The commission found “no probable cause” that Commissioner Shelly Petrolia benefited by nominating a customer of her outside business to the city’s Site Plan and Review Board. According to a memo, on June 7, Petrolia nominated Cynthia Freeburn as one of seven applicants; Freeburn was not picked. The memo said Petrolia did not reveal she and her husband, real estate brokers and had sold Freeburn a home and recently had listed her current home for sale. But an ethics commission memo ruled the $8,885 the Petrolias earned from Freeburn did not meet a $10,000 minimum to constitute a code violation and that she received no direct benefit in exchange for nominating Freeburn.
The commission also found no probable cause that Kathryn McNealy used her official position to manipulate the time sheets of two department employees. A former supervisor alleged McNealy put in hours for two co-workers for time they did not work. But a memo said a commission investigation found no evidence of that and noted the complainant signed off on many of the questioned time sheets and that one of the workers actually ran out of vacation and leave time and accrued some 80 hours of unpaid leave.
The 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that area cities don’t have to contribute to an inspector general program established by Palm Beach County after voters approved a referendum calling for such a program.
That referendum was approved in November 2010 by a majority of voters in the county and by a majority in each of the county’s municipalities.
But after the county created the Office of Inspector General in 2011 – and required cities to help pay for it – 15 cities sued, arguing the county could not force them to pay for the program.
The county won the first legal battle when a trial court ruled that funding the program was not a discretionary budgetary decision and that the county could compel municipal payment for it.
The cities appealed, and today the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in their favor, setting the stage for the case to go to the Florida Supreme Court.
Asked if the county will take the case to the state Supreme Court, County Attorney Denise Nieman said: “We’re exploring our options.”
Inspector General John Carey said he’s “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.
“My disappointment is that we must continue to provide the OIG oversight to the County and all municipalities at approximately half staff,” he said.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said the ruling reaffirms that cities have the right to determine how municipal funding is spent.
“It can not be imposed on us by the county,” she said.
A former analyst for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management faces ethics charges for allegedly trying to intimidate a business owner into giving him an auto repair discount, and two Delray Beach employees received “letters of instruction” for incidents in that city, in rulings Thursday by the county’s Commission on Ethics.
The charges against analyst Rowan Hughes stem from a November 2015 report by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General that said he “threatened or intimidated members of the public by falsely identifying himself as a well field inspector and making statements that he would have to conduct a well field inspection following a business’ refusal to reduce the price of repairs to his personal vehicle.”
The county fired Hughes Dec. 21, 2015, after he admitted driving the county vehicle for personal use, ethics commission documents show.
The panel also ruled Thursday that Joseph Lang, a firefighter paramedic and a rescue driver, was paid $10,834 from the city in 2014 and 2015 for an outside business he owned that supplied and serviced automatic external defibrillators for city buildings and fire-rescue trucks.
And the panel ruled Rashod Smith, a supervisor for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, let TennilleDecoste, the city’s Human Resources administrator, hold a Thanksgiving Day dinner for her family and friends after hours in the city’s Pompey Park Recreation Center.
The panel, following an executive session of about an hour, voted to give Conor Devery a “letter of instruction.”
According to a staff memo, Devery, who with his wife owns the firm First Response Training, was approached for training services by officials from Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. The city eventually paid the firm $2,245 over three years.
The vote marks the third action by the ethics panel in response to inquiries from Delray Beach City Manager Donald Cooper following city audits.
In July, the commission ordered a similar “letter of instruction” for Desiree Lancaster, an ambulance billing contract supervisor who admitted steering about $12,000 in work in a pressure cleaning firm she and her husband own. The commission concluded this violation also was unintentional.
Disgraced former West Palm Beach fire marshal Derrick Daniels won’t face sanctions from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics for shaking down residents, after the panel decided Thursday his 2015 criminal conviction was enough.
Daniels, who rose through the ranks during his two-decade career to become a battalion chief, was convicted in November of six charges of grand theft and one charge of unlawful compensation by a public official. Prosecutors said he went out on nights and weekends to check that groups holding special events were complying with fire-safety codes and pocketed some $3,000 over 10 months in 2012 and 2013.
Daniels faced a prison term of nearly three years. Instead, in December, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Dina Keever sentenced him to the 30 days he’d served, placed him on six months of house arrest, and ordered five years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
On Thursday, the ethics commission voted that “the public interest has already been served to the extensive sanctions levied by a criminal court.”
Westlake’s interim city manager, Ken Cassel, told council members on Monday that Minto Communities will cover any budget shortfall for the next five years.
Minto is the largest landowner in Westlake, and, as such, represents nearly all of the new city’s tax base. The developer plans to build at least 4,500 homes in the area.
McKinlay, whose district represents Westlake, has asked Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the circumstances of the city’s incorporation, which some view as a Minto-inspired move that will allow the builder to go beyond the development limits it had agreed to two years ago with the county.
McKinlay wrote Inspector General John Carey on Wednesday, inquiring about “the legality of a landowner funding the same council that will ultimately decide the landowner’s permits, land use and quasi-judicial zoning issues.”
In the agreement, reached Thursday after a half-hour closed session, the charges against Desiree Lancaster are dropped in lieu of a “letter of instruction” from the panel.
A summary said Division Fire Chief Victor Williams approached Lancaster about a cleaning job, and she gave him the business card of her husband’s Greenacres-based firm.
The company later got contracts in 2014 and 2015 to clean fire stations and lifeguard stands.
Lancaster told investigators she did minor work for her husband’s company, mostly bookkeeping.
The commission’s investigation concluded the violation was unintentional.
“Although she took training it does not appear she understood the relationship between her [and] her husband’s company was prohibited,” the commission’s executive summary said.
Commission investigator Anthony Bennett said after the meeting he could not comment on whether Williams violated any ethics rules when he approaching an employee about outside work. Asked if the city disciplined Williams, Bennett referred that question to the city, which didn’t immediately respond Thursday. Williams left earlier this year to become chief of a department in Gallatin, Tenn.
The commission issued a ruling of “no probable cause” after a 15-minute closed-door meeting.
City Manager Donald Cooper had written the commission May 19 to say an audit indicated the city had paid Tropical Landscaping a total $1,264 in 2012 and 2014 for the purchase of plants. The audit also showed records indicating Eaton was either an officer of the firm or its liaison with the city.
But both Eaton, who’s worked for the city since 2007, and the firm’s owners, said Eaton never had worked for the firm, and Eaton had received no money for the city for any work he would have done for Tropical.
Both Eaton and the firm said they had no idea why the payments showed up in city records. Eaton had gone so far as to file a police report in Palm Beach Gardens, where he lives, alleging identity theft.
Former Delray Beach City Commissioner Alberta McCarthy has been cleared of the same ethics charges dismissed against ex-commissioner Angeleta Gray in February.
The Palm Beach County Ethics Commission, at its meeting Thursday, ruled there was no probable cause McCarthy violated the county’s ethics code on gifts in an incident while she was commissioner. The panel also dismissed a charge she failed to report a gift.
Attorneys say both women were acquitted of the criminal charges in September; Gray’s lawyer, Bruce Zimet, said in February he’s convinced the allegations led to Gray losing her 2014 re-election bid.