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Sheriff Rules Against Ethics Inspection

Sheriff Rules Against Ethics Inspection

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The Palm Beach Post via YellowBrix

December 30, 2009

PALM BEACH COUNTY – The public’s desire for an Office of Inspector General to seek out wrongdoing anywhere in Palm Beach County is encountering its first hurdle.

While Palm Beach County commissioners once opposed to the extra scrutiny did an abrupt reversal and approved strict reforms this month, other high officials just aren’t getting the message.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has ruled against subjecting the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, which consumes about half of the county’s $1 billion operating budget, to the inspector general. It isn’t that Sheriff Bradshaw thinks the idea of scrutiny is bad. Rather, the sheriff said in an interview, he fears giving up his office’s constitutionally granted independence. Sheriff Bradshaw’s thinking goes like this: The state constitution goes out of its way to assure independence for sheriffs. They negotiate labor contracts without county commission intrusion. They can appeal county budget decisions to the governor. The county cannot pass ordinances to tell sheriffs what to do.

But if the sheriff embraces the inspector general’s office, which would mean signing an agreement with the county to accept the independent scrutiny the inspector general promises, Sheriff Bradshaw said he would be establishing a precedent to succumb to any county dictate in the future. “The first time I acquiesce to that, that sets the precedent that that can be done,” Sheriff Bradshaw said. “That’s the only sticking point here.”

Sheriff Bradshaw’s plea for independence sounds like a plea to be free from independent scrutiny. He points out that he already subjects his department to outside audits and an independent internal affairs office. But every agency has outside auditors and self-policing policies. That didn’t reduce the public’s zeal for ethics reform. After all, sheriffs are not above making mistakes or breaking the law, as the corruption imprisonment of former Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne shows.

No one wants to diminish the sheriff’s ability to enforce the law. But the public is demanding closer scrutiny of contracts that can lead to corruption everywhere and anywhere. That includes the sheriff’s office. Already, the school board is hesitating about ethics reform, as are other county agencies, such as the property appraiser’s office.

There’s worse precedent than the technical issue raised by Sheriff Bradshaw. If he refuses to voluntarily subject his agency to the inspector general, he sets the precedent that it’s OK for some agencies to escape scrutiny. And that’s not a precedent the public is willing to accept.

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