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Foster urges voters to oppose Abruzzo bill that could limit PBC ethics commission

by Jennifer Sorentrue | March 19th, 2014

Former Wellington mayor Kathy Foster, who is running for the Palm Beach County Commission seat of term-limited Commissioner Jess Santamaria, sent out a robo call on Tuesday urging thousands of voters to call State Sen. Joe Abruzzo and oppose a bill he filed that could limit the powers of the county’s three-year-old ethics commission.

Foster said the call was sent to roughly 10,000 voters in District 6, which includes Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and the county’s western areas.

Foster said Wednesday she opposes state mandated changes to the ethics commission, pointing to a 2010 referendum that extended the five-member panel’s authority to all 38 cities and towns. The referendum was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

“If it is going to be amendment, let it be amended here,” Foster said. “We don’t need other people who don’t live in the area telling us how to run the county, and we don’t want it weakened in anyway.”

Abruzzo, D-Wellington, has been a vocal critic of the county’s ethics panel. He took aim at the robo call Tuesday, saying it was another example of how the ethics commission has been used for political purposes.

“One of my largest concerns from the beginning was that (the ethics commission) was being used for politics not for the betterment of our community,” Abruzzo said. “This is another prime example of the ethics commission being used and abused for political gain.”

The Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday amended Abruzzo’s bill (SB 1474) to replace it completely with new language that dramatically changes the way legislation would affect Palm Beach County’s five-member ethics board.
Under the new version, the county’s ethics commission would be required to follow the same procedures as the Florida Commission on Ethics when reviewing and investigating complaints.

Under Abruzzo’s original proposal, the county’s ethics commission would have been stripped of some of its power. Abruzzo and state officials said locally filed ethics complaints and advisory opinion requests dealing with issues involving statewide ethics rules would have been sent to the state commission for review, while complaints dealing with local ethics rules that are not part of the state’s code would have still been reviewed by the local commission.

Foster said she opposes both versions of the bill.

Abruzzo said the changes, which he helped draft, have drawn the support of local ethics officials. Steven Cullen, executive director of the county’s ethics commission, told the Senate committee Monday he supported the favored the change.

“To the extent it tries to foster due process in local ethics commissions, we think that is a good thing,” Cullen said.

Abruzzo has supported Palm Beach County Commission candidate Melissa McKinlay, who is also running for Santamaria’s seat. McKinlay will face Foster in the Democratic primary.

State campaign finance records show that in 2012 Foster contributed $100 to Abruzzo’s Republican challenger Melanie Peterson.

Here is the full text of Foster’s robo call:

“Hello, this is Kathy Foster, Democrat for the Palm Beach County Commission, with an urgent message. State Sen. Joseph Abruzzo has filed a bill in Tallahassee that significantly changes the way the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission handles complaints. That process was put in place after residents voted overwhelmingly to support the ethics commission in 2010. The commission was created in response to the arrest of several local elected officials for public corruption. Those arrests earned us the nickname, “Corruption County.” Our current County Commissioner Jess Santamaria, who cannot seek reelection because of term limits, has been a champion for 100 percent honest government. I share Commissioner Santamaria’s views and will continue to fight for the Office of Inspector General and the ethics commission. Instead of asking voters if we wanted to make changes to the process, Sen. Abruzzo decided to make changes on his own through Tallahassee. I urge you to join me and call Sen. Abruzzo today. Tell him we don’t support any changes that might weaken the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission. Sen. Abruzzo can be reached at 561-791-4774. Once again, this is Kathy Foster. Feel free to call me on my cell phone at 596-9536 if you have any questions. Paid by Kathy Foster, Democrat for Palm Beach County Commission District 6.”

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