Members of the Wellington Village Council voted unanimously Tuesday against entering into an agreement with Palm Beach County to pay toward the Office of the Inspector General.
Instead, council members directed staff to draft a resolution urging Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock to release the freeze she has put on funds for the office.
“The genesis of this is from the county,” Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz told council members. “This is their solution to the issue with the clerk.”
Currently, the county is embroiled in a legal challenge from more than a dozen municipalities concerning financing of the inspector general. Because of this, Bock has refused to release funds paid by the cities to be used for the office.
“The county is asking all of the cities who are not participating in the litigation to enter into an agreement [to finance the office],” Kurtz said.
The interlocal agreement would allow the county to circumvent the clerk’s office; however, there is no guarantee that the money would be repaid, Kurtz said.
Other municipalities, such as Royal Palm Beach and Lantana, have agreed to the payment.
But several council members said they thought that Wellington would be getting involved in the dispute between the clerk and the county.
“I’ve been consistent in my support for the IG and Wellington’s obligation to make its payments,” Councilman Howard Coates said. “But I get the sense… that we are getting sucked into this dispute. I don’t think it’s a good thing for us. We’re continuing to make our payments. If the county is entitled to these funds, they should be going to court.”
Coates was also concerned that Wellington might not be repaid, even if the court rules that the payments are illegal. “They’re asking us to do a workaround so they can use the money that the clerk is holding,” Coates said. “At the same time, they’re saying they’re not going to reimburse us if it’s determined that they weren’t entitled to the money to begin with. They’re asking for everything and offering nothing.”
Instead, he suggested council members make a resolution urging Bock to release the funds. “I have no problem with this council passing a resolution that those funds be released,” Coates said. “But this agreement does not seem to be the way to go.”
Councilman Matt Willhite said that although he fully supports financing of the inspector general, he agreed with Coates.
“I don’t know how it would be any different with this grant here,” he said. “I think we have already done our obligation. We have sent the money. I don’t think this is the best avenue.”
Willhite supported Coates’ resolution idea. “We’ve done our responsibility,” he said. “We’ve sent the money, yet we’re made to look like the bad guys because the Office of the Inspector General’s is not funded.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said that she understood Bock’s predicament, though she was in support of the inspector general.
“If she releases the funds and… it’s found that the cities cannot be asked to pay for the inspector general, she can’t go get that money back,” Gerwig said. “We should have the courts weigh in. No one wants to participate in something that is not done legally.”
Gerwig did not want Wellington circumventing the legal process. “The courts need to intercede,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair to our taxpayers… that we may have to pay it twice.”
Coates made a motion to deny the interlocal agreement and to direct staff to draft a resolution urging Bock to release the money. The motion passed unanimously.