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Tallahassee's coalition of 'Citizens for Ethics Reforms' advocate for increased transparency

An open hall with chairs, podium, and three flags in a pedestal in the background
Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media
The chambers of the Tallahassee City Commission

A group of Tallahassee residents continues to advocate for greater transparency in city government.

The coalition of Citizens for Ethics Reform is calling for the city to strengthen whistleblower protections and require consultants to register as lobbyists.

“The current lobby registration requirement for city government is a joke," said Ben Wilcox, research director with Integrity Florida, at a virtual press conference on Monday. "It’s got a huge built-in loophole that allows these ghost lobbyists to work behind the scenes influencing city policy for their client.”

Wilcox says the proposal would require consultants and paid communicators to disclose their clients, closing the "ghost lobbyist" loophole.

Commissioners will discuss the recommendations at an ethics workshop on Wednesday at 10 a.m. At the meeting, they could decide to refer proposed ordinances to the commission for a vote at the next regular meeting.

Their call for changes to the city's policy on registered lobbyists follows the sentencing of former mayor and city commissioner Scott Maddox who was convicted of accepting bribes while holding office. The city’s Independent Ethics Advisory Board recommended the proposals last May.

The board is also recommending that the city grants it the authority to oversee whistleblower protections.

“Only the ethics board is truly independent, and therefore it's appropriate that it should be able to grant whistleblower protections,” said Marilynn Wills, with the Tallahassee chapter of the Florida League of Women Voters. “Without such protection, city employees will be reluctant to call out ethics violations for fear of termination, demotion or retribution.”

Right now, the city’s inspector general — who answers to city leaders — is in charge of ensuring employees who file complaints are protected.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.