Letter: OIG Is Wasting Our Money

I respectfully disagree with your editorial endorsement of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and your denouncement of the efforts of municipalities to challenge the proposed funding methods for the office.

You correctly stated that “72 percent of Palm Beach County voters” agreed with the “goal… to stamp out corruption” when they voted to accept oversight by an OIG. But the voters could not possibly have known the details of how the OIG was to operate nor how it was to be funded, since those details were not established until several months after the vote. Here is exactly what was approved:

“Shall the Palm Beach County Charter be amended to require the Board of County Commissioners to establish by ordinances applicable to Palm Beach County and all municipalities approving this amendment: a code of ethics, an independent commission on ethics funded by the county commission, and an independent inspector general funded by the county commission and all other governmental entities subject to the authority of the inspector general?”

When the ordinances were finalized, in 2011, the voters had no opportunity to reconsider their votes. The specific funding method that was established is what the municipalities took to the courts. As they should have. And the courts may well disallow the method. That is a legal question that is yet to be settled.

As to the actual operation of the OIG, there are some very rational concerns that most voters are unaware of. I investigated in depth two OIG actions regarding Wellington. One was the Patriot Memorial “Contract Oversight Observation” and the other was the “Audit Report” of Purchasing/Fuel Card Controls. The direct cost to the citizens of the village of those OIG actions was around $60,000 in staff time and expenditures in order to provide the OIG with the demanded information. The OIG found no illegal behavior or spending. The total amount of even questionable spending was less than $1,000. No substantial change was made in village policies or operations, because no change was necessary. They were doing nothing wrong.

So village citizens were required to spend $60,000 for absolutely no reason except the whim of the OIG. Also, the amount that all Palm Beach County citizens had to pay for the OIG time and effort is unknown. Even though the OIG ordinance clearly states that, “The inspector general shall establish policies and procedures and monitor the costs of investigations undertaken…” Why do citizens not know? Because the OIG arbitrarily decided that observations and audits are not investigations and do not require monitoring of their costs. In fact, it is unclear that the OIG actually monitors costs for individual investigations. I do not consider those arbitrary decisions to be ethical.

Nor do I consider the OIG’s claims of effectiveness to be ethical. The OIG annual report for FY 2012, for example, claimed an OIG “Return on Investment” of nearly $2,500,000. In actual fact, the only potential recovery of money was a “pending” $226,028.

My personal opinion of proper and effective methods to reach the goal of stamping out corruption does not include an OIG that is not answerable to the public, who has unlimited power to require the county and municipalities to provide it with any and all information demanded by the OIG without regard to cost and effort, and who makes its own decisions as to how to report its expenditures.

Phil Sexton, Wellington