July 09, 2012 07:47:47 PM
PANAMA CITY — At a time when governments are desperately searching for ways to attract businesses and create jobs, they might be best advised to clean house first, according to a new government watchdog group.
“I think corruption is the No. 1 job killer in this state,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida.
Integrity Florida is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that launched in January and has since made the news with various research reports calling for statewide ethics reform and transparency at all levels of government.
“Our goal is a Florida that is the most open, ethical accountable government in the world,” Krassner said during an editorial board meeting at The News Herald on Monday.
Krassner and Integrity Florida Research Director Ben Wilcox have been traveling the state meeting with newspapers and civic groups to introduce themselves and fuel fervor for good government.
Florida has long struggled with ethics. The State Integrity Report, a project examining the corruption risk of every state in the country and produced by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, recently gave Florida a C- grade and ranked the state 18th in corruption risk. According to Integrity Florida’s own report, Florida leads the country in the number of public officials convicted of corruption charges each year.
That statistic is disappointing, but publicly disclosed corruption has a silver lining, Krassner said.
“It creates a window of time you can push good government reform,” he said. “They (the government) work for us. They are our employees and we need to put them on probation.”
The first step in solving the state’s blight is to push for transparency. Progress is being made already, Krassner said, with Project Sunburst, an initiative by Gov. Rick Scott that posts executive staff emails online; a pledge from the Department of Economic Opportunity that economic development incentive awards soon will be available online; and from CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leading the charge to have government contracts posted online.
“This is how we can restore trust between the government and all of us. Corruption doesn’t like the sunlight,” Krassner said.
The key will be momentum, and Krassner said every Florida resident should be demanding transparency and accountability from their political candidates this election season. A state with 19 million people should have 19 million watchdogs, he said.
“I think the groundswell, ground-up ethics reform is the most important,” he said. “… I think this could be fun to have a government by of and for the people again.”