Ethics Bill: Where?

Constitution 4During the Florida legislative session last year, there were those of us who tried to speak to various legislators expressing our concerns in regard to “unethical” actions by some of the currently elected officials in Tallahassee. Research into various Foundations, Committees, Corporations and other elements are proof that this action needs to take place.

You are all aware that for almost two years I have written about the cronyism within those in the Florida legislature and the Charter school system. The extremely lenient legislation of which has been passed in regard to Charter schools is another article. The fact that our legislators and others are involved in various capacities in regard to Charter schools is just plain wrong and unethical and it has absolutely no concern for our children’s education or futures.

Recently the Foundation for Excellence in Education (Jeb Bush) changed their website and you can no longer PROVE (nor see) if any of our legislators are still serving on the committees within these Foundations. We can however prove they did prior to that time. The current focus of the web site is on the “Chief’s for Change” and I want to remind you that our current Commissioner of Education is the “HEAD” Chief for Change (Bennett). The two prior to that, Robinson and Smith, are also Chief’s for Change and Eric Smith is the Executive Director of the “Chief’s”.

Where are the ethics in regard to this situation? They all have a two count agenda – promotion of Charter schools all over America and loyalty to Jeb Bush. Someone please tell me where that leaves the taxpayers of this state and especially the children? Gerard Robinson left his job early I believe because he found it extremely difficult to honor all his bosses (taxpayers, Jeb Bush, Gov, Scott, State School Administrators and teachers).

On Wednesday, January 23, the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), unanimously passed a landmark ethics reform package. Supposedly this legislation is a major priority of Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), who issued the following statement in gratitude to Chair Latvala and the committee: “The Senate began the approval process for the most sweeping ethics reform in more than 30 years this afternoon. This bill stands as a bright line warning to those who would use public office for private gain and as a tribute to those who treat public office as an obligation for service and sacrifice. “Chairman Latvala has masterfully built a bi-partisan coalition for reform, and I am deeply grateful to him.”

Mr. Gaetz, are you still serving on a Jeb Bush committee at one of his Foundations and if so, to whom do you show allegiance first, the people of Florida or Jeb Bush? Recently you showed your disdain for Florida citizenry even going to the point of mis-quoting the Constitution.

To begin with I personally believe our legislators should have the ethics to where they would NOT need this type of legislation, however they do NOT. Rep. Fresen has been called out on several previous occasions regarding his financial gains from his association with Academica Charter schools and serving as a FL. Legislator at the same time. Fresen always responds by stating “I voted for ALL Charter schools”!

In my personal opinion what they are presenting is NOT going far enough nor addressing some key points:
1. Governor Scott serving as Chairman of Enterprise Florida, Inc. a “for-profit” “public-private corporation” along with the Commissioner of Commerce Gary Swoope who serves as the President & CEO of same and at the same time this company receiving taxpayer $$$ (I do not believe it is pertinent as to whether they are receiving payment for these positions – just the mere fact they are serving in that capacity while also holding state offices) Enterprise Florida, Inc. received $29M FY08/09 budget and $11M+ FY10-11 budget. http://www.flsenate.gov/PublishedContent/Committees/2010-2012/CM/MeetingRecords/CM1282010.pdf

2. Florida has legislators owning Charter schools which provide them with income and or financial benefits while at the same time writing and/or voting on legislation which pertains to same. Does this sound ethical to you especially when the legislation being written for Florida Charter schools is much more lenient than that for regular public schools and with far less oversight also? Why is this not being addressed?

3. These same Florida legislators and some others are also serving on Jeb Bush’s foundations and other entities supporting Charter school legislation, promotion and/or funding along with political support by these same organizations and others doing business in the “for-profit”, “public-private partnership” World of Charter Schools.

The two bills, SPB 7006 and SPB 7008, take a comprehensive approach to increasing the public trust in our states leaders by expanding the scope and enforceability of ethics rules. “This proposal is the most significant ethics reform package in 36 years since the Sunshine Amendment.” said Senator Latvala. “Together these bills will increase transparency while guiding elected and public officials to avoid situations that even create an appearance of conflict.”

Yet at the same time, the businesses and some Charter schools are hiding behind having filed as 501(c)(3) exemption as to not have to reveal where their funding is coming from or to whom they might be forwarding those same funds to.

Why would a Charter school be allowed to have a 501(c)(3) status?

SPB 7006 addresses a number of reported ethical concerns by making financial disclosures available online, giving the Commission on Ethics more authority to collect unpaid fines, requiring state officers to abstain from voting on certain matters that benefit them directly, placing greater restrictions on public employment while in office, restrictions on lobbying after leaving office, and prohibiting officials from accepting gifts from political committees and Committees of Continuous Existence.

The bill also allows public officials to place their assets in a blind trust to help them avoid potential conflicts of interest and allows the use of certified public accountants when preparing financial disclosures. WHAT?????

What is there about an ETHICS bill that would allow public officials to put their assets in a BLIND TRUST? What are the writers of this bill assuming the public officials will need to hide? I thought this was about ethics and openness.

Enterprise Florida, Inc. hides behind some portion of the Sunshine Law all the time but still receives taxpayer $$$$.

“The reforms are an important step to ensuring the voters confidence in their state’s leaders,” said Senator Latvala. Is this bill really ensuring your voter confidence?

SB7008 exempts from public records requests and from the state sunshine laws written referrals for ethics complaints, and Ethics Commission deliberations on referrals, until such time as the commission determines whether they are worthy of investigation. I would like someone to explain to me how this supports transparency. Example – why should we not be allowed to know about complaints registered whether they are found legitimate or not. Case in point: Complaints made against Rep. Fresen regarding his financial interest in Academica Charter schools were dismissed by the House Attorney George Levesque as unfounded and non-conflicting. But that is not true since he has had financial gain from Academica and it is owned by Fresen’s sister and he has continually voted on Charter school legislation.

May I remind the readers that George Levesque is the husband of Patricia Levesque, Chief of Staff for Jeb Bush and we are now back to Charter schools, conflict of interest and lack of transparency. Are the Watchdogs not being complicit?

Additional information can be found via the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee >website http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/EE/
This legislation needs watching and lots of questions! Please DO YOUR RESEARCH!

2 thoughts on “Ethics Bill: Where?

  1. Pingback: Ethics Bill: Where? « Truth About Education

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