Editor: In response to Commissioner Pat Novy's proposal to create additional legislation to govern the behavior of county staff and the county's elected officials, I offered the following arguments in opposition at the County Commission's workshop on Feb. 18:
The proposal, as written, was redundant of state statutes. If the problem is enforcement at the state level, extra legislation at the local level will not resolve the problem.
Excessive rule making, without a clear and present need or cost-efficient method for enforcement, tends to strengthen the power of the bureaucracy and complicate the life of the citizen. At the workshop, I asked Commissioner Novy is she believed any of Hernando County's elected officials or professional staff were engaged in unethical behavior or practices, or if there were any specific concerns regarding the current conduct of county government, which motivated her proposals.
Commissioner Novy responded that her proposal reflects no current, specific concern regarding unethical behavior in the public forum. I argued that when a system is running smoothly, we probably shouldn't tinker with the mechanism.
Commissioner Novy's proposal, as written, defined "lobbyists" so broadly that I believe every officer or every civic organization in the county might have ended up being required to carry log books and reporting private conversations to an "ethics" panel. The panel itself was proposed to be under the direction of the Clerk of the Courts office.
As proposed, I believe that these suggestions would have led to less communication and more controversy within the community as a whole. More important, the enforcement mechanism proposed presented itself as a somewhat expensive, quasi-judicial addition to the bureaucracy. I worry that any "Ethics Star Chamber" within county government would create more controversy than it resolved.
Finally, Commissioner Novy presented "ethics" ordinances from Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Duval counties as examples for Hernando's guidance. I pointed out that these counties have traditionally suffered more local corruption than other Florida counties and may not be the best example for Hernando County.
I also expressed concern that for a County Commissioner to propose an ethics ordinance says something negative in a public way about how government business is conducted in Hernando County. I do not believe Commissioner Novy actually intended to project a negative image of Hernando County, but the tacit suggestion is implicit to her proposal.
Letters published by the Times on the ethics issue have tended to attack me personally rather than my arguments in opposition to the proposal. One "ethical" trend in Hernando County politics that does concern me is the tendency of would-be political candidates to attempt to enhance their own reputations by attacking the reputation of others.
I have always believed that those who attack the person instead of the argument probably don't understand what is at issue.
Greater Hernando County
Chamber of Commerce
Inquiry by Battista
conflict of interest?
Editor: Robert Battista is a county attorney.
Rita Battista, his wife, is an assistant state attorney investigating the fight involving Commissioner John Richardson.
The Battistas are married. Isn't it a conflict of interest to investigate a crime when it's your husband's boss you're investigating?