Teapartiers Tussle with Commissioners Over Ethics Watchdog

Ethics, Shmethics. As this week's feature story reminds us, Palm Beach's reputation as "Corruption County" has been well earned. Two years after lawyer Bill Boose and county commissioner Tony Masilotti went to prison, we're finally getting around to creating an ethics watchdog that might have a few teeth left in its head.

Here at the Juice, we haven't always seen eye-to-eye with our local Tea Party affiliate. But there's at least one reason to applaud the grassroots conservative group, one of whose central missions is "restoring trust in government" this week. Both the South Florida Tea Party and 9-12 groups, along with other activists, played a big role in whipping the County Commission into line on the question of who would hire and fire an inspector general dedicated to ferreting out corruption in county government.

Tea Partier Meg Shannon was one of the group of  grousers who met with Commissioner Karen Marcus

last week to hammer home the notion that the fox had no place guarding the henhouse. Shannon and company made it clear to Marcus that the inspector general should be put in place by an independent board, and not be subject to financial pressure based on the county's rollercoaster-ride of a budget. In other words, the inspector would be his/her own (wo)man, given full power and authority to apply the screws when and where they are most needed.

Shannon says she was never much involved in politics before she joined the Tea Party. A semi-retired lawyer from Detroit whose area of expertise includes health care regulatory law, she has found herself one of the impassioned group that managed to collect 2800 signatures in support of an independent inspector. Shannon says that over all, this was a mild rebellion: the groups weren't obliged to spill much tea into the intracoastal to get their way. The commission, via county attorney Denise Neiman, was "pretty receptive" to their ideas.

The Tea Party, Shannon says, endorses "anything that helps create a more ethical and honest government, one responsive to the people and working in the best interest of the people. We were concerned that the appointment and removal process should be out of the control of commission." At the county commission meeting on Tuesday, Shannon says, commissioners knew they were over a barrel.

"Burt Aaronson said that if the commission voted against this it would be political suicide," she says.

And it appears that political suicide is no more palatable than a five-year prison term.

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