The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics today postponed voting on a proposed settlement with former Boynton Beach commissioner Marlene Ross, who faces two charges of corrupt misuse of official position.
Although the commission initially voted in favor of the settlement, which called for one of two charges to be dismissed and required Ross to pay a $500 fine, the vote was later withdrawn after commissioner Robin Fiore expressed concern that the legal language in the settlement order did not reflect an admission from Ross of corrupt misuse of official position.
“It looks like it’s OK to pay to get out of this,” Fiore said. “I certainly can’t take $500 so that we just go away.”
In the initial settlement, Ross “admits that the allegations … if true, could reasonably create a perception of ‘corrupt’ intent.’” Fiore said that wording did not indicate Ross admitted to violating an ethics policy.
Ross’ attorney, Scott Richardson, and Kai Li Fouts, who represents the ethics commission, requested additional time to come up with new legal language. The commission agreed to address the issue at the October meeting. Ross’ attorney is not available the week of the commission’s September meeting.
The charges against Ross were filed in December, just hours after Ross resigned, accusing her of lying in a statement to the city of Boynton Beach and casting a vote in hopes it would keep a political enemy from revealing she’d sent naked pictures of herself to her cousin.
In the proposed settlement, Ross states she “believes it to be in her best interest to avoid the expense and time of litigation in this matter.”
Ross, who attended today’s meeting, told commissioners at the time the allegations surfaced, she was caring for her two ailing parents, and her father eventually passed away.
Ross, who served as a commissioner for five years, had admitted last year to Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office investigators that she feared lobbyist and former commissioner David Katz was blackmailing her because he knew about pictures she’d sent to her first cousin, with whom she’d had a romantic relationship. Such a relationship is legal under Florida law.
Prosecutors — who had approached Ross after being alerted about the photos and possible blackmail — eventually concluded none of her allegations could be considered criminal extortion. Ross eventually quit cooperating, and the case was closed.
But in those depositions, and in a summary she wrote for prosecutors, Ross also admitted she had submitted a falsified letter to the city saying Katz hadn’t lobbied her when in fact he had, and twice had appointed him to city committees against her judgment.