Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, March 8, 2013
City attorney advises 'cone of silence'

City officials and staff may become legally barred from speaking to prospective contractors and others actively competing for city of Key West bids.

The new ordinance, dubbed the "cone of silence," would come from the city commissioners themselves and prevent a vendor lobbying for a paycheck outside of the public arena.

Raised by City Attorney Shawn Smith, the measure would protect elected officials and city staff from allegations of conflict of interest by simply prohibiting anyone who is bidding on a contract to personally, privately lobby a commissioner or an employee at City Hall.

"My idea is to bring a heightened sense of transparency and integrity to the process," said Smith. "Given the amount of contracts, I anticipate there will be a great deal of lobbying for each one of you and staff members as well."

Smith said, "A 'cone of silence' would prohibit communication with commission and staff members from the time you release a [solicitation for bids] until the commission action is final."

Lobbying could still take place at public meetings, said Smith, who advised the seven commissioners at their Tuesday meeting that he would return with a specific proposed resolution.

Smith brought up the idea in light of Key West's $100 million in contracts for building projects about to come online.

"I would welcome it," said City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley. "Particularly with the number of projects we have coming before us over the next few years."

Broward County has had a "cone of silence" law on the books since 2001, under the "lobbying activities" section of the municipal code.

A vendor found guilty of violating it faces fines. Three violations can lead to a vendor's "debarment" from bidding on projects.

The "cone of silence" typically begins from the moment a vendor submits a bid and doesn't expire until the bid is awarded.

"I want to make sure this doesn't keep us from talking to our constituents," said Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who added he has spoken to the city attorney about such an ordinance. "We're a small community; we see people on the street."

Smith said the measure is meant to prohibit people who have a financial stake in a project from chatting up commissioners behind closed doors or otherwise off the record.

Constituents should always have access to commissioners, Smith said.

"It would attempt to remove any influence from people who have a stake in the outcome," Smith said.

Smith didn't give a timeline Tuesday, but said he would craft the ordinances for the commission's review.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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