Oh the Conundrums and Road Rage You’ll See: Walking Through Florida’s Ethics Laws in the Age of Social Media Shaming
Written by: Karen Y. Kirksey
Attorney Julie Meadows-Keefe talked ethics to a rapt audience at the Capital City Country Club, for the September monthly meeting of the Florida Public Relations Association-Capital Chapter.
It may not sound very sexy as a lunch topic, but she kept the group listening and even laughing as she discussed the importance of good ethics and how to avoid being the subject of “shaming trends” that spread fast via social media. From bad customer service to home-wrecking, it will all be posted on Twitter and Facebook in an instant.
In October 2014, Meadows-Keefe became the City of Tallahassee’s first Ethics Officer — responsible for advising and directing the ethics compliance program. In her current role as Independent Ethics Officer, she’s assisting the Independent Ethics Board in establishing a voter-mandated Independent Ethics Office. The board’s mission is to promote the actual and perceived integrity of city government and prevent unethical conduct before it occurs.
Prompted by a PowerPoint presentation similar to what she gave the City Commission, “You gotta do the right thing,” Meadows-Keefe said. “And even if you are doing the right thing, your actions can sometimes be easily misinterpreted.” It’s also about looking correct, depending on your job. “What one person can do might not be available to you.”
Using a historical event as an example, Meadows-Keefe asked, “What is your worst nightmare? How many of you are scared of molasses?” She talked about the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. A storage tank holding two million gallons of molasses exploded in Boston’s working-class North End neighborhood, resulting in 21 deaths, 150 injuries, destruction of property and a class-action lawsuit that would cost millions today. An inquiry later revealed that the person who oversaw the construction of the tank failed to conduct basic safety tests. Ethics.
“Can the law make people more ethical?” Meadows-Keefe answered her own question with a quote from President John F. Kennedy, when he delivered a special message to Congress in 1961, on conflict of interest legislation and problems of ethics in government. “The ultimate answer to ethical problems in government is honest people in a good ethical environment.”
- Conflicting employment or contractual relationships
- Conflict of interest
- Misuse of position
- Gifts and honoraria
- Not taking bribes
- Sunshine Law and public records
Why Embrace an Ethical Culture?
- Better working environment
- Better reputation for you individually as a professional
- Enhancing trust of your profession as a whole
Why the Unethical Behavior?
- People think they can’t get caught
- People get comfortable in a job or role…”people trust me…no one would suspect…”
- Arrogance of power
- Florida Constitution: Article II, Section 8, Ethics in Government (adopted in 1976)
- Florida Ethics Code: Chapter 112 F.S.
In Meadows-Keefe’s words: “You’re not supposed to get anything of value in exchange for doing your job.”
- Ethics & Fraud Hotline 850-891-8813 (run by City of Tallahassee’s Independent Ethics Board)
Julie Meadows-Keefe’s overall advice
“Stay out of sticky messes. They’re hard to clean up.”