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PALM BAY: The Candidates Speak On How To Address Ethics Within The City.

The Florida Today newspaper ran an article on the ethical issues within the City of Palm Bay and more specifically, how different candidates that are running for election would address the City’s corruption and lack of ethics.

Some of the answers surprised us and we thought we’d go over them.

MAYORAL CANDIDATES:

Kay Maragh encourages the formation of a citizen watchdog group to keep tabs on City Hall. She also said she wants to implement training programs for newly elected and appointed officials that cover ethics, integrity and penalties for abuse.

The problem with a civilian watchdog group is that the people that are appointed to the group will be beholding to the people / Council members that have appointed them. It is an amazing thing to watch some of the Boards within the City and see board members vote for their interests and or the interests of the person who appointed them.

Furthermore, a watchdog group would have to have teeth, and that would take rewriting employee contracts, employee handbooks, etc. In addition, as the City Manager is responsible for the hiring and firing of employees per the Charter, there would need to be a Charter Amendment to address how the recommendations of any “Watchdog Group” would be taken and implemented.

We found Maragh’s idea of training to be “interesting” as training is already required by Florida Statute:

Florida Statute 112.3142

(b) All elected municipal officers must complete 4 hours of ethics training each calendar year which addresses, at a minimum, s. 8, Art. II of the State Constitution, the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees, and the public records and public meetings laws of this state. This requirement may be satisfied by completion of a continuing legal education class or other continuing professional education class, seminar, or presentation if the required subjects are covered.

It is not that we are against the training per se. However, it was not the lack of training that led to the corruption and ethics violations within the City. The violations were the result of the actions of people that knew the rules and laws, had been through the training, and had simply willfully ignored the laws. No amount of training is ever going to get rid of people like that or get them to change their actions as they think they are above it all.

The fact that Maragh is unaware of the mandated training is troubling on some level because if a person is going to speak on an issue, we believe they should have a basic understanding of that issue. Clearly Maragh does not.

[Rob] Medina said he supports a forensic audit to closely examine City Hall.

“It is pricey. But it will reveal what our downfalls are. I liken it to an (inspector general) inspection in the military. It brings out what we are doing wrong — but even moreso, what we can do to fix it,” he said.

If elected, Medina said he will prohibit himself from taking future campaign contributions from vendors that he has voted to award business contracts. He also supports creation of a citizen committee to oversee City Hall.

We support the idea of a forensic audit. The issue will be “what to do with the results?” Palm Bay will not be able to go back and terminate people for malfeasance and misfeasance because of guidelines in the Employee Handbook. Even if the Handbook is updated to say “you screw up with the public’s money or trust, you will be terminated,” that provision cannot be extended backwards. The audit provides a way of seeing the holes in moving forward.

Medina’s pledge is (sadly) a good one in today’s political climate. Contributions are seen as “buying” one of two things or both – a vote on an issue or access to the elected official. We don’t care that people accept contributions. That’s part of free speech. However, we do care when that contribution buys a vote or access above and beyond what the average citizen has.

While we understand that this is an “appearance of impropriety” issue, ask yourself “if you were sitting on the City Council, would you sell your vote or would give contributors greater access to you and your ears. If your answer is “no, of course not,” then why is it that we automatically attribute those actions to others?”

Palm Bay’s corruption issues with elected officials is that people were “selling” access and ears. If makes us wonder why are we voting for people if they do sell their vote or give greater access? Not everyone is for sale.

COUNCIL SEAT 2

[Peter] Filiberto said he would like City Hall staffers to undergo ethics training, similar to programs used by the federal government, to prevent malfeasance and corruption.

“I’m dedicated in bringing honesty, integrity and transparency to City Council. My interest only lies with the residents and businesses of Palm Bay,” Filiberto said.

Once again, our issue is that training doesn’t address ethics and corruption – it only states what is not ethical and what is corruption. It doesn’t solve the issue of ethics and corruption.

According to the National Institute for Justice, over the past 30 years there have been nearly 57,000 prosecuted cases of ethical and corruption activities at the Federal level. (The number doesn’t include non-prosecuted cases.)

Drilling down, the team identified eight discrete corrupt activities, covering all public corruption, through a closer analysis of about 2,400 cases from 2013 to 2015. Those eight activities are:

  • Receipt of a bribe
  • Solicitation of a bribe
  • Extortion
  • Contract fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Official misconduct
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Violation of regulatory laws

If you are working in the public sector and don’t realize that those activities are illegal, please resign. If you are that ignorant of the laws and what the rest of the universe would consider non-ethical actions, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Our point is that training has not eliminated corruption and ethical misconduct at the Federal level. It seems wrong to make something that achieves questionable results as a centerpiece of ending corruption.

“Don’t do that” doesn’t work unless there is also consequences to doing the very thing the training says is illegal, unethical, etc. There has to be consequences for violations.

[Donny] Felix said he would not meet with a potential developer unless a third person — preferably a city attorney — was also present in the room.

“That’s just the accountability piece, with having a third person. It’s no longer a ‘he said, she said.’ There’s always a third person as a witness,” Felix said.

