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Sunday April 20th 2014

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Outtakes 4/25/13

Do The Right Thing Is the city of Pensacola able of looking at an ethical issue without getting caught up in personalities?

Here is the situation:

A board has the power to recommend leases to the Pensacola City Council for a city land on Pensacola Bay. One board member is given a briefing on a proposed lease for a particular parcel. He sits on the Operations and Audit Committee that reviews the lease and is critical of it.

The next day, the father of an employee that works for his realty firm, comes to him and says that he could make a better offer for that parcel.

If you were that board member, what would you do? Most of us would have told the client that he needed to find another realtor to help him with the proposal, maybe even have given him a recommendation. Since it was the father of someone in your firm, you would notify the executive director for the park of the potential offer and fill out the proper paperwork to recuse yourself from any discussion of any leases regarding the parcel.

It’s the simple. Ethical decisions that build public trust in government aren’t difficult. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the city council is left with deciding what to do about it.

Instead the board member helped his client draft a lease proposal, using the benefit gained from the presentations on the lease proposed by the mayor, and emailed the proposal to the executive director the day his board was to discuss the parcel. After the original lease was presented, the board member announced he was recusing himself from any discussion, moving into the audience and would be making a competitive proposal.

When he made his proposal, he was repeatedly questioned about his fellow board members on the ethics of his actions. He told them what he was doing was fine.  He expected to be paid a commission if his client’s lease was accepted, but that was okay, too, because he would resign from the board at that point.

In 32 year of observing and, for 14 years, serving in local government, I’ve never seen such a blatant disregard for the public trust. The “price” of public service is that one can’t profit from the service—that’s why it’s called “service.”

Otherwise a board member could fight all lease proposals presented, while waiting for a client to show interest. When that client appeared, he could recuse himself, pocket a commission and then resign with a nice profit.

The board member has to go.