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It's time to erect a red light at door to the green room

The [Jacksonville] City Council's now notorious green room had members of the city's Ethics Commission seeing red earlier this week. Well, if not exactly red, pretty darn close.

The commissioners were reacting to news reports about how the green room is used, or perhaps abused.

The room is adjacent to the City Council chambers and is accessible through the chambers and through a side door at the front of City Hall that is locked.

Council members go into the green room, often during meetings of the full council and during committee meetings, for respite from the pressures of their demanding jobs -- yeah, right -- or to use the restroom -- OK, that's acceptable.

Council members also eat meals in the green room before council meetings, meals that are often paid for by special interest groups. For example, the Dalton Agency's chief City Hall mover and shaker, Michael Munz, sponsored the meal at a January meeting. The Fraternal Order of Police provided the vittles on March 8 and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority picked up the tab on June 14.

The green room is closed to the public, but the rich and powerful, such as football team owners and highfalutin lobbyists, can come and go at will.

During an Ethics Commission meeting last Monday, commissioners raised the same concerns others have.

One, council members repairing to the green room could easily be discussing the public's business away from the public's view, which would be a violation of the state's sunshine laws.

Two, why should the rich and powerful have access to the room -- and thus to council members -- when the general public doesn't?

And three, why should special interest groups be paying for good eats for City Council members?

Here's a great plate of barbecue chicken. Now about that bill on tonight's agenda.

After expressing its concerns, the Ethics Commission decided to invite the incoming City Council president, Kevin Hyde, to its next meeting to explain the policies for the green room.

"If you are important and have money, you have access. That's the perception," commissioner Katie Lee said.

And, as several commissioners said, even the appearance of favoritism or violations of the law is enough to undermine the public's confidence in government.

The Ethics Commission hasn't always been the most visible governmental entity. Its profile should be raised.

The commissioners are good people interested in good government and good government begins with good ethics, just as bad government begins with backroom deals and special treatment for a few.

ron.littlepagejacksonville.com, (904) 3594284

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/062305/opl_19066008.shtml

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