'Slap on the wrist' rejected by ethics panel
For many years, the Florida Commission on Ethics has endured criticism as a "toothless tiger" that doles out mild punishment for serious violations of the public trust. But developments Friday suggest that may be a thing of the past.
In a case involving a prominent South Florida politician, the panel rejected a proposal to slap a $1,000 fine on Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin for voting to approve applications for county grants written by her husband, Richard Rubin, on behalf of the city of Southwest Ranches.
The panel voted to increase the fine to $15,000.
"A thousand dollars sounds to me like a slap on the wrist," said ethics commission member Charles Lydecker. "There's a price to pay for a breach of ethical conduct."
He said the public would weigh the amount of the fine against what Wasserman-Rubin's husband earned from the grants. "People look at it (the fine) and say, 'Think of the money they must have made.'^"
"She is a role model in the county,'" said Albert Massey, the ethics panel's chairman, himself a Broward resident. "She has got to adhere to a very high standard... It's too light a penalty for someone with her experience and otherwise good reputation."
Wasserman-Rubin's lawyer, Mark Herron, said the commissioner voted for the grants on the advice of a county attorney and that, as she said in a sworn deposition, she did not know her husband stood to get bonuses of $15,000 if the grants were approved. "Not in her wildest dreams" did Wasserman-Rubin know that her vote stood to benefit her husband's business, and she has no role whatsoever in her husband's company.
"His business is here. Her business is there," Herron testified.
Even the ethics panel's newest member, Roy Rogers, a long-time personal friend of Wasserman-Rubin and her husband, agreed with the majority that the penalty was not harsh enough. The rejection came despite the strong recommendation of the advocate, or prosecutor, James Peterson, that it was fair to both sides.
But Peterson heard the bigger message, loud and clear. "I can hear from the commission's statements that we're going to look for money in these settlements," Peterson said. "I hear you. You want me to come in with higher amounts on these."
Wasserman-Rubin is a political fixture in Broward County. She is a former member of the Broward School Board, and in 2006 her name was floated as a possible running mate for Jim Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor.