Who will hold leash on ethics watchdog? Plus: three Rooneys eye 2010; GOPers cheer Dion, boo UNby George Bennett | September 27th, 2009
How independent should Palm Beach County’s independent ethics watchdog be?That question is complicating efforts to win 2010 voter approval for an inspector general’s office to monitor local government after a three-year shame spiral in which County Commissioners Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell and Mary McCarty and West Palm Beach Commishes Ray Liberti and Jim Exline went to prison for corruption. There’s broad support for an inspector general’s office with subpoena powers to keep an eye on local public officials, lobbyists and contractors.
But then the consensus breaks down.
A consortium of business and civic leaders says the inspector should be hired and fired and have its budget set by an independent ethics commission.County officials propose the inspector be chosen by an outside panel but approved by a commission vote, financed through the county budget process and fired if five of seven commissioners agree.
Commissioners haven’t endorsed anything yet. They can wait until June to agree on a plan and put it on the November 2010 ballot.The ethics consortium has less time. If it can’t persuade commissioners to endorse its view of the inspector general, the group has vowed to gather 58,200 signatures to put its version on the 2010 ballot. To succeed, such a petition drive should launch in November, said Marty Rogol of Leadership Palm Beach County and Mike Jones of the Economic Council. Keeping the inspector general independent of the county commission is a key to ethics reform, Rogol and Jones argue.
Commission Chairman Jeff Koons disagrees. He says commissioners are more visible and accountable than an appointed ethics panel.
“We’re public elected officials…Everything we do is in the public,” Koons said. “We’re held responsible and we meet every couple weeks and people can come yell at us.”If the sides can’t agree, it’s possible voters could see rival inspector-general ballot questions.
“Do we want dueling proposals before voters? Absolutely not,” said Jones. “It’s too early to say there’s no room for compromise.”
* * *Palm Beach Kennel Club Prez Pat Rooney Jr. says he needs more time to decide whether to launch a GOP campaign for the open state House District 83 seat. Rooney’s brother is U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta.
A third Rooney brother could also run in 2010: attorney and Iraq war vet Brian Rooney, who lives in Michigan and is eyeing a challenge of Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer.
* * *Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Boca Raton resident Dion DiMucci performed three numbers to big applause Wednesday at a powwow of about 300 Republicans featuring congressional hopeful Allen West. When Dion covered Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, however, the lyric expressing multilateralist sentiment (“Gonna take my problem to the United Nations”) drew audible boos and groans.