West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, under investigation by the county’s Office of Inspector General, made a preemptive strike today by announcing the investigation herself before it became public.
Muoio said she is not legally allowed to disclose the nature of the investigation until it is completed. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler also said she could not comment.
Sources told The Palm Beach Post that the investigation centers around Muoio appointing board members in 2011 to the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. That committee is required under state law for any county or city to receive grants through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, low-income housing program.
But state law says that the 11 board members must be appointed by the governing board, in this case the city commission. The committee is chaired by Gregg Weiss, who Muoio endorsed in last month’s city commission race against Shanon Materio.
“It’s not financial, it’s not criminal — it’s administrative,” Muoio said at a news conference this morning. “I disagree with the assumptions made in the complaint. We have written a response to it that will become public. Once that happens, once it’s released, I’ll be happy to answer any and all questions.”
Muoio said she announced the investigation because “I wanted to give people a heads up. It’s going to be released in the next day or two. “It’s such a really small issue that they’ve latched onto. When you look at all the big things happening, it’s de minimis.”
Muoio said that the investigation will change “one tiny little piece” of how she does her job without being specific. Steckler said that Muoio is the first subject of an investigation to publicly announce it before its completion since the office was created in 2010. Muoio submitted her response to Steckler today and Steckler said the investigation could be completed and made public as soon as Thursday. Steckler said it will depend on whether Muoio’s responses merit further investigation.
Muoio criticized Steckler for summoning her several weeks ago without any notice of why she was being questioned.
Muoio said she brought her personal attorney because she was told she couldn’t bring City Attorney Claudia McKenna to the meeting. But Muoio said the investigation is about city business.
“Why wouldn’t you tell somebody what they were being questioned about before they got there?” Muoio said. “Where’s the due process for the people who get called in to the Inspector General? Don’t they have a right to know what they’re being accused of before they get called in?”
Steckler said it wouldn’t make sense to tell people in advance why they’re being questioned.
“Like any investigation, we would not tell the witness or subject what it’s about because we’d want them to come in and be able to answer under oath without coordinating with people, without collaborating stories before you get in,” Steckler said. “That’s a natural way you do investigations. Why would you tell a subject and witness what to expect when they could collaborate and collude together before they come in?”
In 2010 voters in West Palm Beach chose to go under the Inspector General’s oversight, but the city is currently leading a lawsuit of 14 cities against the Office of Inspector General, saying the cities should not be responsible for funding the office.
During last month’s city commission election, Materio said the city should drop the lawsuit. At today’s press conference, Muoio said “so far, we’re going to see it through. If there’s a discussion about dropping it, we’ll certainly entertain that.”
View the original article on The Palm Beach Post website.