Early last year, Caroline Klancke, one of Florida’s preeminent ethics experts, stood at a crossroads.
She was serving as general counsel and executive deputy director of the Florida Ethics Commission at the time, a job she loved with colleagues she describes as some of the most “brilliant thoughtful people” she ever worked with.
But she felt like public officials and the citizens they represent were getting lost in the shuffle. What was needed, she decided, was an outside organization dedicated to educating the public on the state’s ever-changing and highly complicated ethics laws.
And if there was anyone in the state qualified to helm such an organization, it was Klancke, a University of Miami law school graduate who can quote much of the Florida Ethics Code chapter and verse from memory.
So Klancke made a big jump in March 2022: She left the ethics commission after eight years of service and last July, after an unsuccessful run for a Leon County Commission seat, followed her vision and founded the non-profit Florida Ethics Institute (FEI).
“The ability to facilitate ethics in government has been so rewarding,” she said. “It was a natural next step to start the Ethics Institute.”
As executive director of FEI, Klancke not only provides ethics training to officials but also educates the public on the state’s Code of Ethics and the Sunshine Law, which allows for public access to state and local governmental proceedings. She also weighs in on important Florida court cases and court opinions.
Chris Anderson, a former colleague of Klancke’s at the Florida Commission on Ethics, said Klancke’s fledgling institute is already making a tangible impact.
“The [FEI] is a very good resource for journalists and the media, for background and education, and even for proposed legislation [to advance] ethics,” he said. “What she is doing now at the [FEI] will enhance the universe of what is available.”
In February, Klancke added to that universe when FEI published her opus on the ethics law and its application titled Florida Ethics Law Handbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.
Klancke and her team are also seeking to create online education materials and in-person seminars to further the group’s mission. Several of her former and current colleagues told FLCGA News that the group’s early production and effectiveness is no surprise.
“If the definition of an activist is someone who brings about social change,” said Dr. Sylvie Naar, FEI board president, “then Caroline is inspirational in her nonpartisan focus on improving ethics and democracy across Florida.”
UM law school professor Anthony V. Alfieri said he saw something special in Klancke when she was a student and recruited her to work for the university’s Center for Ethics and Public Ethics after she graduated.
“She was always able to work hand in hand with others,” said Alfieri.
He recalled a humorous moment when Klancke, attending a public church service on behalf of the center, inadvertently stood on a set of dilapidated floorboards causing her to falter as her high heels sunk into the wood in front of the entire congregation.
“Most people would have been mortified, but she just kept going,” Alfieri said. “And that is what you expect with young leaders like Caroline—the ups and downs and the setbacks don’t hold them back.”
Check out the Florida Ethics Institute website here.