The Palm Beach County ethics commission on Thursday will consider cancelling a hearing in its case against Wellington Mayor Bob Margolis, and instead issuing a “letter of instruction” warning against future ethics violations.
The commission staff negotiated a settlement to end the case against Margolis after determining that the public interest would not be served by moving forward with the hearing, Steven Cullen, the commission’s executive director, said Monday.
The settlement proposal comes less than two weeks after Margolis’ Tallahassee attorney, Mark Herron, filed paperwork in the case calling for the removal of former Ethics Commissioner Ronald Harbison because he made a $250 political contribution in violation of the county’s ethics rules. Harbison resigned within hours of Herron’s filing.
Harbison said Monday that he had not reviewed the settlement proposal, but added that it is not uncommon for the commission to resolve complaints without a hearing.
“My experience is they try to resolve these things,” Harbison said.
Margolis is accused of violating the county’s ethics rules by accepting $2,500 for a legal defense. The ethics commission set aside four days in August to hold a hearing in the case, which would have been a first in the commission’s three-year-history.
But the hearing would be cancelled if ethics commissioners agree to the settlement Thursday, Cullen said.
Under the proposed settlement, the commission would dismiss the complaint against Margolis and issue a letter warning him to “proceed with great caution in the future to ensure that he avoid accepting prohibited gifts.”
Margolis did not return calls for comment on Monday. Herron said he could not discuss the case in detail, citing the pending settlement proposal.
Developer Mark Bellissimo filed a complaint against Margolis in January, alleging that the mayor accepted $2,500 for a legal defense fund from Neil Hirsch, who directed a group that lobbied against a proposed $100 million equestrian complex in Wellington.
County rules prohibit public officials from accepting gifts of more than $100 from lobbyists and companies or people employing lobbyists.
Hirsch was not registered as a lobbyist.
In May, the ethics commission found probable cause that Margolis broke the county’s ethics rules.
Cullen said his staff reached a proposed settlement with Margolis last week after a series of depositions in the case.
If the settlement is approved, it will make the second time Margolis has received a letter of instruction from the commission.
In February, the commission dismissed a complaint alleging Margolis violated the county’s ethics laws by accepting $4,000 from a Wellington equestrian who falls under lobbying restrictions.
The commission concluded that the alleged violation was “inadvertent and unintentional” and issued a letter instructing Margolis to “be more careful in the future.”