Inspector General: Palm Tran Connection dispatchers altered on-time records

010615 palm tran 3

Carey
Carey

Palm Tran Connection managers altered, or directed dispatchers to alter, between 21,000 and 46,000 reports, making them “inaccurate and inflated” and allowing the agency to reach a goal of a 95 percent on-time record in the past 14 months, the Palm Beach County Inspector General said Thursday.

“No one admitted, ‘we are doing this in order to meet the 95 percent goal,’” Inspector General John Carey said Thursday. But, he said, “that is a logical conclusion that people could bring.”

Clinton Forbes, who came on as Palm Tran director in November, told The Palm Beach Post Thursday he plans to hire an outside entity to conduct an investigation for him.

“If we find that any employee manipulated the numbers, or cooked the books, there will be severe administrative action,” Forbes said.

Proper time records could have led to penalties to contractors of as much as $1.26 million, the 100-plus page report by Carey’s office said. It did find more than 100 cases where contractors were penalized $60 per occurrence, but Carey said, “We believe there were obviously a lot more occasions.”

Forbes said the $1.26 million estimate is wrong because Palm Tran Connection doesn’t penalize for tardiness, only for failed pickups.

Jones
Jones

The report said management of the county bus service for the elderly and disabled “disagreed with our finding” but did concur with the Inspector General’s nine recommendations. They include “take appropriate personnel action.” Forbes said Thursday that Ron Jones remains the Palm Tran Connection director.

 

Forbes
Forbes

The report says Jones admitted ordering computer audit programs to be turned off, allowing people to go back and change previous reporting without any audit trail. The summary said Jones told investigators in September that he’d stopped, but that a Connection staffer came forward in February to say that the misdirection was continuing.

Forbes told The Post, and the ageny said in remarks included in the Inspector General’s report, Palm Tran said there are several reasons that on-time performances are changed after the fact.

But, Carey said Thursday, “why was it that when we brought it to their attention, it went down below that 95 percent, and it’s never been there again?”

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.OIG1

 

Ruling knocks down legal hurdle to Westlake development

Opponents of the 3,800-acre development project formerly known as Minto West were dealt a major blow Thursday when a ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeals cleared the way for the project to proceed.

The project, now known as Westlake, was approved by the Palm Beach County Commission in October 2014 despite opposition from those who felt it would snarl traffic and invite urban sprawl.

Those opponents filed a series of legal objections, including one challenging the state Department of Economic Opportunity’s decision that the county’s approval of the project did not violate state laws against sprawl.

The 1st District Court of Appeals affirmed the DEO’s decision.

Check with http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com later today for more on this story.

Post on Growth
Post on Growth

Human Rights Council asks PBC to ban travel to NC

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has asked Palm Beach County to follow West Palm Beach’s lead in banning official travel to North Carolina to protest that state’s passage of a law many have described as discriminatory to the LGBT community.

On Monday, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio banned city employees from traveling to North Carolina on official business.

HRC President Rand Hoch asked County Administrator Verdenia Baker to follow suit, describing the North Carolina law as “clearly unconstitutional.”

Commissioner Priscilla Taylor brought Hoch’s request to the County Commission on Tuesday, and Baker said she’ll have her staff look into it.

Taylor
Taylor

County gets sobering update on efforts to redevelop urban area

Palm Beach County commissioners got a sobering update Tuesday on efforts to revitalize urban areas along Okeechobee Boulevard and Congress Avenue.

The county had designed a 29-mile section of the county an urban redevelopment area with special rules and requirements designed to spur economic development.

But the Great Recession and ongoing storm water retention problems hampered redevelopment efforts, much to the chagrin of commissioners.

“The plan failed,” Commissioner Shelley Vana said. “It failed miserably in my district. If anything, we made it worse.”

Compared to the county as a whole, the urban redevelopment area has higher unemployment and poverty rates and a lower per capita income.

County staff, which made a presentation on the area during a series of workshops Tuesday, is working on some changes with an eye to spurring redevelopment.

Commissioner Steven Abrams noted that the county’s plan to raise the sales tax could help pay for projects that would aid redevelopment efforts in the urban redevelopment area.

Commissioner Shelley Vana
Commissioner Shelley Vana

New Palm Beach County Tax Center opens Saturday

TaxCollectorLogoThe Palm Beach County Tax Collector’s Office will hold a ribbon cutting and open house from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 2, at its new Central Palm Beach Service Center, at 4215 South Military Trail in suburban Lake Worth.

The new, larger center replaces one just down the road that was closed in January. The tax collector still has five other remote service centers, besides the Central Center and the governmental center in West Palm Beach, and had an eighth center in Lantana that closed at the end of November.

