Plenty of Palm Beach County politicians have left office amid scrapes with the law over the last seven years.
It’s typically a one-time thing. But South Bay City Commissioner Shirley Walker-Turner is in danger of being forced from office not once, but twice, for a single misdemeanor charge of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. Walker-Turner says she’s not guilty.
To provide some recent context, Palm Beach County commissioners Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell, Mary McCarty and Jeff Koons all resigned and pleaded guilty to various felonies between 2006 and 2010. Ditto for West Palm Beach commissioners Ray Liberti and Jim Exline. Boynton Beach Mayor Jose Rodriguez was suspended by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012 after he was charged with misusing his office. Rodriguez eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count this year.
In South Bay, Walker-Turner and commissioners Linda Johnson and John Wilson were suspended by Scott in December after they were charged with violating the Sunshine Law, which requires public officials to conduct public business in public. Johnson was found guilty in an April trial and Wilson entered a guilty plea this month to the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Walker-Turner has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. While still under suspension, she won a special election on May 14 for a city commission seat.
Walker-Turner’s victory led Scott to revoke her suspension in an executive order the next day.
But, Scott’s order says, “this reinstatement is dependent upon the outcome of the charge of Sunshine Law violation. … At the conclusion of that case, Shirley Walker-Turner will either be permanently reinstated or removed from office, by subsequent order.”
Walker-Turner, Wilson and Johnson were charged with agreeing in private meetings to approve a $25,139 payment to former city manager Corey Alston for unused vacation time. The three elected officials never huddled together, but prosecutors said Alston acted as a “conduit” through a series of one-on-one conversations with each official.
In an interview with the Politics column last week, Walker-Turner said she had private conversations with Alston about his vacation pay but “at no time did he tell me what Wilson or Johnson had stated on an issue.”
After being forced off the dais once by Scott’s suspension, Walker-Turner said her victory in the May 14 special election was gratifying.
“I was really pleased that the people in my community still have confidence in me,” she said. “So we’ll have to see what everything else brings.”
— Former Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale represented much of coastal Palm Beach County before losing last fall to Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs in a bruising race.
“This is a news flash: Losing sucks,” Bogdanoff told the crowd of about 300 at the Broward County GOP Lincoln Day dinner.
Bogdanoff sounded like someone who might run for office in the future. But she told the Politics column she is not interested in taking on freshman U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, in a Palm Beach-Broward congressional district that national Republicans insist is a 2014 priority. Chip LaMarca, the only Republican on the Broward County commission, says he’s not interested in challenging Frankel, either.
— Matthew Leger, the 28-year-old government affairs director for the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, was named one of “30 under 30” rising Florida political stars by the public affairs website SaintPetersblog.com. Before joining the Realtors, Leger worked on Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire and Lizbeth Benacquisto’s successful 2010 state Senate campaign.
Leger is the only person on the list from Palm Beach County, though he said he nominated 29-year-old North Palm Beach Councilman Doug Bush for the recognition.