Ethics reform won’t happen in Palm Beach County until some leaders who don’t see the value of it are gone, departing Inspector General Sheryl Steckler said Tuesday.
Steckler, who recently announced she won’t seek another four-year term in June, has butted heads with some county and municipal officials over the scope and independence of her office since scandal-weary voters created her position in 2010.
“Good things are happening but there’s still some things out there (and) there are people in control that, until they retire or they’re no longer voted into office, it’s not going to change,” Steckler told about two dozen people at the inaugural lunch of the Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club west of Boca Raton.
“But the good news is, they will eventually get voted out of office and they will eventually retire and (with) the new fresh group that’s in and making changes, it’ll work and ethics reform will happen.”
Steckler wouldn’t name specific names when asked afterward. She stressed that she wasn’t accusing any of the unnamed officials of corruption but of failing to understand the importance of ethics reform.
“It’s all about buy-in to the ethics reform and the value that an inspector general can have,” Steckler said in an interview.
The inspector general’s position was created after three county commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners were convicted on public corruption or official misconduct charges.
Voters empowered the position to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in county government and the county’s 38 municipalities. But 14 of the municipalities are suing to challenge a requirement that each city and town pay a fee to cover Steckler’s budget. Courts have ruled Steckler’s office is part of county government and therefore must rely on the county attorney’s office, rather than its own lawyers, to represent it in the legal fight.
Although high-profile criminal cases led to the creation of the inspector general’s office, the office does not investigate criminal matters. And Steckler said her office focuses more on procedures than individuals.
“What we’re really seeing is not so much the bad behavior but it’s the lack of internal controls,” Steckler told the luncheon. “The more they (government) can put rules in place and employees understand what’s expected of them, the better we will be as a whole and as a government.”