In November 2009, 72 percent of the voters of Palm Beach County, along with the majority of voters in all 38 municipalities, approved a county charter amendment to include an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and a Commission on Ethics (COE). Amending the county’s charter was a big accomplishment. The attacks coming from County Administrator Bob Weisman on the OIG should have every supporter of open and honest government up in arms. Is Weisman’s rant against Inspector General Sheryl Steckler an attack on her alleged “bad judgment,” or is it the opening salvo in doing away with an independent OIG and bringing it under the control of the Board of County Commissioners (BCC)?
Weisman’s effort to limit the authority of the OIG is nothing new. The first draft of the IG ordinance gave the BCC the power to hire and fire the IG. Weisman’s next attempt to control the OIG was with the assistance of County Attorney Denise Neiman. Initially, the county attorney agreed with the League of Cities’ attorney to place definitions on the terms “waste,” “fraud,” “abuse,” “misconduct” and “mismanagement.” These attempts to constrain the OIG failed.
Weisman made another attempt to control the IG through its employee policy and procedures manual (PPM). The new PPMs were called “Procedures for Responding to Inquiries from the Inspector General.” Some of these procedures are laughable. For example, if an employee wants to meet with the IG, the employee is required to ask his/her boss to arrange an appointment with the IG. How would that conversation go?
So why is Weisman demanding the immediate termination of the county’s inspector general? Weisman’s “For the Record,” memo of April 26 to the Board of County Commissioners outlines his reasons: 1) The IG does not have legal status to intervene in the cities vs. county funding dispute, and 2) the IG does not conduct her office in accordance with the principles of the Association of Inspectors General.
Weisman’s contention of legal status: The IG ordinance, Article XII, Inspector General, Section 2-423(6) gives the IG authority to investigate “any municipal or county-funded project, programs, contracts or transactions.” The funding of the OIG seems to fall under this section of the enabling legislation. Weisman also contends that the IG must use the county attorney for all legal actions. This is also incorrect; Section 2-423(3) gives the IG the power to subpoena witnesses. The ordinance requires “72-hour notification need only be given to the state attorney and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District,” not the county attorney.
Weisman’s contention of inappropriate conduct: On Feb. 23, 2012, Palm Beach County’s Office of the Inspector General became fully accredited by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. As a matter of fact, the commission made the following comment in its report: “The diversity of the OIG staff education, training and certifications reflects the OIG’s ability to succeed at its accomplishing its mission of ‘enhancing public trust in government.’” Weisman contends that the IG does not accomplish her mission, and the State of Florida believes that she does. Weisman is welcome to his opinion; however, he is not welcome to his own facts.
Most elected officials have nothing to hide and welcome the independent watchdog. Some power-hungry politicians and their allies in the bureaucracy have been working against the IG since day one. The politically astute know to support the IG in their public comments. These politicians, with a condescending nod, say, “Of course I am for the IG… but we have to find the right way to fund the office,” or “I’m not against the office; I think the problem is with the current inspector.”
Weisman has failed to limit the purview of the IG through legislative actions and his PPMs. His “On the Record” message to the BCC is rife with inaccuracies.
“We the people” need to demonstrate our disapproval. If you have had enough, arrange your schedule in order to attend the BCC meeting on May 7. Agenda item “Matters by the Public” is at 2 p.m., time certain. Let’s not let the work we’ve done be washed away.
Dennis Lipp, Loxahatchee Groves
Editor’s note: Mr. Lipp is a member of the Commission on Ethics Drafting Committee and former vice mayor of Loxahatchee Groves.
“His ‘On the Record’ message to the BCC is rife with inaccuracies.”
Funny, I could say the same thing about this letter.
Despite what Mr. Lipp seems to be saying here, Ms. Steckler did not have the authority to intervene in the cities’ funding lawsuit against the county. The courts have ruled on that. Repeatedly. Here’s an actual attorney explaining it:
Mr. Weisman was dead on with his comments that Ms. Steckler exercised “bad judgment” in this case. The Office of Inspector General may be functionally independent, but it’s legally a glorified county department. Ms. Steckler is not an elected constitutional officer like the sheriff or clerk of court, nor is she the head of an independent taxing district. She and her staff are Palm Beach County employees. Her budget is set by the Palm Beach County Commission. Heck, here’s a chart from the county’s website showing where she fits into the organizational structure:
Ms. Steckler and her supporters (like Mr. Lipp) can keep claiming that she has all these powers that only the state legislature can grant her, but it doesn’t make it true. I also fail to understand the argument that Mr. Lipp seems to be advancing here that even the slightest criticism of how Ms. Steckler is doing her job must be a full-on attempt to abolish the Office of Inspector General.
Since The Palm Beach Post doesn’t seem to have any interest in seriously questioning Ms. Steckler, here’s something I’d love to see the Town-Crier investigate. In addition to her attempt to intervene in the cities’ funding lawsuit, Ms. Steckler filed a petition to force the cities to immediately pay the money that’s being disputed. Like the motion to intervene, this was shot down by the courts. Here’s a link to what she filed:
Notice that one of the respondents/defendants in that petition is Palm Beach County. So to be clear here, a county department head (Ms. Steckler) sued Palm Beach County (her employer) because she wasn’t happy with her department’s budget. She utilized the services of an attorney who is on the county payroll and forced the county attorney’s office to spend taxpayer money and staff time defending against it.
So my question for any reporter interested in taking this on: How much staff time and taxpayer money did the OIG waste on these failed legal actions, and how much staff time and taxpayer money did the county’s attorneys have to spend to defend against them?
Comments are closed.