Ethics law drives two to quit Boca Raton advisory board

Two long-time members of Boca Raton’s Community Appearance Board have called it quits, citing in part the difficulties of serving on a municipal advisory panel that falls under the regulations of the new Palm Beach County Ethics Ordinance.

“It is unfortunate that due to the recently passed stringent ethics legislation and the liability implications for those of us serving on regulatory boards, I must resign from this post,” Juan Caycedo, a 22-year Boca Raton resident and eight-year CAB member, said in his letter of resignation.

A. Grant Thornbrough, the CAB’s senior member and a frequent chairman, said in his letter that the burden of the new law and “subsequent opinions renders it impossible to communicate and work with my clients and city staff and still serve on the board without worrying about the appearance of impropriety.”

Thornbrough, a 34-year member of the CAB, said he also wants to “be much more active in my landscape architecture practice in this challenging economy” and spend more time at the second home he and his wife own in Montana.

“Hopefully, I will be in a position to miss a lot of weekly CAB meetings enjoying Yellowstone county in the future,” he quipped.

The CAB is one of the busiest city-appointed committees in Boca, meeting every Tuesday night, almost without a break throughout the year.

Some City Hall observers had feared an exodus of municipal board members when the new county ethics rule took effect. The law was enacted after three county commissioners — Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell and Mary McCarty — were jailed for honest services fraud and a fourth — Jeff Koons — quit after being charged with extortion, perjury and other offenses.

Initially, the law affected only county employees, but it was soon expanded to include all elected and appointed officials in the county’s 38 cities and towns. Most municipal officials frowned when the law was imposed on them, but others saw a clear need, since official misbehavior had also forced two members of the West Palm Beach City Commission to step down.

Boca Raton Deputy City Manager George Brown said that as far as he knows, Thornbrough and Caycedo are the only ones to resign due to the ethics law. He said a third member of the CAB has come to him for advice, as has a member of the City Council. Neither has stepped down, though.

One official opinion clarifying the law’s reach to advisory board members is causing the most consternation, Brown said. Essentially, the opinion says that advisory board members, regardless of licensure, must step down as soon as a project they have worked on comes before the board. The CAB is particularly vulnerable since city ordinance requires all members except one to be state-registered architects, engineers, planners, contractors or real estate salespersons.

Brown said the county law is more restrictive than previous requirements. In the past, CAB members who had worked on a project could continue discussing it with city staff and other board members until it came to a vote, and then that member would have to recuse himself or herself.

Under the new law, “participating in conversations or attempting to influence advisory board members would constitute a misuse of office,” said Alan S. Johnson, Ethics Commission executive director, in a letter to City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser.

Contacted this week, Caycedo said he would gladly continue serving on the board “if the law were not in effect. I enjoy doing it.” Thornbrough’s office was closed for the holiday week.

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