Aaronson gambles on slots

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In a surprise move at Tuesday’s Palm Beach County Commission meeting, County Commissioner Burt Aaronson waited for commissioner comments to request an ordinance for a ballot referendum on slot machines at pari-mutuels in the county. Aaronson said the ordinance needed to be on the Dec. 6 meeting agenda in order to have two public hearings prior to the beginning of the legislative session in January, when gambling issues will be considered.

The ordinance request comes in response to a bill, already endorsed by the Palm Beach County legislative delegation and proposed by state Rep. Joe Abruzzo, that would put a slots referendum on the November ballot. The measure would add slot machines to the dog racing operation at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Local bills generally pass without opposition, but numerous gambling proposals are on the agenda for this year’s session, and it may prove to be a contentious issue.

Also contentious, at the County Commission level, was a proposal raised Tuesday to add six new positions to the Office of Inspector General. It drew vigorous debate and condemnation from County Commissioner Jess Santamaria.

Earlier, on the consent agenda, commissioners added the Health Care Districtand Children’s Services Council to the inspector general’s watch. But 15 municipalities have filed a complaint over joining the watchdog’s area of scrutiny, raising concerns over the availability of future funding for positions committed for municipal oversight.

Gulf Stream, Tequesta, Riviera Beach, Jupiter, Delray Beach, Palm Beach Shores, Manalapan, Wellington, Mangonia Park, Palm Beach Gardens, Highland Beach, Lake Park, West Palm Beach, Ocean Ridge and Boca Raton are all contesting the county’s funding requirements for inspector general oversight. Their complaint argues that the “funding mechanism is unlawful and unenforceable against the municipalities,” and they are refusing to pay for the program.

Aaronson said the inspector general should not hire more staff if the agency is unsure the funding will be available to pay for the positions. Santamaria disagreed, making reference to the taint of “corruption county” and saying there are “forces in Palm Beach County don’t want to be watched.” Commissioner Karen Marcus said the municipalities had already agreed to the funding formula, and it was wrong for them to now complain.

After a motion that the issue be postponed for 30 days to allow for review of the newly filed municipal complaint, Joe Doucette, chief of administration for the inspector general, objected that the positions needed to be filled now in order to fulfill the responsibilities required by a voters’ referendum extending the agency’s reach to all 38 municipalities and the two newly added agencies. The mandate is set to take effect in January.

Nonetheless, the postponement was approved, with Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Steven Abrams and Santamaria dissenting.

In other business, Commissioner Shelley Vana was selected by her colleagues as the board’s new chairwoman, and Abrams was selected as the vice chairman. Vana thanked the board and acknowledged the diversity of the commissioners’ professional backgrounds, and especially the institutional history of outgoing Commissioners Marcus and Aaronson.

Not to be rushed out the door, Marcus noted that she’s “not leaving yet,” because there is still another year of work to be done.

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