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Back From the Brink: How the Deerfield Beach Commission Pulled Out of an Ethical Tailspin

It was supposed to be as easy as 1-2-3. At last Thursday evening's budget meeting, Deerfield Beach Mayor Peggy Noland made it known that she was sick of working within the confines of the city's ethics code. Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier said the same. And Commissioner Joe Miller echoed their sentiments. Those three votes were enough to repeal the code, and by Friday, Noland had placed it on the commission agenda.

But Miller was the weak spot in that majority, and despite prevailing wisdom that he'd fall in line and that the repeal was a foregone conclusion, this blog cast Miller as a swing vote. And if you'll indulge an "I told you so," it was Miller who -- at the 40-minute mark of the commission meeting you can view here -- surprised almost everyone by instead lining up behind Commissioner Bill Ganz who asked -- no, pleaded, as he promised us shortly before the meeting --  for the city to create a panel to make alterations to the existing ethics code.

With Miller's defection, Noland and Poitier knew they'd lost the edge, and there was no point in pushing for the repeal.

Ultimately, though, this was a victory for the city's beleaguered but resilient corps of activists.

A big portion of credit belongs to Bett Willett, the blogger/activist who reacted quickly to this threat to responsible government and who was joined at last night's meeting by paper-plate-waving allies pictured at the top of the post. Here's Bett's recap. Another blogger, Jeff Sayles, took up the cause too.

And though Chaz Stevens hung up his machete this week (more on that later), he deserves credit for using every square inch of the First Amendment to demand a high standard for ethics and to keep it alive as a conversation in Deerfield Beach.

It's evident that a lot of other, less visible activists in the city sent furious emails to the mayor and commissioners after word spread of the ethics repeal.

The result of that activism was a climate that was too hostile to allow repeal of the existing ethics code -- at least for Miller, whose campaign friends may have ulterior motives but who also has a conscience about his role as a public servant.

In varying degrees, they all do. Yesterday Noland told me how she took a pay cut to be mayor and how she ran because she loves her city but didn't like the way the city looks or how its commission meetings had become a circus act. I think she's sincere about that -- but I also think she'd forgotten her purer motives until this episode with the ethics code.

Of course, the city still has a ways to go, and there won't be nearly as many eyes watching the meetings of this task force on ethics, where the existing code can be gutted. So let's keep the champagne corked for now.

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Thomas Francis

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