DATE: July 22, 2011
CONTACT: Kimberly Maroe, Public Information Manager
Meg James is perhaps the most curious person I have ever met. In 1997, she was a prolific investigative reporter doing her homework and burning the midnight oil. With every click of her keyboard, she exposed moral and ethical lapses - and some on the Broward County Commission were giving her plenty to write about.
For months, the sordid stories poured forth. The most notorious concerned a commissioner whose ethical misdeeds included shortlisting a construction firm in which she had a significant financial ownership stake. That same commissioner later lamented her flagging financial status and begged for a job from the dais. The next day, she was given a job with a nonprofit, which received funds from the county.
I read these stories with frustration and unease. I prayed someone credible would summon the courage to put their name on the ballot so we could have a choice on Election Day. But the incumbent was in her 13th year, and for her, raising vast campaign sums in a countywide race would be a snap. Who, I wondered, would step forward?
Little did I know, it would be me.
Challenging a well-funded incumbent is always a daunting task, but even more so as a political novice. Despite the media's predictions, I managed to win not only the primary, but also the general election. Winning does funny things, though. What I quickly discovered was that the voters' emotional zeal for effecting change starts anew the moment you swear your oath to the Constitution. For the public, somehow I immediately went from underfunded underdog to just another part of the machine - and I had just won! It was the beginning of an education that has continued over the last dozen years.
Much of that clamoring for new faces in government comes from a well-founded desire for ethical leadership. Lately, it seems that the public's perception of government in South Florida has fallen to an all-time low. Many of our public servants have appeared in the media not on the strength of their legislation or courage of conviction, but rather for failings of conscience or betraying the public trust. One instance of ethical weakness by colleagues can paint us all with the same brush. In order to restore common trust in government, people need to believe that good government exists again.
When my friend, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, decided to remedy this situation by launching the Good Government Initiative, I was thrilled. Too many of our elected officials walk into their body's chamber for the first time simply unprepared for the technical details or ethical pitfalls of the job, while some veteran elected officials could benefit from a refresher. The Good Government Initiative will provide not only training and a forum for policymakers, but importantly, also mentorships for elected officials to ensure a solid ethical foundation for their career.
In a sentiment echoed by many, our community, state and country is at a crossroads. We can continue down the road of increasing mistrust in government and our leadership, or we can choose another way forward. We can, and should, choose to impart upon our elected officials the training, support and personal development that will make them not just leaders of government, but principled, ethical leaders of the good government we deserve.
Commissioner Kristin Jacobs represents Broward District 2.