The Coastal Star

Along the Coast: Gift disclosures roll in, under new ethics rules

By Steve Plunkett

Will Palm Beach County’s renewed emphasis on ethics become the Grinch who stole Christmas gifts from municipal employees?
    The Commission on Ethics was set to discuss gift-giving guidelines for town workers and other government employees at its Nov. 30 meeting. A proposed opinion said a holiday gift of cash from someone besides a vendor or lobbyist “is not prohibited provided it is not given in exchange for the past, present or future performance of an official act or a legal duty.”
    “We’re new and this is the first year,” said Alan Johnson, the commission’s executive director. “They’ve never squarely looked at holiday giving where it’s one to one.”
    Some cases are easy to determine, Johnson said.
    “Employee-to-employee is a no-brainer as long as there’s no quid pro quo,” he said. Also, fruit baskets to a town hall should not be questioned, he said.
    What the commission decides will be posted on its website, www.palmbeachcountyethics.com, which also has collected its first round of gift forms from municipal employees and officials. Nine individuals from Boca Raton to South Palm Beach submitted forms, far fewer than the 43 just from the town of Palm Beach Police Department.
    Persons filing the form are asked to describe “each gift, the value of which you believe to exceed $100, accepted by you in the calendar year.”
    Forms from the southern coastal communities included:
     • Delray Beach City Commissioner Adam Frankel, $150 for an entry to the 2011 Habitat Golf Classic from Paradise Bank, $300 worth of Miami Heat tickets from contractor Charles Mishner, $250 for a ticket to the CJ Foundation Gala from developer Cito Beguristain, $175 worth of gala tickets from the Sandoway House, $3,550 worth of tickets to the Delray International Tennis Championship from the event, a $150 ticket to the 4 Kids Gala from Paradise Bank, $150 worth of golf at the Habitat for Humanity tournament from Paradise Bank and $2,350 worth of tickets to last year’s Chris Evert Pro-Celeb Tennis Classic from Chris Evert Charities;
    • Delray Beach City Commissioner Tom Carney, $325 for tickets to this year’s Evert Classic.
     • Delray Beach City Manager David Harden, $1,233 for tickets to the International Tennis Championship;
     • Boynton Beach then-Assistant City Manager Lori Ann LaVerriere, $250 for two tickets to a Chamber of Commerce dinner dance from accountant Donald Porges;
     • Boynton Beach Planning Commissioner Sandra Greenberg, $150 for a gala dinner from the Mary Louise Berger campaign;
     • Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi, $1,620 worth of tickets to Miami Dolphins football games from resident James McAndrew;
     • Ocean Ridge police Sgt. Robert McAllister, $805 worth of tickets to a Dolphins game from McAndrew, and reserve officer Steve Shoiock, $810 worth;
     • Manalapan Police Chief Clay Walker, $200 in gift cards from resident Peter Blum.
    No one in Boca Raton, Highland Beach, Gulf Stream, Briny Breezes or South Palm Beach disclosed a gift.
    Ocean Ridge’s town attorney is researching whether the town should give its employees a year-end bonus.
    In Gulf Stream, Civic Association President Bob Ganger said the town’s 17 employees could expect their usual gift. The association collects money from residents who want to give something, then divvies it up among the workforce.
    “No one in town who receives the gifts knows who gave them,” he said.
Ganger called the association’s anonymous method of gift-giving “kind of a template” for other communities and one that has been thoroughly reviewed by Town Attorney John “Skip” Randolph.
    “We have no record of who gave; we have no record of how much they gave. It all goes into a pile,” Ganger said.
    And the spirit of the gift is well-meant, he added.
    “People in the town really do appreciate the service they get from the employees in town,” Ganger said.

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