Palm Beach County’s public corruption watchdog has called for convening a grand jury to help cut through potential interference from some of the local governments she investigates. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler has asked the State Attorney’s Office for a grand jury to review policies imposed by Palm Beach County government as well as the cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach; policies that Steckler maintains get in the way of her oversight duties. Specifically, Steckler contends that county and city policies are keeping her from having unfettered access to public employees who could report waste or wrongdoing.

County Administrator Robert Weisman called Steckler’s request for a grand jury review “ridiculous.” He said the Inspector General’s Office has “total access” to documents and employees. Weisman said Steckler’s office turned down the county’s offer for a public meeting to address any access issues. “She’s getting all the access she needs,” Weisman said. “I’m not sure what they are looking for … This is supposed to be cooperative effort.” But Steckler contends she isn’t getting the cooperation she needs. “This goes beyond just [having] a meeting,” Steckler said. “With ethics reform, if we are going to go forward we have some concerns.”

Hiring an Inspector General was the centerpiece proposal of a grand jury’s 2009 recommendation for ways to clean up corruption in scandal-plagued Palm Beach County government. Since 2006, four county commissioners have resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to misuse of office. Steckler was hired in June 2010. In November 2010, more than 70 percent of Palm Beach County voters supported expanding Steckler’s investigative reach beyond county government to include all 38 cities, towns and villages. Steckler objects to a county policy imposed in August that she says calls for county employees to report potential wrongdoing to supervisors before contacting the Inspector General’s Office, according to her Sept. 19 letter to the State Attorney’s Office.

She also questions a policy for supervisors to confirm that suspected wrongdoing or waste is a “reportable incident” before supervisors pass the information along it the Inspector General’s Office. The county’s policies “would conflict and interfere” with the inspector general’s efforts, according to Steckler’s letter. They also limit the “free, unobstructed flow of information from [county] employees to the Office of Inspector General,” Steckler said in the letter. Steckler in her call for a grand jury contends that Boca Raton and Delray Beach officials have started requiring her auditors and investigators that want to meet with the cities’ employees to first schedule those meetings with supervisors. Boca Raton at times has also pushed for having supervisors present for those meetings, which Steckler contends can get in the way of gathering information. The two cities’ policies threaten to create “needless delay” and add taxpayer costs to investigations, according to Steckler.

The Inspector General’s Office investigates potential fraud, waste and abuse among elected officials, public employees and those who do business with local government. Steckler has more than 20 investigators, auditors and other employees and a $3.5 million budget. A coalition of local cities, including West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, are in the midst of a legal challenge to the county requiring them to help pay for the Inspector General’s Office.

View the original, complete article credited to Andy Reid of  The Sun Sentinel.