It Was a Good Day for Ethics in Broward County (Especially Deerfield Beach)

Slowly, the county's darkest, most ethically challenged corridors are allowing the light in. The Broward County Commission's giving grudging support Tuesday to an ethics reform package may have the most far-reaching impact on Broward residents. But right now, the city that's a shining example of how to root out corruption is Deerfield Beach. (Last year at this time, I couldn't have imagined writing that sentence.)

At Tuesday night's meeting, commissioners approved spending up to $100,000 worth of forensic audits by a company, Kessler International, that has already proven to be ferocious in digging up corruption and fraud.

Now Kessler, which found "suspected fraud" in the city's Community Development Division, will take its magnifying glass to the city's Purchasing Division, the Building Division, the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority, and the three city festivals.

That's one big Pandora's box.

There should be little doubt that Kessler will find more fraud. So it's incredibly courageous for the city manager, Burgess Hanson, to give the forensic auditor such a long leash.

Traditionally, a South Florida government that's caught committing the kind of ethical lapses that are common to Deerfield Beach will make symbolic policy changes that (the politicians say) will prevent future corruption. They are afraid to look for corruption in their past, meaning those who committed it are spared from any punishment.

Rather, the attitude among local officials seems to be that if their corruption problem were really bad, then the State Attorney's Office, U.S. attorney, or some other investigative body would have filed a case on its own. Of course, that's not just reckless; it's unrealistic, especially considering how swamped investigators and prosecutors are with the cases they've already filed.

So here's hoping more cities follow Deerfield's example. (Again, it's surreal to type that, but I really mean it.)

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