The Collier County Commission today gave Leonard Ferenz, director of International College's Center of Ethics at Moorings Park, the green light to move forward with an external ethics audit of the county government.
Commissioner Jim Coletta initiated the idea of an ethics audit in an attempt to improve the county’s marred reputation following the bribery and racketeering scandals involving three past commissioners in the 1990s.
Ferenz, Ph.D., also a professor at International College, said he is enthusiastic about the precedent-setting endeavor.
“I am unaware of any occasion in which an external source, academic or otherwise, has been retained to perform an external ethics audit of any governmental agency anywhere in the United States,” he said. “This presents a unique opportunity for government – in the form of the Commissioners themselves – to contribute to the creation of a model for governmental ethics auditing that could have applications at all levels of government in and outside of the state of Florida.”
Ferenz already has put together an auditing team and an advisory board as part of the audit. The four-person auditing team will be adapting the ethics audit model already used in the corporate world to assess Collier County’s ethics program, Ferenz explained. The reviewing process will involve the development of a survey instrument, a questionnaire, interviews with government employees and a written report.
Another role of the auditing team will be to set a timetable and identify ethical benchmarks.
The Auditing team will consist of:
- Leonard Ferenz, Ph.D., International College
- The Rev. Gordon Postill, Ph.D., director of community bereavement services, Hospice of Naples, Inc.
- Myra Marcus, Ph.D., LCSW, Florida Gulf Coast University
- Kenneth Ginsberg, J.D., International College
The role of the three-person advisory board will be to strictly serve as an information resource for the auditing team.
The Advisory team will consist of:
- Allen Buchanan, Ph.D., Interim Director of the National Humanities Center, Duke University
- W. Michael Hoffman, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Business Ethics, Bentley College
- Lance Stell, Ph.D., Director of the Program in Medical Humanities, Davidson College.
Members of the auditing team will volunteer their time and will not be paid. When used, advisory members will be paid $450 a day. The audit will be funded by the International College’s Center for Ethics at Moorings Park.
“If the work of the team can enhance and be of assistance to our government officials, then that’s a wonderful way to serve,” Postill said of his decision to join the auditing team. “Because this is a precedent-setting endeavor, this could very well be of great value to Collier County, but also impact and assist other counties in the country.”
Marcus said she, too, is eager to begin the audit.
“Organizations have the responsibility to operate professionally, competently and within certain ethical guidelines. An assessment of how an organization’s values are communicated can be an informative and enlightening process,” she said.
The auditing team will review any ordinances that have been added to existing Florida ethical requirements by the Collier County Commissioners. It will not evaluate Florida’s Public Records and Open Meetings Laws or “Government In the Sunshine Manual.”
Specifically, the team will examine how these additional ethical requirements are being communicated to county staff and whether they are being educated on those changes.
“We need to know how visible and well understood these ethics guidelines are among people who work for Collier County government,” Ferenz said.
Though no schedule has been set, Ferenz believes the ethics audit should begin sometime this summer and could take three to four months.
Ferenz stressed that the ethics audit will not be a closed-door process. The audit team will hold public meetings about four to six times over the three-month period to discuss the audit’s progress.
A written report and recommendations will be submitted to the County Commissioners for consideration. The public will also be privy to this information.
“This is not a witch hunt,” Ferenz clarified. “No audit will guarantee good judgment on the part of the people who are in charge, but what I hope the audit will do is restore some sense of good faith and public trust. The public should consider the willingness of the commissioners to accept this invitation to conduct an audit.”
Ferenz earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from Denver University and a doctoral degree in philosophy with a concentration in professional and medical ethics from Georgetown University.