County sends 137 lobbyists to ethics class
By Lou Ortiz
Ethics is being preached to lobbyists and employees in Miami-Dade County, from lessons on avoiding conflicts of interest to steering clear of bribery. So far, about one-third of one percent of county employees have taken the required course.
"We cover a lot of ground," Joseph M. Centorino, executive director and general counsel of the county Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, said about the ordinance-mandated training.
In March, the commission passed legislation that requires all 25,896 county employees to take an ethics course, along with newly hired workers. The ordinance also says that employees must complete a refresher course every two years.
The commission adopted a similar requirement for newly registered lobbyists, who must pay a $100 fee for the course. They must also complete a refresher course every two years if they're continuously registered as lobbyists.
Thus far, "137 registered lobbyists have completed our ethics training," said Rhonda Victor Sibilia, a community outreach coordinator for the trust. "It was not required of anyone who registered to lobby before the ordinance was passed in March."
"It is up to the Clerk of the [county] Board to monitor compliance," she said, "but based on the requests for training we have received, it appears most are eager to comply."
"As for county employees, we have completed live training to approximately 100, which was videotaped," Ms. Sibilia said. "Those tapes are being produced into a program that can be accessed via computer or in a classroom setting, but [it] is not ready at this time."
"Since the delay is not the fault of employees, there is no penalty," she said.
Mr. Centorino said employees would have computer access to the program by year's end. He said his office developed the four-hour course for lobbyists and county employees, which is more comprehensive than the one they were previously administered before the ordinance.
The course, he said, contains segments that include an overview of ethics, ethics and public service, the functions of the Ethics Commission, outside employment, financial disclosure, the Sunshine and Records laws, accepting gifts, and penalties for ethics violations.
"We cover some of the same ground and issues" in the course for lobbyists, Mr. Centorino said. The course for lobbyists "is offered live and we offer it every two months," he said.
"We cover the cone of silence when dealing with procurement, so there are times when you can not lobby," he said. The course also covers who is considered a lobbyist and must register.
According to the county, "the Cone of Silence prohibits certain oral communications regarding a particular RFP [request for proposal], RFQ [request for qualifications] or bid during the period the Cone is in effect."
Mr. Centorino said the lobbyist course also contains a video of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"Jack Abramoff is a former lobbyist who amassed a fortune by showering gifts on congressional and executive branch officials in the George W. Bush administration, while bilking Indian tribes of millions of dollars," according to the New York Times.
"In 2006, he pleaded guilty to felony counts involving fraud, corruption and conspiracy," the Times said. "He served three and a half years at a minimum security prison and was released in 2010."
"We go through the Sunshine and public records laws" for lobbyists as well, Mr. Centorino said, "and how one can commit bribery, and how bribery can be prosecuted."
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