County defers ethics vote on contractor investigations
By Suzy Valentine
Because contractors could suffer under a proposed system to formalize complaints about wrongdoing to the inspector general, Miami-Dade County commissioners deferred a proposal advanced Tuesday.
An ordinance calling for written submissions that would put investigations on the public record could hurt companies if allegations were proven wrong or led to liability for Miami-Dade County, some civic leaders argued.
"It's another item of procurement reform," said Commissioner Katy Sorenson, a co-sponsor of the ordinance. "It goes to the issue of business integrity, which would allow commissioners to submit in writing if they have good-faith reason to believe a business isn't operating according to the highest standards of business or request a review within 60 days while business with that company is suspended."
"Define good faith, because not everyone has good faith," said Rebeca Sosa. "How can we judge whether a contractor has integrity? As part-timers, we don't see day-to-day operations. I don't think we have the capability. We're not prepared. We're not trained."
The inspector general has conducted investigations under a less-formal framework whereby commissioners commonly telephone in their concerns. The investigator then uses his discretion in following up on leads.
Two commissioners contrasted the proposals to name and shame suspected violators with their experiences of Cuba.
"I come from a country where the G2 operated," said Ms. Sosa. "Officers were supposed to be walking the streets to report whether people in certain houses were eating chicken or pork so that the police department could go in and take them into custody."
"I recognize the intention to bring forward transparency," said Natacha Seijas. "When I came to the US, I stood there and swore by the Constitution of the US, and I was told that everybody was innocent until proven guilty - until I got elected."
There are concerns that unsubstantiated claims could damage reputation and result in libel lawsuits.
"What if a contractor demonstrates that there was an accusation or they are not guilty and they have acted with integrity?" said Ms. Sosa. "What is the liability for the county? How much do we need to put aside in our budget every year?"
The county attorney's office rebutted that suggestion.
The ordinance's other co-sponsor, Commissioner Sally Heyman, said she knew of cases in which individuals didn't want to make a claim in their own name and the proposal would circumvent that.
Smaller companies could be hurt by an investigation into wrongdoing that proved to be unfounded, Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.
"Those businesses take a beating," said Ms. Jordan, "especially small and minority businesses."
Ms. Sorenson moved to defer consideration of the ordinance. The motion was seconded by Carlos Gimenez.