m picking up the phone myself and I’m doing the appropriate disclosures, which as I said earlier, we could do from day one that the Ethics Code was passed.”[emphasis added]
Ahh, yes- appropriate disclosures – Understandably a requirement that Commissioner Holness would be reticent to adhere to, given his past involvements with “charitable organizations” In May of last year, Daily Broward shed light on how the Community Access Center, a “charitable organization” with Broward County Commissioner Holness as vice-president and on the Board of Directors, was receiving taxpayer dollars from the Children’s Services Council.
Also possible is a potentially withheld vote by Commissioner Dale Holness. Buddy Nevins, in his online publication BrowardBeat.com wrote on such a possibility. If Holness were advocating for sponsorship of a charity event while talking with a company doing business with Broward County, that company may “inadvertently” get the impression that if they didn’t financially support the event, Holness might vote against them. Then again, things like that don’t happen in District 9 of Broward County, do they?
Another possibility has nothing to do with financial benefit, but everything to do with influence. If a local charitable organization has regular gatherings with people in attendance, and “Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness” (or one of his staffers) stands up to speak and while speaking advocates for the good works that the charity is doing and encourages people to support any upcoming events the group may be having, it may be more likely that those people would attend. It may also be more likely that in future elections, those CONSTITUENTS will vote to elect or re-elect Commissioner Holness based on his or his staff’s advocacy for the “charitable organization”
Commissioners Lois Wexler and Stacy Ritter were absolutely correct in their statements pointing out that the Broward County Elected Official Code of Ethics regulations are already quite clear and are in place to prevent inappropriate endorsement. Commissioner Holness once again appears to be putting his personal agenda and influence ahead of the ethics that Broward County constituents should expect from their Commissioners.
While there are very likely tweaks that need to be made easing some draconian restrictions on County Commissioner (they should probably be allowed to have a bottle of water), a closer scrutiny of activities Commissioner Holness and staff with regard to “charitable organizations” would seem to be in order. At least, that’s the way that I see it…hopefully you do too.