LAUDERDALE APPROVES OF ETHICS POLICY - TOUGHER RULE WOULD LIMIT SOLICITATIONS BY COMMISSIONERS


South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL) - February 26, 2007

Brittany Wallman Staff Writer

Eleven people with ties to City Hall received letters last week from Vice Mayor Cindi Hutchinson on city stationery, mailed on city postage. The letter asked them to give money to a club Hutchinson belongs to, for repair of a building.

"I look forward to your favorable response," she wrote to developers, a lobbyist and others.

It might be the last one she sends.

Hutchinson crafted the letter as the City Commission considers a policy banning such solicitations if they're done on city stationery or using city resources.

Commissioners agreed last week to pass a policy banning the solicitations by elected officials for third parties, like charities, from those doing business with the city. The requests for money would still be allowed if non-city letterheads and resources were used.

Hutchinson's letter, sent Feb. 13, asked for money for the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club. Her letter went to people who rely on her votes, such as Barbara Salk of The Related Group, whose controversial tower at the Hyde Park Market site won approval with Hutchinson's vote to settle the city's condemnation lawsuit in December 2005. She also sent the letter to lobbyist Don Hall, who often represents large development projects before the commission.

Her letter went to developers Charlie Ladd, Jack Loos, Terry Stiles and Peter Feldman, public records show, and to Dodie Keith-Lazowick at Keith and Associates, an engineering firm that occasionally has business before the city. Butch Carter at Waste Management got a letter; records show his company also has a contract with the city.

"It's not because I'm doing anything wrong," Hutchinson said in defending herself. "I'm doing good things."

She argued that nonprofits ask for her help and often request that she sit on host committees to help them raise money.

"Well, why do you think that is?" Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom asked when the issue was debated in December. "Why do they want you to be on those things? Is it because you're so great and wonderful?"

Mayor Jim Naugle pushed for the ethics policy, arguing that elected officials might feel obligated to support a project or contract of someone who gave to their pet charity.

Naugle wanted the solicitations banned outright, whether on city stationery or not. But only Rodstrom supported the stricter version, which carried fines for violators.

Naugle proposed his ethics law last fall after learning that Commissioner Carlton Moore had approached three men in the audience at the Oct. 17 commission meeting and asked them for donations for a Halloween party for children in his district. Two of the men had insurance contracts with the city up for votes that evening, and the third was the city's insurance consultant, Moore told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

But Commissioner Christine Teel, whose vote was needed for passage of tougher ethics rules, said she wanted to "ease into" regulations and leave room for common sense.

The policy, if it passes, would be one of several efforts to self-impose rules intended to stamp out any impression of corruption or undue influence in City Hall.

Previously, commissioners banned campaign contributions from businesses and corporations, and reduced the maximum contribution commissioners can accept for political campaigns. They've also required lobbyists to register and list whose payroll they're on and reveal any money spent trying to influence a vote. In addition, the city manager imposed a zero tolerance policy on employees, banning them from accepting anything from companies doing business with the city.

Hutchinson said she was offended by the latest debate because she's doing "good things."

"I will not apologize for continuing to work for my community," Hutchinson told her colleagues Tuesday.

"... What are we trying to reform? A system of volunteering?