Palm Beach County has been going through a string of corruption investigations since January of this year, and now they are establishing an ethics office AND an Office of Inspector General.
I would rather have a beefed up internal audit department. As the article mentions, the IG will be selected by a panel of attorneys and law enforcement people, without any auditors involved. Thus what happens is the focus will be to hire an attorney, probably a former prosecutor, whose focus will be on after the fact investigations, and not prevenention. Attorneys do NOT know how to define internal controls nor are they oriented to spending time to review systems and recommend improvements. Instead, their mode of operations is to use a fraud reporting hotline to get tips, or setup stings, rather than implement preventive or detection programs to prevent corruption from happening.
That is what a good internal audit department would do, and that is why that is what they need, not another attorney. Read the article at the link below.
County corruption fallout: Palm Beach County officials urge ethics office, panel here
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009
With three former Palm Beach County commissioners in prison and residents pushing for reform, county administrators on Wednesday unveiled their plan for creating a watchdog unit to investigate corruption.
The proposal would create an Office of Inspector General and an ethics commission to probe wrongdoing among county officials, ex-employees and lobbyists. Commissioners will be asked to vote on the plan in December.
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.
In July, commissioners unanimously agreed to establish the independent watchdog arms and directed county managers to draft detailed ordinances creating them.
The county's proposal is based on a similar program in Miami-Dade County that aims to ensure that public money isn't squandered for officials' private gain.
"We have gone from having nothing of substance to something that is more stringent than state law and even the Miami model," County Attorney Denise Nieman said Wednesday during an interview with The Palm Beach Post editorial board.
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.
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.
County managers have estimated it would cost about $1 million a year to operate the inspector general's office and the ethics panel. The money would come from the county's general fund and must be approved by county commissioners, under the proposal drafted by Nieman and her staff.
A coalition of community leaders, including the county's economic council and business forum, has proposed its own plan that would make the two offices independent from the county commission.
Under the group's proposal, the ethics commission would be charged with hiring and firing the inspector general. The group has said it plans to seek signatures in the coming months to force a 2010 ballot question.
While calling the county's proposal a "great first step," Marty Rogol, a spokesman for the coalition, said the "key test is independence."
"Everybody is clear that an ethics commission and an inspector general are needed," he said. "The bottom line has already been created. Now, the proverbial devil is in the details."
Find this article at: