By Tim Pallesen
Delray Beach has dropped out of a lawsuit to determine how cities pay for the county Inspector General’s Office.
“The Inspector General has been instrumental in helping us focus on best practices,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said in explaining the City Commission’s unanimous April 6 vote. “This sends a signal that we appreciate what they have done for us.”
The Inspector General has acted like an external auditor for the city since Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia were elected in 2013 promising more fiscal responsibility in city government.
The lawsuit by Delray Beach and 13 other municipalities was filed after county voters approved the Inspector General’s Office as a watchdog agency in 2010.
Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson ruled against the cities on March 12, emphasizing that she didn’t want to overturn what voters want.
Delray Beach would pay $150,000 annually under the disputed funding formula. City commissioners said the watchdog agency is well worth that cost.
The 13 remaining municipalities still appealing the circuit court ruling include Gulf Stream, Manalapan, Ocean Ridge, Boca Raton and Highland Beach.
Unlike Delray Beach, support to stay in the lawsuit was strong by officials in those coastal towns.
“The judge’s ruling is just the first step,” Manalapan Town Attorney Keith Davis said. “I don’t think anyone truly believed this would be settled at the lower level. It was always going to the appellate court.”
Davis, who also represents four other Palm Beach County municipalities, said the coalition still thinks the law is on its side — a belief echoed by Ocean Ridge Town Attorney Ken Spillias.
“The judge did not take anything from either of the orders from either side in this case,” Spillias said. “She made her own order and, at least in the opinion of the attorneys for the cities, she made a significant legal error.”
Spillias advised Ocean Ridge commissioners to stay in the suit, saying the ruling’s precedent could shift the balance of power and cause problems for cities in the future.
“Our specific concern is that this decision reconfigures the relationship between counties and cities,” Spillias said. “It shifts a significant amount of power to the counties that they have not had before.”
Gulf Stream Vice Mayor Robert Ganger cautioned commissioners not to misinterpret Delray Beach’s withdrawal from the lawsuit.
“Delray’s decision was very particular to Delray,” Ganger said. “It shouldn’t change what we’re trying to accomplish. We need to stay in.”
By Tim Pallesen