Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller Joseph Abruzzo gave his first report to the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 5, promising a non-political and financially clean office.
Abruzzo, previously a state representative and state senator, was elected to the countywide office in November 2020 and sworn in on Jan. 5, 2021, replacing former Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock. In that role, he leads a team of 650 employees overseeing an annual operating budget of $70.5 million.
“As you will hear me say time and time again, we have more than a thousand different statutory duties, so somewhere along the line, our residents touch our office, and obviously as the clerk to you, the Board of County Commissioners,” he said. “We interact at every waking moment.”
When he came into office, Abruzzo brought a philosophy that was different than some of the other clerks from around the state, he said.
“We are here not as a co-equal, but we are here to serve you,” he said. “We are here to serve the Board of County Commissioners and the residents. With that culture, brought a couple of changes. One of the very first things that I did when I was fortunate enough to take office was to weed out all politics in the office.”
He eliminated all political contributions by employees and their families.
“I’m not taking contributions from vendors or anybody that does business with our office to weed out any potential conflicts,” Abruzzo said. “I pledged publicly… when my time is done in this office, you will never see me go work with a vendor or somebody that did business with this office.”
He added that from his experience in the legislature, he saw many changes at state agencies, and when a new director or secretary came in, they would bring in a new political team.
“I did not do that,” Abruzzo said. “I was fortunate enough to have an eight-month indoctrination to the office before I took the office. I had a promote-from-within philosophy — and that’s exactly what we did.”
When he took the position, he requested through State Sen. Janet Cruz (D-District 18) that the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, which he used to chair, run an operational audit on his office.
“I wanted a clean bill of health,” he said. “We are expecting the findings of that audit very shortly. It will be submitted to us in writing. They’ll give it to us first. We’ll have a point to respond to the findings, and then it will become public.”
Abruzzo said he also made some changes at the executive level.
“I am proud to say we have the most diverse upper management that this office has ever had,” he said. “[Chief Deputy Clerk] Shannon Ramsey-Chessman is no stranger to you all. Shannon served as chief of finance in her prior role for the majority of time that she was under Clerk Bock.”
Abruzzo said he did not fill the position of chief of staff and instead promoted Ramsey-Chessman to chief deputy clerk.
“I will tell you that our synergy amongst our chiefs is really good, and I think that has transcended down to the rest of the organization,” he said.
Abruzzo said he got to know former Chief Operating Officer Amy Borman before he took office. Borman was promoted to chief of courts.
“She was the director down in courts,” he said. “Courts is the largest part of our office. It has more than 400 employees. It also encompasses our recording. It also encompasses a lot of those thousand different statutory duties. Amy is also in charge of running our passport offices and some other things.
He added that Chief Operating Officer Radcliffe Brown is the chief of finance.
“Shannon and I [are] at the top, and Amy serves as the chief of courts and Radcliffe as the comptroller’s side, which we call finance,” Abruzzo said. “I think its safe to say that I’m more involved with the finance aspect than some of the other clerks, but [the funds are] important to me, and Radcliffe does a great job of managing a very complex side of the house.”
As far as investments, Abruzzo will be bringing a couple of recommendations forward in the near future.
“I would like to see our Israel bonds be doubled,” Abruzzo said. “We are headed into a period where many of our long-term investments are maturing. The products out there… are not paying nearly what they were years ago. The Israel bonds are a great product. We only operate right now at 2 percent invested in Israel bonds, so we can absolutely get that doubled.”
Learn more about Abruzzo’s office at www.mypalmbeachclerk.com.