McCarty charges fallout: County debates bond procedures - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

McCarty charges fallout: County debates bond procedures

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By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-The charges against Mary McCarty and her husband are sending ripples through local governments. Tuesday Palm Beach County commissioners discussed changing the way they do business. And as they did, things got heated.

At issue is the procedure the county uses to selects bond underwriting firms. Right now each commissioner selects a bond firm for inclusion on a list of approved companies. Contracts are awarded on a rotating basis.

Among the charges against Mary McCarty is she used her position as commissioner to steer bond underwriting business to the firm of her husband Kevin. In the charges, federal prosecutors write, "each county commissioner selected bond underwriting firms... without the use of transparently objective criteria."

Tuesday Commissioner Burt Aaronson declared, "I don't want to select a bond underwriter any further. I want it to go through an RFP process." RFP stands for request for proposal. In other words-- putting it out for bid like is done for other county projects.

Other commissioners said they wanted to hear from County Clerk Sharon Bock. In mid-2007, Bock says she warned commissioners and county staff that the system for issuing debt was ripe for abuses.

Now days after the charges were filed against McCarty, Bock says she'll conduct an independent review of the county's bond process. Tuesday most commissioners seemed to welcome the input.

"I think we can find the best practices that other people are doing, and we can implement those," said County Commission Chair Jeff Koons. "We're going to set the policy, that reflects better on us and our staff and our county."

"Commissioner, you know what the problem really is here?" retorted County Administrator Bob Weisman. "The impression the clerk creates is that our staff is somehow less qualified than her staff, and that's just nonsense." Weisman acknowledged the system was manipulated, but said county staff did nothing wrong.

Koons and other commissioners declared they did not mean to slight their staff. The attorney for the clerk's office, Denise Coffman, agreed. "The clerk has not mentioned anything about staff doing anything wrong," said Coffman. "What we're saying is that right now the public's perception is that the system in Palm Beach County is flawed. This is an opportunity for the board to restore public confidence, and that's all we're looking to do."

Again Weisman responded, "By speaking of those 'flaws,' it makes the impression that they happened. It is not correct."

Weisman implied the clerk was trying to use the situation to her advantage.

"No way," Clerk Sharon Bock replied by phone. She said she's just fulfilling her duty as a watchdog for the county. Weisman estimated switching to a bid system for bond contracts could be done in days.

Bock said that may not be the best method for the county. Commissioners asked for recommendations from both staff and the clerk in 60 days.

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