New Ethics Rules Have Palm Beach County Pols Steering Clear of Nonprofits

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September 8, 2011; Source: Sun-Sentinel | New ethics rules in Palm Beach County are causing local politicians to resign from the nonprofit boards on which they sit and be more cautious about attending charitable events and activities. Alan Johnson, the executive director of the county ethics commission, told the Sun-Sentinel that under the new rules, elected officials cannot use their offices to provide charities with special benefits, nor can they solicit money for charities while using their official title. While that doesn’t preclude all charitable activities of elected officials, the new rules appear to have made the pols more cautious. According to this article the rules are still murky and even though the ethics commission appears to be providing guidance, sometimes the distinctions that must be drawn seem to have the overall effect of dampening the charitable instincts of elected officials.

For example, faced with demanding new reporting requirements, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Welchel recently declined an invitation from the Rotary Club to act as a celebrity bartender at a fundraiser. “I was informed by the ethics committee that I could perform that service, but it was too onerous for me to be able to keep track of who put in money,” she said. Welchel also resigned from the Allianz Tournament board of directors.

Civic life always mixes the public and private sectors. NPQ hopes that the current over-caution on the part of the pols is just a function of the newness of the rules, but we have to commend the ethics committee for attempting to make the rules specific enough to ward off some of the problems that crop up when the ties are just too close.—Ruth McCambridge