Closing the public eye

Orlando commissioners have allowed their voices to be diminished in the city's real-estate buying process. A new policy, approved by city council, allows Chief Administrative Officer Richard Levey to authorize the sale, lease or purchase of property up to $500,000.

Why this is bad: With fewer checks and balances, there's more potential for corruption. Former commissioner Nap Ford, for example, was accused by his constituents of forcing City Hall to buy property at inflated prices. While that allegation was never investigated, it should serve as notice that the potential for abuse exists.

Especially since Levey and the official who lobbied for the policy change, Chief Financial Officer Michael Miller, were among those named as defendants in the city's latest high-stakes imbroglio, a lawsuit filed by city firefighters. The suit alleges that a city-run health clinic failed to notify firefighters of suspicious blood tests, causing them to live unknowingly for years with Hepatitis C and other life-threatening diseases.

The suit doesn't mean that Miller and Levey are guilty. But it does call their conduct into question, indicating that City Hall might be wise to limit rather than increase their power. "The staff we just gave blank checks to are the defendants in the litigation, which alleges they abused their power," says Vicki Vargo, the lone commissioner to vote against the change. "They should be in check."

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