Inspector General launches investigation into West Palm Beach Co - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Inspector General launches investigation into West Palm Beach Communications Chief Elliot Cohen

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - West Palm Beach Communications Chief Elliot Cohen is back in the headlines.

More than one month after a series of controversies put the former city spokesman in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, the FOX 29 Investigators have learned the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General has decided to launch a full investigation into allegations that Cohen operated his private public relations business during city work hours.  

The IG also has unanswered questions about how Cohen released several classified police emails on the city's public website, according to IG John Carey.

Earlier this week, the city filed a 46-page report with the IG explaining the email controversy and what changes were made following the postings.  In the report, West Palm Beach City Administrator Jeff Green described the email fiasco as a "breakdown" in the application of the city's public records policy.  The report also detailed how Cohen's side job as a PR crisis specialist did not violate any of the city's current policies since Cohen often works a "flexible" work schedule.  

In response to the city's report, the IG could have ended the inquiry, asked for additional information or launched a full investigation.  According to Inspector General John Carey, they have decided to launch an investigation because there are still, "unanswered questions."  An investigation means the IG has assigned an investigator to the case.  

Back in September, Cohen faced heat after, he says, he didn't realize several emails he posted on the city's website contained top secret police information including details about upcoming undercover operations, the names of undercover agents and the names of a few confidential informants.  The emails were a part of the city's response to a public records request submitted by Contact 5 Investigator Katie LaGrone following questions over why many of the city's surveillance cameras weren't working.

In response to our request, Cohen posted the emails on a new city web page, dubbed, "#transparency."   At the time, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said it was originally her idea to start posting record responses online in an attempt to be more transparent with the public.  After the emails went public, the city quickly took down the web page and has discontinued it indefinitely.

Following the release of these emails, local police union president John Kazanjian called for Cohen's termination.  Mayor Muoio has always stood by Cohen stating it was not his responsibility to redact the emails and the controversy was the result of a "breakdown" in the process.  The mayor apologized for the mistake. Cohen decided to step down as the city's spokesman but remains at the city's communications cirector.  He no longer handles any public records requests.

The IG initiated its inquiry after receiving two complaints about Cohen specific to these recent controversies he was involved in.  Inspector General Carey did not specify what more they are looking for, explaining any ongoing investigations are confidential.  

West Palm Beach City Manager Jeff Greene said they are fully cooperating with the inspector general's office and will provide any additional information that is requested.

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