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One Vote for Ethics Enhancement; Six Votes Against

This afternoon I reached Rhonda Calhoun, the North Broward Hospital District commissioner who at last week's meeting vented her "frustration" toward fellow board members who aren't as concerned about ethics as she is.

But that wasn't the first time that Calhoun felt like the lone wolf. She told me that roughly a year ago she pressed for an enhancement of ethics guidelines for hospital commissioners. She couldn't remember exactly what meeting it was, but I reckon it was this one, from August 2008. The ethics discussion starts at the bottom of page 9.

"My point was, 'Don't you want to show a higher level of ethics?'" Calhoun recalls saying to her fellow commissioners. And the answer she got was a resounding "No."

And the minutes support that recollection. I've posted an excerpt below. Remember these are a summary -- not a verbatim transcript -- of what happened at that meeting.

Commissioner Calhoun said that she expects more than the minimum from her children and her employer expects 10 of 11 more than just the minimum from her and she expects more than the minimum from everyone sitting in this room. She also commented that the community at large expects more than just the minimum and they all deserve more than just a minimum statement of a Code of Conduct and a Code of Ethics from this Board. She said that she hoped that the Board would re-review the proposed Code and approve more than a minimum Code.
Doesn't it remind you of the talk you got from your sixth-grade teacher, who told you that you're too smart to be settling for Cs? (Or was that just me?)

Let's see what Commissioner Joseph Cobo, who would be the target of a criminal investigation some nine months later, had to say:
Commissioner Cobo said that he did not think that the Governor of the State of Florida sets things at a minimum. He commented that the Governor sets high standards and has shown that in his tenure as Governor. Commissioner Cobo said that if the Governor for the State of Florida and his entire staff adopted this Code of Conduct and Ethics, then that more than exceeds what this Board should consider for their Code.

Now Commissioner Maureen Jaeger, who was accused by the district's former general counsel of breaking ethical rules of using her public position to help a friend who was a developer doing business with the district:

Commissioner Jaeger said that there is an Ethics Commission in place and creating
another document would just create ambiguity. She said that she did not believe that the
standards being proposed are at a minimum--they are high and people need to abide by

Commissioner Rebecca Stoll, who just moments before (see page 7) voted to spend $2 million in district money on the Museum of Discovery and Science, for which she is also a private fundraiser, decided ethics reform could wait.

Commissioner Stoll said that someone may have good intentions in developing a new law
or stricter Code of Conduct, but the way that the former proposed Code was worded,
systems were not even in place to implement or control it which could have lead to bigger
problems. Commissioner Stoll also commented that it would only create more problems
and it creates ambiguity.
Calhoun was trying to convince her colleagues to hold the vote on the ethics code so that it could be enhanced. In that spirit, she voted "No" for a measure to approve it. The other six commissioners voted "Yes."

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Thomas Francis

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