The Royal Palm Beach Village Council agreed last week to consider a request by Palm Beach County that the village agree to give a “voluntary grant” to help finance the county’s Office of the Inspector General.
The grant, which has been requested of county municipalities not participating in a lawsuit against the county that challenges the inspector general’s funding method, would be in lieu of the money called for in the county ordinance, according to Village Manager Ray Liggins, who reported on the request at the council’s June 21 meeting.
Liggins said the village had received a letter and the proposed agreement from County Commission Chairwoman Shelley Vana asking that Royal Palm Beach send the money in the form of a grant, so it would bypass the office of Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock.
Bock has taken the position that until the multi-party lawsuit is settled, she will escrow all municipal money and not release it to the inspector general. This has caused a serious funding shortfall in the corruption-fighting office.
“We have done everything we are obligated to do under the rules and regulations of the ordinance,” Liggins said. “As you know, the clerk is holding the money until the lawsuit is settled, and I think this draft agreement is a way of dealing with those funds. Unless one of the council members wants to place this on the agenda for discussion, it does not require administrative action.”
Mayor Matty Mattioli said he had spoken to Bock, who agreed that the village does not have to comply with the request.
“My position is that we were one of the cities that did not sue the county, that this is a double taxation,” Mattioli said. “Insomuch as we supported it, and [I] suggest that we continue to support it, the money part of it, the county will have to straighten it out.”
Vice Mayor Fred Pinto said the village is fulfilling its obligation by sending payments to the county to finance the inspector general and that he is not happy that the clerk is holding that money in escrow. “I have a problem with that,” he said. “We’re sending out the check. I want it to go where it’s supposed to go.”
However, Pinto said he thought the county’s proposed agreement is unclear about the money being held by the clerk and what would happen when it is released.
Liggins said he had read the agreement and talked it over with both the village attorney and the county attorney, and they did not have clear answers to some of his questions. He said he was told that once the county gets signed agreements from each city not in the lawsuit, it would submit a request to the judge to order the clerk to release the money.
“The future monies would be handled by having this agreement take the place of the ordinance, and the monies would be paid to the county in the form of a grant, and not held by the clerk,” Liggins said. “The question I had for the county attorney’s office was, ‘Well, if this agreement was taking the place of the ordinance, what is the status of the ordinance? Aren’t we still going to be obligated to something under the ordinance?’ Their answers were, ‘Yes’ and ‘I don’t know. We’ll get back to you.’”
He was also concerned that there was no total dollar amount listed for the village’s liability beyond 2012.
Pinto said he had found two places in the proposed agreement where it said all the requirements of the original ordinance were still in effect, and that the calculation would be made after July 1. He said he also read that the agreement would be in effect only until the lawsuit was resolved.
“We don’t know what the outcome [of the lawsuit] is going to be,” Pinto said. “It could be a few years, and I don’t want to be sending checks that are not going for what we’re paying for. If we truly support the inspector general, then we should support this interlocal agreement, but I’m curious about these soft responses when there is language in there already addressing these questions.”
Village Attorney Brad Biggs said his main concern is that provisions in the agreement would affect budgets outside the village’s fiscal year.
Councilman Jeff Hmara said he would like to put the proposal on their next agenda for discussion. “I think moving the money forward is the right thing to do,” he said. “I think the council is committed to supporting the inspector general, and unfortunately, the money is logjammed at the clerk’s office. This might break that logjam.”
Councilman Richard Valuntas agreed. “I want to hear from what the people have to say,” he said. “My understanding is we all voted for this inspector general’s office, which the council completely supports. We did our job and paid the money, and now it seems to me we’re being drawn into a fight between the county and another constitutional officer, which doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
Valuntas said he felt it is something that should be noticed for a meeting in order to receive public input.
Biggs said that if the cities in the lawsuit prevail, the money being held in escrow by the clerk would come back to the municipalities, but he did not believe money given in a grant would come back.
Councilwoman Martha Webster said the council has a fiduciary responsibility to the residents’ money. “My understanding is that we have complied with the ordinance,” Webster said. “We have paid the money as it should be paid.”
Under the current situation, if the plaintiffs prevail, the money the village has paid would be returned to the village, she said. “What you are asking us to do is sign an agreement that is outside this ordinance, to send the money somewhere else; then, if they do not prevail, the people’s money may not come back to us,” Webster said. “We have done as a municipality what the people asked us to do. We are being asked not to follow the ordinance, which I find a little troublesome.”
The council unanimously approved Valuntas’ motion to put the item on the agenda for the next council meeting.