New Commission On Ethics Director Speaks To Lox Groves Council

Mark Bannon, the new executive director of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics, introduced himself to the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday.

He also introduced Gina Levesque, intake and compliance manager for the office, who lives in The Acreage and will be the town’s liaison.

Bannon noted that he has met some of the council members previously, since he worked with the agency for more than five years before taking over as executive director.

“I wanted to come out and introduce Gina and myself for two reasons,” Bannon said. “First of all, we often get confused with the Inspector General’s Office, and the reason that we do is we’re not out in the community enough meeting people, so that’s going to stop.”

He has assigned three staff members to be liaisons to the 38 municipalities.

“Gina is yours,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you need to call her if you need something, it just means that whoever you call, it will be her responsibility to make sure you get whatever you need.”

Bannon noted the differences between the two county oversight offices.

“I have all the respect in the world for the inspector general and his staff, but we are not them,” he said. “We have a different function. We are an independent agency, and we want people to understand that we have a different function.”

Bannon said many people refer to his office as the “ethics police.”

“I spent 25 years with the sheriff’s office, so I do understand that concept, but we’re not the ethics police exclusively,” he said. “Do we do investigations of ethics violations? Certainly, but it’s not among the most important things we do, because prevention is the key in all of this. The reason that the Code of Ethics was passed was not to do investigations and play ‘gotcha.’ It was so that all of us would adapt our behavior to this code. That’s why I’ve been out here several times doing training. That’s why we take this so personally.”

Bannon said that the vast majority of violations his office has found were inadvertent or unintentional, or a misunderstanding of the code. He said that the Code of Ethics gives his office the responsibility of training elected officials and staff.

“When you need us to train you, we’re happy to come out here,” he said.

Bannon’s office also writes advisory opinions.

“One of the things we like to say in our office, and it’s on all of our pens, is ‘ask before you act,’” he said. “Once you have done something that may or may not be in violation of the Code of Ethics, it’s an investigation that transpires, but if you let us know ahead of time what you need to do or plan to do, we have almost 400 advisory opinions we have written in five and a half years, and if we can’t find one that fits your circumstances, we will write another one. It gives us an opportunity to guide you, and that way we don’t have the issues.”

Bannon added that his office is financed through ad valorem taxes, so the service is already paid for.

“You’ll never get a bill from us,” he said. “You’re already paying that bill. When you have a service that you have to pay for and you don’t utilize it enough, it’s not efficient for you, so by all means, call us when you need us, because that’s why we’re here.”

In other business, the council redefined some responsibilities and named members to the Planning & Zoning Board, the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee (FAAC) and the Roadway, Equestrian Trails and Greenway Advisory Committee (RETGAC).

For Planning & Zoning: Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené named Keith Harris, Councilman Ron Jarriel named Grace Joyce, Mayor Dave Browning named Dennis Lipp, Councilman Ryan Liang named Veronica Close and Councilman Todd McLendon named William Hyslop.

For the FAAC: Goltzené named Anita King, Jarriel named Bruce Cunningham, Browning named Ken Johnson, McLendon named Ken Bell and Liang did not make an appointment. The council also removed the responsibility of the FAAC to work with the independent auditor annually, and decided that it would meet quarterly or more often at the council’s or manager’s request, rather than monthly.

For the RETGAC: Goltzené named Jojo Ceciliano, Jarriel named Nina Corning, Browning named Dr. Bill Louda, Liang named Katie Davis and McLendon named Thais Gonzalez. Despite making the appointments, the council tabled the responsibilities of the RETGAC until conflicts with the comprehensive plan and the ordinance creating the committee could be resolved.

Finally, the council approved the re-creation of a Uniform Land Use & Development Committee to meet as needed, but did not name members.