We are intrigued by this idea and pledge, but think the same thing can be accomplished by recording the conversation. While Florida is a two party consent state for recording, courts have ruled that there is no need for two party consent when the conversation deals with a public official in the course of their official duties.

We also have to wonder how that would have played out in the recent indictment of developer Brian West. According to the charging documents, West used intermediary Puneet “P.K.” Kapur to make offers of cash to candidates and to elected officials. Would Felix have recorded that interaction as well?

We also find it interesting that while Felix claims he would have a third party in the room, he accepted a campaign contribution from West and has stated that he has no intention of returning the money. There is something that doesn’t sit well with that decision.

What difference does it make to have a third party in the room if you are willing to accept money from (corrupt) developers to begin with?

A person can make all the promises in the world, but ultimately it is their actions that matter.

COUNCIL SEAT 3

[Randy] Foster said he supports mandatory ethics training for City Council candidates, incumbents and City Hall department heads. He also supports additional financial disclosures, beyond simply reporting campaign contributions.

“I’ve been through a lot of ethics training throughout my career in law enforcement. And I had to retain a high set of ethics as a U.S. Marshal, referencing my top-secret clearance,” Foster said.

These are interesting statements from Foster.

Of the six candidates who are running, only Foster has a bona fide ethics conviction from the State of Florida against him. In addition, Foster bragged about “learning” from convicted and impeached Representative Alcee Hastings who has the distinction of being one of only 11 Federal judges in the history of the country to be removed from the bench for illegal and ethical violations.

Not exactly the role model we would be looking at when it comes to ethics and corruption, but that is just us.

Once again, City Council members receive mandated ethics training which means Foster joins Maragh in offering a solution that is in place.

We believe that required training for candidate is a non-starter for a variety or reasons, the least of which such a qualification is not supported by state law. Once again, if you don’t have a basic understanding of ethics in government, don’t run.

Foster’s idea of increased financial disclosure is laughable as his ethics violation was for not making full financial disclosure that is required by law now.

[Thomas] Gaume said he wants to do away with Palm Bay’s design-build firm selection process. The Florida Auditor General’s Joint Legislative Auditing Committee noted that the city utilities director had a longtime previous employment relationship with an engineering firm on one of the teams that bid on the $9.9 million St. Johns Heritage Parkway “connector road” leading to the new Interstate 95 interchange. The utilities director served on the evaluation team that ranked the bidders in 2017, creating a potential “perceived conflict of interest,” the committee determined.

“You’re a representative. You should be hands-on with the people you represent — not sitting in an ivory tower or looking down on them from the dais,” Gaume said.

While we agree with Gaume on the design-build firm selection process, corruption and ethics violations within the City went and continue to go far beyond one department. We would have preferred a deeper, more complete answer from Gaume, but we know from experience that Gaume is a talker / deep thinker and the Florida Today was looking for bullet points and sound bites.


Last year, the Florida Auditor General’s JLAC conducted an operational audit of Palm Bay City Hall. Among 31 areas of concern, the committee determined that “the city needs to establish policies and procedures for communicating, investigating, and reporting known or suspected fraud.”

In response, on Oct. 15 the City Council unanimously approved first reading of an improved whistleblower ordinance that would guide employees in reporting “fraudulent activity,” “gross mismanagement,” “gross waste of public funds,” “illegal activity,” “improper governmental action” and “retaliation or retaliatory action.”

“There’s more process and procedure for disclosing information, investigating, and how complaints get referred related to retaliation,” Sherman said during a Thursday City Council workshop.

The whistleblower ordinance would also create an audit committee to investigate suspected fraudulent activities. Committee members: the city manager, finance director, chief procurement officer and human resources director.

The idea of an improved “whistleblower” ordinance has some benefits. In the past, several employees went to supervisors and elected officials and were rebuffed.

That cannot happen. Ever.

We are concerned with the composition of the “audit committee.”

The history of members is not great. Palm Bay terminated the employment of one City Manager, ostensibly for being corrupt and ethically challenged. (Interestingly, prior to the 2018 election, three City Council members voted against terminating the City Manager even though they had evidence and had heard from employees directly concerning the conduct of the City Manager.)

As to the “chief procurement officer,” the Procurement Department was named in the JLAC report for not following the City procedures of State law.

Call us skeptical as we see this proposal as the foxes being in cahoots with the chickens.


We don’t want to leave people with the idea that all we are doing is criticizing the ideas that were offered by the candidates. We see ignorance and issues within some of their proposals, and as corruption and roads are interchangeable issues 1 and 1a for citizens, we are surprised at the lack of depth an knowledge within some of the answers.

What would we do?

First, we agree in principle with the whistleblower ordinance. There should be protections for concerned employees and consequences if those employees are ignored or retaliated against. Given the history of corruption and employees historically, we don’t see the composition of the “Audit Committee” as being a good idea.

Secondly, we’d like to see the City Employee Manual to be updated to include that violations of the law, ethical issues and City Policies may result in immediate termination. No “second chances.” No “remedial training.” No “counseling to correct behavior.”

If an employee doesn’t care enough to know the laws and policies governing their jobs and protecting the public trust, the City doesn’t need their services.

