RPB Council OKs Grant To Help Fund Inspector General

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week approved an interlocal grant agreement with Palm Beach County to pay the village’s share to fund the Office of Inspector General.

County Commissioner Jess Santamaria attended the meeting Thursday, Aug. 16 to stress that the arrangement was only temporary until a lawsuit filed by 14 municipalities is resolved, and that the money should come from a 0.25 percent assessment from contractors’ fees.

Royal Palm Beach had previously sent its portion to the county, but Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock is holding the money in escrow until the lawsuit is resolved.

Village Manager Ray Liggins explained that the village had received a request from Palm Beach County to enter into the agreement to provide financing for the inspector general. At a meeting in June, the council directed staff to revise the agreement to provide for a return or credit of granted money in the event the county does not prevail in the lawsuit.

For fiscal year 2012-13, the village’s share will be $26,000, which will be paid to the county in four installments. Once approved by the village, the agreement would be forwarded to the Palm Beach County Commission for approval, Liggins said.

Santamaria said he has been a strong supporter of the Commission on Ethics and Office of the Inspector General from the beginning.

“The beginning goes back to the year 2006, when a national magazine gave Palm Beach County the shameful title of ‘Corruption County.’ I agreed, from my own personal knowledge and experience over the last 30-something years, that there was corruption in Palm Beach County,” he said. “It was that type of national recognition that made me decide to run for the Palm Beach County Commission.”

He pointed out that in the ensuing two years, several prominent elected officials and businessmen went to jail. “I felt I was going to do something about regaining trust as an elected public servant,” Santamaria added.

Soon after Michael McAuliffe was elected state attorney in November 2008, he asked Santamaria to be the first county commissioner to testify before a grand jury to investigate whether corruption still existed in the county. Over the next three months, more government officials and businessmen testified.

“At the conclusion of that investigation, the grand jury made a 54-page report, and the conclusion was, ‘Yes, we still were Corruption County.’ As a result, they recommended the installation of the Office of Inspector General,” he said.

One of the key elements of the report was that the office should be financed by 0.25 percent fee on contractor fees. “That is being forgotten and actually being intentionally avoided by certain municipalities, headed by West Palm Beach,” Santamaria said.

He said the county commission voted unanimously to approve the grand jury recommendation before a standing-room-only crowd supporting not only the installation of an inspector general but that it be financed by vendor fees. “This one-fourth of one percent is really peanuts,” he said. “One fourth of a percent on a $100,000 contract is $250; on a million-dollar contract, it’s $2,500. It’s really an insignificant amount to charge the vendors, but sufficient to fund the Office of Inspector General, and not to charge it to the taxpayers.”

In response to public input, the commission then conducted a referendum in November 2010 asking if the municipalities should come under the jurisdiction of the inspector general, which passed with a 72 percent margin. “Once again, the public demanded that all 38 municipalities go under the oversight of the Office of Inspector General,” Santamaria said.

Problems began because some cities, headed by West Palm Beach, decided to fight the funding in court, then Bock decided to hold money that had been contributed in escrow. “The funding by the remaining cities that have in fact supported, including Royal Palm Beach, are being held by Sharon Bock, so now the Office of Inspector General cannot afford to hire adequate help to do its investigations,” he said.

Santamaria stressed that the funding being approved that night would only be a temporary solution. “This grant is temporary because it is not the way it was supposed to be,” he said. “The taxpayers should not pay for the Office of Inspector General. It’s supposed to be paid by the vendors.”

Mayor Matty Mattioli said RPB has always supported the inspector general. “Do you have any idea when this court thing will be resolved?” Mattioli asked.

“Apparently, nobody knows,” Santamaria replied. “I hope the courts rule on it soon. That is my expectation, and I hope that the public remembers that this is not the way it is supposed to be. I am putting all candidates on notice that any officials who oppose it and are creating all of these obstacles are in danger of losing their seats in the coming elections.”

Councilman Richard Valuntas made a motion to approve the agreement, which carried unanimously.

In other business, the council agreed to move $63,000 from the village’s reserves to the 2013 capital improvement fund to build a dog a park at the new Royal Palm Beach Commons Park. Councilwoman Martha Webster had brought up the idea, and Liggins noted that a dog park had been mentioned several times in mailings regarding suggestions for Commons Park amenties. It did not, however, wind up on the park’s master plan.