Some Palm Beach County officials are doing all that is possible to put roadblocks in front of Inspector General Sheryl Steckler, making it impossible for her to do her job, then criticizing the work that has gotten done. Are we destined to relive the shame of our recent past? Let’s hope not.
When 72 percent of Palm Beach County voters agreed in 2010 to create the Office of the Inspector General, the goal was to stamp out corruption and toss the “Corruption County” moniker.
But before Ms. Steckler has been able to focus on that task, she’s had to face an unexpected foe: a huge, change-resistant bureaucracy. From the moment her office was created, it has faced a slashed budget, staffing woes and legal challenges from 14 cities refusing to pay her, which has tied most of her money up in court.
Most recently, County Administrator Bob Weisman has criticized her methods and suggested that the Palm Beach County Commission not renew her contract when it expires next year. That action would effectively fire her, yet also make her a lame duck for the next 18 months.
The Town-Crier has long been a supporter of the inspector general’s office, and we adamantly believe that having a fully-funded, functioning and independent office is key to saving the county from the shame of its many disgraced elected officials.
Ms. Steckler has had the challenge of starting an office that is not supported by many of those in power. Though her power comes from the people, she has had to jump through many hoops that have deterred her from her true purpose: preventing and exposing corruption.
Deciding now to get rid of Ms. Steckler in a year would effectively neuter the remaining power her office holds — authority that is slowly being chipped away.
Though Mr. Weisman may not be happy with Ms. Steckler trying to intervene in the ongoing municipal funding lawsuit, it is not at all surprising — especially given the news this week that the cities are willing to drop their suit… if the inspector general’s office is stripped of its auditing authority. Then again, wasn’t the entire point of ethics reform and anti-corruption oversight to guard against financial improprieties?
We must not forget that corruption in Palm Beach County has long been a problem, garnering us national attention. These are not problems of the past, either. It was only three years ago that former County Commissioner Jeff Koons resigned after being charged with extortion, perjury and violating the Sunshine Law.
The truth is, no matter who holds the title inspector general, the office cannot be effective until it’s given the power, independence and funding to do what it was intended to do.
The office needs time and support — it is not easy to build such a task from the ground up. But Ms. Steckler’s job is crucial to repairing the county’s image, and we believe she has done the best she can, given her difficult circumstances.
It’s time for all Palm Beach County officials to back up the residents and stand behind the inspector general, tearing down the walls of bureaucracy and letting the light shine in.