JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Ethics Officer = Endangered Species

Susan Cooper Eastman has a top-notch article out in this week’s Folio Weekly about the life and trials of Carla Miller.  You may recall that Ms. Miller, a former federal prosecutor, was hired by Mayor Peyton as the City’s Ethics Officer in the aftermath of several scandals that severely damaged his reputation.  At the time, the action was widely dismissed as nothing more than window dressing, particularly since Ms. Miller (and the Ethics Commission) would be forced to report to the very individuals she was tasked with investigating—the Mayor and City Council.  Ms. Miller; however, doesn’t perform the role of wallflower all that spectacularly.  She’s had a busy year in her new role and she’s made plenty of enemies—something she doesn’t exactly shy away from.  While fantasizing about a truly independent commission and an ethics officer with true enforcement capabilities, Ms. Miller has set about to go to war with the army she has.  Along the way she’s been threatened, ostracized and belittled.  But, she—and the hope for true ethical reform in Jacksonville’s government—trudges on.  

Read the story in its entirety here.

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Ethics Commission Adds Scott Shine, Looks for Independence

The City’s Ethics Commission added long-time political activist Scott Shine as their newest member and pledged to work towards more independence. The Commission currently has no subpoena power and its authority is somewhat vague. It also apparently has no authority over the City’s independent agencies, something quite concerning considering the ongoing controversies at the Jacksonville Port Authority and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

The City’s Ethics Officer, which often investigates allegations of wrong-doing by the Mayor and members of his staff, reports to the Mayor—a conflict of interest that the Mayor seems to be quite comfortable with.

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Jacksonville’s Ethics Hotline Cases

The City’s Ethics Officer has released an update on complaints made via the Ethics Hotline. (630-1015, just in case anyone has something they would like to report.) Once again, although the employees of the City (and citizens) are to be commended for reporting behavior that they deemed unethical, it does appear that the majority of these cases seem to be swept under the rug. Among the most recent cases:

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Speaking of Ethics…

Carla Miller figures she has saved the City about $80,000 through the Ethics Hotline this year.

According to an article in today’s Jax Daily Record:

City Ethics Officer Carla Miller has reviewed about 140 calls received by the Ethics Hotline (630-1015) since it opened to the public this year.

Of those calls 30 investigations have been opened, and 13 investigations have been completed and released to the public. Seven of the completed cases were released at the Ethics Commission’s monthly meeting Nov. 24. The recently released cases involved the City’s health coverage, sole source contracts, nepotism, vehicle fuel policy and bid awards.

But here’s the one I really don’t understand:

In a call received July 14, 2008, the caller expressed concern that Aetna was going to be granted a proprietary contract for the City’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This program provides services that include helping employees recover from drug or alcohol addiction or counseling employees who have family problems. The service was previously provided through Jacksonville-based Corporate Care Works 2007-08 and was offered for $134,400 for an optional one-year extension.

The call was received after the City Council was considering a one-year extension of the City’s health coverage, so it could review its policy and determine if better coverage was available. Part of the study involved streamlining the EAP program, which included one “in-house” provider and two contractors.

In an effort to streamline the EAP, the Council considered awarding a proprietary contract to Aetna to provide the service. The City Council Auditor argued that this contract could not be offered to Aetna.

“I took exception to this because it wasn’t a proprietary contract,” said Sherman. “Aetna didn’t offer a unique service, so it couldn’t be a proprietary contract and it wasn’t a sole source because they weren’t the only one out in the market.”

Sherman presented this information to the City Council and the contract was not included in the health plan extension.

The request for the contract didn’t go away. It resurfaced in the City’s Procurement Division of its Central Operations Office.

In a memo dated July 10, the Human Resources Division submitted a request to the City’s Procurement Division to award a proprietary contract for EAP to Aetna.

“I thought I had headed this off during the legislative process,” said Sherman. “If it had not been for a call to the ethics hotline and Carla (Miller) alerting me about the issue, it would have gone through administratively.”

Sherman visited with the Professional Services Evaluation Committee to explain again that Aetna could not be awarded a proprietary contract because it was not offering a service that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

The meeting resulted in a withdrawal of the request, but Sherman was surprised that he had to argue the contract issue twice.

Indeed, why should the Coucil Auditor have to argue the contract issue twice to the same people?

All of the released cases can be viewed at the City’s Web site: http://coj.net/Departments/Ethics+Office/Hotline+Cases.htm

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , ,

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