Last week, Gov. Rick Scott made heads roll at Workforce Central Florida.
Good for him — because Central Florida leaders weren't doing squat.
That seems to be this community's M.O.
Scandals brew. Problems are exposed. And local "leaders" make excuses and bury their heads in the sand.
Remember Florida's Blood Centers?
The Orlando Sentinel exposed one problem after another: retreats at the Ritz-Carlton, board members making money off the nonprofit organization they were supposedly watchdogging and a CEO whose annual compensation topped out at nearly $600,000.
All while local patients coughed up as much as $1,400 a pint for this lifesaving liquid that donors had given for free.
And what did local leaders do? Nothing.
It wasn't until a Republican senator from the Panhandle — 400 miles away — starting asking tough questions and threatening action that the reform started.
No legislators with similar courage and conviction could be found locally.
We've seen similar inaction with scandals in government as well.
For instance, the Sentinel also exposed questionable financial deals at theOrlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.
We said they were bad deals. We quoted financial and ethical experts who agreed.
And what did the locals do? Pass the buck.
Mayor Rich Crotty assembled a panel of the same-old-same-olds who declared all of the controversies a nonissue.
Who cared that a grand jury had determined the agency was enveloped in a "culture of corruption"? Or that the county comptroller said the agency's unorthodox bond packages (known as "swap deals") were way too risky?
Crotty's "bluest of blue-ribbon" panels slapped on a couple of Band-Aids and declared the case closed.
Meanwhile, you're still paying the price. Just a few weeks ago, the Sentinel published a story about how the expressway might have to spend as much as $50 million to get out of the same bad deals that we highlighted two years ago.
Mark my words: True reform won't come until some outsider, such as the governor or Legislature, threatens to abolish the entire board.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Workforce Central Florida, the region's publicly funded jobs agency, didn't have to get knocked for inappropriately spending on everything from real estate and legal settlements to deals with board members' companies and gimmicky superhero capes.
And the story didn't have to climax last week with Scott forcing most of the agency's leaders to resign.
There are plenty of good groups in Central Florida, filled with altruistic leaders who selflessly give of themselves to make their worthy organizations a success.
Most of them follow basic rules of good governance to avoid controversy. Here are six of them.
Don't profit off nonprofits. This one is so obvious, it's foolish I need to say it. Yet time and again we see nonprofit board members and their companies taking the very money they are supposed to be watching. Don't do it.
Improve transparency. The money you're watching is not your own. In most cases, it came from others — be it taxpayers or donors. They deserve do know how every cent is spent. If you don't provide thorough and quick answers, you're telling us you have something to hide.
Ask tough questions. The worst CEOs stuff their boards with patsies — people they know won't ask tough questions. Often, when a scandal breaks, board members' excuses are that they didn't know what was going on. That's no excuse. That's the problem.
Listen to critics. You don't have to bow down to everyone who takes a shot at you. But at least hear what they have to say. In all of the cases above, the Sentinel raised questions on behalf of donors, taxpayers or the general public. And in every case, the initial reaction was to pooh-pooh the questions or demonize those asking them. To paraphrase Dr. Phil: "How'd that work out for ya?"
Never let the ends justify the means. If you ever find yourself answering questions about wasted money or unethical deals with responses like: "Well, the blood supply is safe," or "The roads get built, don't they?" you have a problem.
If you have a problem, fix it. This is the simplest — and most overlooked — fix. Too often, people dig in their heels and defend the indefensible. This is what turns minor problems into major ones.
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