The Wellington Village Council recently agreed to reimburse $22,000 to two of its members.
Mayor Robert Margolis accepted a $2,500 gift to his legal defense fund. The new Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics wrote, “…respondent accepted a prohibited gift from a principal of a lobbyist.” It dismissed the charges with a letter of instruction, and the mayor agreed to return the illegal gift.
A few weeks ago, the Wellington Village Council agreed to reimburse the mayor’s legal fees. The law only permits the village to reimburse the mayor’s legal fees where the action complained of arises out of his public duties as mayor. Accepting gifts is not an official function. Secondly, the mayor’s actions must have served a public purpose. Accepting an illegal gift does not serve a public purpose. Third, the village must have a pecuniary interest in the outcome of the ethics charges. The village has no interest in an illegal gift to the mayor’s defense fund. Finally, Margolis must have been exonerated of all charges. A dismissal would normally satisfy the test, but arguably not based on the facts in this case; nevertheless, the action taken by the council was in legal terms, “ultra vires and void ab initio.” In short, the council acted without legal authority. Perhaps the inspector general will intervene. Even a taxpayer has standing to sue to force the mayor to return the money. A complaint and brief reside on my laptop.
On the other hand, Councilman John Greene is probably entitled to reimbursement. In his case, all the criteria was met. He was charged with what is essentially a bribe to vote to withdraw approvals for the Equestrian Village, but the thousands in gifts were made prior to his taking office, so they are perfectly legal, despite the fact that some gifts were made to Greene’s “defense fund” after the legal issue had already been resolved.
Now the council is once again thwarting the rule of law by its attack on aircraft owners who reside in the Aero Club. The council wants to change the rules for operating the private airstrip. The pilots have had to hire an attorney to protect their rights, and they will win. Perhaps council members will someday learn that landowners have the right to use their property in accordance with prior zoning approvals. In every case, council members should be held to account for abusing the powers of their office. 400 years ago, Lord Chief Justice Coke wrote that the king himself ought to be subject to God and the law, because the law makes him king.
Frank J. Morelli, Wellington