By Tim O’Meilia
South Palm Beach Mayor Martin Millar’s late night trip to Rachel’s strip club and steakhouse in West Palm Beach last year has landed him in trouble with the state Commission on Ethics.
Ethics commissioners found probable cause Oct. 27 that Millar violated state law by trying to use his influence as mayor to obtain “a special privilege, benefit or exemption.” According to ethics investigators, Millar tried to use his position to return to the club after he was thrown out, avoid arrest, avoid a police report, contact an officer’s supervisor and obtain rides to and from a hospital.
A hearing will be set for Millar or he can seek a settlement with the commission, said commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman. Millar said he would wait for a hearing. If he is found guilty, the penalties can range from a reprimand to removal from office and fines of up to $10,000. The violation is not a criminal offense.
“I can’t deny I was at a place I shouldn’t have been,” Millar said, but denied that he tried to use his position to influence West Palm Beach police officers who responded to a call from Rachel’s management Aug. 17, 2009.
Managers told police that Millar was strong-armed out of the club after shining a flashlight on the dancers and refusing to stop. They called police because someone said Millar had a gun. A police search found no gun.
Police wrote in their reports that Millar repeatedly said he was the mayor of South Palm Beach, a former police officer and that he was friends with West Palm Beach Police Chief Delsa Bush and a member of the Palm Beach County’s advisory Criminal Justice Commission.
Millar returned home that night with the tow truck driver who towed his car.
Later, when South Palm Beach officer Swed Savage saw him standing outside his condominium, Millar asked for a ride to the hospital because his neck hurt, according to the reports. The mayor’s request was denied. He was driven to the hospital by paramedics after police called them.
He later phoned police for a ride home and was denied again, the reports said. He called Police Chief Roger Crane, who told Savage he could drive Millar home during his break and in his own vehicle.
“I never did call them and I have a statement that says that (the police officer) suggested he drive me and he called the captain and was told no,” Millar said.
“It’s all documented that I did not call for a ride.”
John Taft, the South Palm Beach resident who filed the complaint, died Oct. 18 before the probable cause finding was made public. Ethics complaints are secret until they are dismissed or probable cause is found, as in Millar’s case.
The ethics complaint is the first to be dealt with of at least six complaints made against South Palm Beach officials by residents battling over the future of the Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn.
Millar said in January he filed complaints against Planning Board members Michael Nevard, Dee Robinson and Pat Festino, accusing them of bias against a proposal to build a 19-story condominium hotel by the owners of the inn.
Inn co-owner Pjeter Paloka has filed complaints against Councilwoman Stella Jordan and Susan Lillybeck, Jordan confirmed. The five complaints remain unresolved.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s retaliation for filing ethics complaints against Nevard, Robinson and Festino,” Millar said. “My incident happened more than a year ago.”
Jordan said in a statement that Millar continues to embarrass the town. “I called for the mayor to resign shortly after the Rachel’s incident during the Sept. 22, 2009, council meeting. I was not an elected official at the time and was surprised that a censure, at a minimum, was not proposed. My thoughts have not changed.”