Hit the road, Jack.

Third, there has to be accountability in the little things. We cannot tell you how many times we watched the City Council violate the law, the City Charter and the Council Policies and procedures. They don’t care. Bringing up violations makes them look bad and they don’t want that. Palm Bay needs elected officials that do more than pay lip service to laws and being anti-corruption. They need to put their election rhetoric into action and be supported by the people of Palm Bay.

Finally, we’d like to see the creation of a “Citizens’ Academy” similar to that in Cocoa and Cocoa Beach.

The City of Cocoa Citizens Academy is an 10-week program designed to inform residents and community stakeholders about the operations of city government and what is involved in delivering and maintaining services to the citizens of Cocoa. The program is designed for residents and Cocoa business owners that are 18 years and older who are interested in learning more about their local government and how they can get involved in their community. Class size is limited to the first fifteen (15) Cocoa residents or business owners that apply. At the end of the program, participants should have an increased understanding of the organizational structure and operations of the various departments that impact the quality of life in the City of Cocoa. Graduates of the Citizens Academy will be prepared to have a role in the future of their neighborhoods and the City overall through government/citizen engagement.

The Citizen’s Academy is a look into the internal values, philosophy, and operations of the City of Cocoa Beach. Designed for City residents, the academy educates citizens on the “how and why” of City departments.

While the Citizens Academy in both Cocoa and Cocoa Beach are good and we believe that Palm Bay citizens would benefit from that type of training, we would also like to see within that training basic outlines on what laws and ethics apply to City employees and elected officials.

That type of training will enable citizens to recognize and report ethical and legal violations.

The course should also include the rights of citizens (including free speech,) addressing Boards and the City Council. It should also help enable citizens to make “Sunshine law” requests to the government as many people don’t know the extent of the law and or the process.

These ideas are steps, and not the all to end all.

There is nothing that strikes fear more into the the corrupt and ethically challenged than the light of citizens watching and knowing what is expected demanded by the people.

After all, roaches hide in the dark and hate the light.



4 Responses to “PALM BAY: The Candidates Speak On How To Address Ethics Within The City.”

  1. Truthful says:

    While there is truth in the above statement that “roaches hide in the dark and hate the light”, some roaches wear sunglasses in the light, as they have learned to disguise themselves very well.

  2. Luke says:

    I am still of the opinion that a lot of the ethics issues we have in government stems from greed and money. I believe PB brings in the 2nd highest revenues in the county, somewhere on the order of $210 Million/Yr (per Florida Open Gov website using 2018 data). Lots of business folks/developers looking to get a piece of that pie and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as it’s done within the law. But that temptation often times draws the bad actors out of the shadows.

    If I were a PB resident, I’d take a good look at who is financing your candidates campaigns. I took a quick look on: https://cityofpalmbayfl.easyvotecampaignfinance.com/home/publicfilings and found you’ve got campaigns being financed by as little as $250 up to over $50,000. I’d look to see if that money is coming from folks that would support the same things I would support. I’d also look suspiciously at big money coming from out of area contributions, PACS, Developers and decide if they are donating to these candidates in an attempt to sway how they lean in the future.

    I knew one guy who swore he’d never vote for the candidate with all the big pretty signs all over the place because that candidate had surely been bought out. Can’t say if that’s true or not, but I sure would like to see laws that severely limited campaign finance so it leveled the playing field a bit for all the candidates.

  3. Carla says:

    If this were a bank robbery, Andrew Lannon was the bank robber, the City Council members were the bank tellers who threw the money in the bag, Jill Jacobs was the one left holding the bag, and Patricia Smith is still driving the getaway car! The taxpayers were the account holders at the bank who just got robbed. When the State calls the City Attorney’s Office out on it, they hide, like cockroaches, under a loophole in the law. But in reality, there is nothing to prevent Ms. Jacobs from paying the money back! Indeed, if she were acting in the City’s best interest, she would not hesitate to do so. But it is obvious she is not acting in the City’s best interest, but in her own self-interest instead.

    “A fiduciary is a person or organization that acts on behalf of another person or persons, putting their clients’ interest ahead of their own, with a duty to preserve good faith and trust. Being a fiduciary thus requires being bound both legally and ethically to act in the other’s best interests.”

    If Ms. Jacobs cannot or will not act in a fiduciary manner towards the City, why is she still employed there? Why do her bosses tolerate it? If Ms. Smith is not willing to do anything about it, why is she still employed by the City? Shouldn’t she put the City’s interests ahead of Ms. Jacobs’ interests? Why does Council do nothing? Will the new Council also refuse to act on behalf of the citizens who were wrongly fleeced?

    • Carla says:

      The above item is in reference to Finding No. 10 of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Report regarding the $18,000 which was illegally paid to the Deputy City Attorney after Council received flawed advice from then City Attorney Lannon. Ms. Sherman listed this item as “complete” in her presentation on October 22. I don’t see how it is “complete” when the current City Attorney’s answer is to do nothing to fix it.

      One other thing, if the City moves forward with the forensic audit, maybe reviewing the illegal bonus for possible kickbacks should be included in the scope of the audit.

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