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Anti-Corruption Initiative in Palm Beach County

September 24, 2009

PalmBeachFollowing yesterday’s federal charges for three Broward County politicians, Palm Beach County unveiled their plan to fight public corruption. As the Palm Beach Post reports, “the proposal would create an Office of Inspector General and an ethics commission to probe wrongdoing among county officials, ex-employees and lobbyists.”

The inspector general, to be initiated by ordinance and later incorporated in the county charter, would have the power to investigate all county affairs and would have unrestricted access to county records.

The proposal comes five months after a grand jury recommended sweeping reforms, ending a three-year period in which former Commissioners Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell and Mary McCarty were sent to federal prison. Former West Palm Beach City Commissioners Ray Liberti and Jim Exline also were convicted and sent to prison.

A panel of legal experts and law enforcement officials would be responsible for hiring the inspector general, but the decision must be approved by a majority of county commissioners.

The plan also creates a county code of ethics that prohibits elected officials and county employees from financially benefiting from their position. Violators could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by 60 days in jail and as much as a $500 fine.

A five-member ethics commission would be charged with enforcing the new code. Members would be appointed by community leaders, including the presidents of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Both the inspector general and the ethics commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses and require those under investigation to produce documents. The inspector general, however, would not report directly to the ethics commission.

Palm Beach County officials urge ethics office, panel here [Palm Beach Post]

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