Palm Beach County Tax Collector Service Centers:

People also may mail or drop off payments. And they can go online to www.pbctax.com to pay 2015 property taxes, do motor vehicle and vessel registrations, make business tax payments, schedule driver license appointments, or check current wait times. Call 561-355-2264.

Haven’t paid property taxes? Hurry. Deadline is Thursday

022616-PBC-TAX-LINES-3Remember those long lines at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center at the end of February? Expect them again this week.

Thursday is the deadline for property taxes. Period. Penalties and fees apply after that.

In late February, lines to get into the county Tax Collector’s office snaked through the main lobby and, on some days, out the door and into the courtyard.

Part of it was because the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office, near Palm Beach International  Airport, closed in June, sending driver license business went to the tax collector office.

But a lot of it was good old procrastination. Feb. 29 was the last day to get a 1 percent discount. It was 2 percent in January and 3 percent in December.

Now time’s up.

Downtown West Palm Beach isn’t your only option. You can go to the new Central Center on Military Trail as well as five satellite offices.

Tax Collector Anne Gannon has said up to four in 10 people can go to her website to conduct their business.

Palm Beach County Tax Collector Service Centers:

People may also mail or drop off payments. And they can go online towww.pbctax.com to pay 2015 property taxes, do motor vehicle and vessel registrations, make business tax payments, schedule driver license appointments, or check current wait times. Call 561-355-2264.

 

Home caregivers must be licensed by April 4

041014 GSS Home CareStarting next Monday, April 4, those providing in-home care to seniors and other vulnerable adults in Palm Beach County will need to undergo a licensing procedure that includes a criminal-background check and fingerprinting.

Palm Beach County commissioners, hoping to make it harder for seniors and physically or mentally disabled adults to be abused by those purporting to care for them, voted in the new rules in October.

Instituting the new rules had to wait until the commission inked a deal with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the background checks. In March, commissioners set fines and penalties.

Those needing a license would contact the Consumer Affairs Division of the county’s Public Safety Department.

Read a copy of the new ordinance.

 

Palm Beach County Attorney: let state decide on e-cigarettes

Nicholas Quintero, manager of Atmos Electronic Cigarette, demonstrates an e-cigarette in the West Palm Beach store Tuesday, November 19, 2013. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Nicholas Quintero, manager of Atmos Electronic Cigarette, demonstrates an e-cigarette in the West Palm Beach store Tuesday, November 19, 2013. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Let the state decide where people can smoke e-cigarettes, Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman has told county commissioners.

In a memo sent Thursday, Nieman said the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, created before e-cigarettes, bans only lighted tobacco products, which the e-cigs are not.

Nieman
Nieman

Several South Florida entities, including the cities of Delray Beach and Boca Raton, have specifically outlawed the devices in places where the Act forbids tobacco smoking, but “the reach of each (ban) varies,” Nieman wrote.

If the commission moved to ban e-cigarettes in all indoor workplaces in Palm Beach County, both private and public, it would be difficult to enforce, and authorities also would have to decide on penalties, she said.

Read the full story.

Palm Beach County’s legislative lobbyist one of 3 new assistant administrators

Todd Bonlarron, Palm Beach County’s lobbyist to the Legislature for 15 years, is one of three new assistant county administrators, current administrator Verdenia Baker confirmed late Wednesday.

Also selected: Nancy Bolton, the county’s director of risk management for 12 years, and former St. Lucie County Administrator Faye Outlaw, a West Palm Beach native.

They replace Vince Bonvento and Brad Merriman, both of whom retired earlier this year, and Jon Van Arnam, whom Baker in September promoted to the deputy administrator post she’d vacated when she was picked to replace the retiring Bob Weisman.

“With change comes opportunity for different perspectives and renewed energy,” Baker said in an email to county commissioners and county staff. “All of these individuals are well qualified and possess unique qualities that will serve the residents of Palm Beach County well.”

To read more, go later to mypalmbeachpost.com.

Bonlarron
Bonlarron
Bolton
Bolton
Outlaw
Outlaw
Baker
Baker

A divided PBC Commission approves sales tax plan

A divided Palm Beach County Commission approved a recommendation to raise the county’s sales tax Tuesday after a back and forth and back again series of motions.

Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of raising the sales tax from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar. The tax hike would generate $2.7 billion over 10 year for repairs to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.

Cultural projects would get $121 million, and a $27 million fund would be established for economic development projects.

While the final vote indicated strong support for moving forward with a sales tax plan, the long debate and its twisting, contradictory series of motions and substitute motions underscore the concern of many commissioners that a plan including funding for cultural projects and economic development could be rejected by voters.

Check with http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com later today for more on this story.