Just because something smells fishy, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rotten. It does mean you should give it a good, hard look.

A whiff of ethical fishiness is coming from two government agencies in Central Florida. It’s linked to two people.

Robert Saltsman was a member of Florida Virtual School’s Board of Trustees. He also worked, at least for a brief time, as a consultant for Frank Kruppenbacher’s law firm.

Kruppenbacher was the general counsel for FLVS. So while he reported to Saltsman in one job, Saltsman reported to him in another.

Kruppenbacher was also chairman of the Orlando International Airport board, which had a $4.2 billion capital spending budget. Saltsman was a lobbyist for companies that competed for bids that Kruppenbacher’s board doled out.

The setup passed the government’s smell test, which basically consisted of an airport attorney giving it a seal of approval.

Ethics watchdogs aren’t so sure.

“You have to go further if you’re in the public sector,” said Peter Cruise, the executive director at Florida Atlantic University’s LeRoy Collins Public Ethics Academy. “You’re dealing with other people’s money and other people’s trust.”

Dealings with such things is surprisingly difficult in Florida. The Florida Commission on Ethics was powerless to look into the FLVS/OIA affair because nobody filed a complaint, and the commission cannot initiate investigations.

The Orange County Commission on Ethics couldn’t investigate because there is no Orange County Commission on Ethics.

The City of Orlando also has no ethics commission.

It’s time for local governments to stop relying on the creaky state system and create their own ethics boards.

“There needs to be a perception that somebody is watching,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for the government watchdog organization Integrity Florida.

That’s especially true these days, when the public thinks most politicians have the ethics of telephone scammers. Yet Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Palm Beach County and Dade County are the only major governments in Florida with ethics boards.

All were formed because local citizens were fed up with politicians defrauding the system and scratching each other’s backs.

That’s not to say every public servant is a crook.

“Most government employees are extremely honest,” Cruise said. “But a few people here and there paint them all with a bad brush.”

That’s assuming those people are exposed, of course.

That’s easier to do when your city our county has its own ethics police force. Those that don’t typically have ethics codes that mirror the state’s code. If a whistleblower files a complaint, the state ethics commission handles it.

Critics say the state code is often too nebulous to prosecute wrongdoers. The state board is also underfunded and not truly independent.

It is regulated by the Legislature — the same people it is supposed to oversee.

And the state board cannot initiate investigations. It could suspect something is wrong, but it can’t do anything unless a complaint is filed.

All those elements have played into the FLVS case.

The mayors of Orange County and Orlando sit on the OIA board, but the city and county codes of ethics leave a lot of legal wiggle room over terms like “employer” and “business relationship.”

An airport attorney ruled the business setup between Kruppenbacher and Saltsman did not violate ethics guidelines. But the guidelines are such that the men didn’t even have to disclose their connections or declare a potential conflict of interest.

Kruppenbacher was on the state ethics commission from 2008 to 2010, which might tell you something about that board’s thoroughness.

He resigned from his FLVS job last year during an investigation into his behavior and spending. Saltsman resigned from the FLVS board last December.

There may have been no quid pro quos between them, but it sure smelled like a barrel of sardines. And what happened there was hardly the first case of questionable dealing by public officials.

If we want to clear the air, a good start would be forming advisory panels to study the feasibility of creating ethics commissions. That’s what Tallahassee did, and we can learn from that process.

There are real concerns, such as funding. The Miami-Dade County Commission on Public Trust has an annual budget of $2.3 million.

There are also pseudo-concerns, like government officials freaking out over supposed unwarranted scrutiny.

Amending a government charter typically begins with a petition drive. About 58,000 registered voters would have to sign to get a referendum on a ballot in Orange County.

The amendment must also be written in a way that gives the board independence and authority.

Creating an ethics commission would not be fast or simple, but creating an advisory committee is an easy first step.

It’s also a necessary step. Most public officials are ethical, but we need more authority to sniff out the fishy ones.

Especially when they are right under our noses.

An editorial from the Orlando Sentinel.

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