Former Wellington Mayor Dr. Carmine Priore will play a major role in shaping the future of Palm Beach County after his appointment to the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics earlier this month.
Priore, who replaced Patricia Archer on the commission, will be tasked with appointing the next inspector general when Sheryl Steckler leaves the post this summer. Archer resigned from the commission last year and fell ill shortly thereafter. She died in January.
Priore was appointed to the post as the panel’s representative from the Palm Beach County League of Cities. His four-year term continues until 2018.
“I was always involved in the League of Cities and because, unfortunately, there was an opening, I was asked to serve,” Priore said. “I said yes because I think the commission is a very important part of our process.”
Created by referendum alongside the Office of the Inspector General, the Commission on Ethics rules on alleged wrongdoings in government for violation of ethics codes, and also guides government officials by issuing opinions on matters, which help prevent wrongdoing in the first place.
“The goal is to look at each case with an open mind,” he said. “There is a whole criteria of how you look at the cases, the Commission on Ethics code… Then there is the actual methodology in which action would be taken and the investigation that goes before it.”
Priore, a retired dentist, brings a wealth of experience to the job. A 28-year Wellington resident, Priore served on the Acme Improvement District Board of Supervisors from 1992 to 1996 when Wellington incorporated. He was elected to the inaugural Wellington Village Council in 1996 and stayed on the council until 2012 with a one-year break in 2003. He served as mayor from 1998 to 2000, back when it was an appointed position.
In 2002, he was named president of the Palm Beach County League of Cities, and in 2008, he served as president of the Florida League of Cities.
“I bring to the table a wealth of background and knowledge, having served in every capacity, at the county and state levels — even representing the state at a federal level,” Priore said.
The second arm of preventing and rooting out corruption is the inspector general, and Priore will be part of a seven-member panel tasked with selecting the new appointee. The panel is made up of the five ethics commissioners, along with State Attorney Dave Aronberg and Public Defender Carey Haughwout. “We’re having our first meeting as a committee this week,” he said.
The commission is helping to restore Palm Beach County’s image, sullied by several elected officials who faced corruption charges.
“We’re going to try to do the right thing, to make sure the community — the entire county — is relieved of the stigma that had been associated with it,” Priore said. “I think we’re getting there. There has been a tremendous effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again. A lot of good people are being elected.”
The commission has the opportunity to rule on allegations of wrongdoing but also can advise government officials before they take action.
“It’s not an investigatory agency,” Priore said. “It sits as judge and jury. But many items are brought before the commission by a city or commissioner to ask, ‘If we did this, would it be ethical?’”
This has helped to prevent officials from making a mistake that could bring corruption charges.
“I fundamentally believe that the majority of people who run for office are well-minded people who want to do something for their community,” he said. “Every once in a while you find a bad apple in the barrel, but I think most elected officials are well-meaning.”
Since the office was created in 2008, Priore said the number of complaints has decreased.
“I have the distinct advantage of having been here when this came about in 2008 and 2009,” he said. “It has evolved from having a lot of complaints to the number it has now. It’s a good thing.”
He said he also wants to preserve the integrity of the commission and its mission by weeding out frivolous claims that would pull the panel into politics.
“I hope to try to bring awareness to that and make sure it’s not happening,” Priore said. “There is a provision in the code to deal with frivolous charges. I don’t want to see an agency like this used for political gain. I want to make sure there are avenues for filing complaints, but that everyone has justifiable reasons for making complaints.”
Priore said he is excited to be starting this new position. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It will be a whole new endeavor.”
For more information about the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, visit www.palmbeachcountyethics.com.
ABOVE: The newly configured Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics met for the first time on Thursday, March 6. Dr. Carmine Priore is shown on the right.