Unclean hands stain County politics

You’ve heard it a hundred times. “What goes around, comes around”.

Those Karmic words may be intruding into former county commissioner Addie Greene’s mind these days. The story broke Saturday that Addie is oh-so upset that some north Palm Beach County businesses have failed to pay a $5 million pledge in payment for her 2006 vote to choose Jupiter for Scripps Research Institute’s new home in Florida.

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Take your mind back to 2006. The county commission was fighting over where to locate Scripps. Would it be Jupiter, or would it be Boca Raton? Addie Greene was the swing vote, meaning her vote would decide the outcome.

So here is what Addie did: she sold her vote to the “highest bidder”, as the Sun-Sentinel editorial page put it. They said, “It was all about who was willing to pay the most for the affections of Commissioner Addie Green, who took full advantage of her status…, making Palm Beach County a laughingstock.” Addie, who is black, announced she would choose whatever location offered her the highest amount of money to help “my black people”. She didn’t really care where Scripps went, but she had opposed the Jupiter site only two months earlier. This bit of blatant pandering, to sell her vote to the highest bidder to benefit her personal causes, was met with outrage or sadness by many.

Her vote wasn’t about merit or the fastest way to spur growth. Boca Raton Mayor Steve Abrams, now a county commissioner, said “The perception was horrible. It feeds into the public’s worst perception of government.” Some saw it as a textbook case of bribery, grounds for Addie’s removal.

In any event, the deal went through, and an outfit called the Paragon Foundation was created to take the $5 million. Addie “indicated she plans to serve on (its) board of directors.”

But now, the people who pledged the money are way behind in their payments, possibly due to the bad economy, so Greene’s Paragon partners in this scheme filed a lawsuit in 2010 to demand payment.

How do these slippery shenanigans strike you? It seems to me that if an elected official is going to sell her vote by striking a Faustian bargain to collect money for her favorite cause, there might just be a tad of taint smeared on that money.

The aftermath is really rich with irony, an incongruity between the expected result and the actual result: a sitting county commissioner solicits the sale of her vote for money, and then complains that she can’t collect. Some folks might say there’s some justice left in the world if the Greene crowd is having trouble collecting their tarnished money. When you strike a devilish deal, anything can happen.

But the business people involved in this “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” affair also need to ponder their role. This is not “business as usual” stuff, it’s “pay-to-play” stuff.

In the expert witness world, this sordid episode in our political history is called the “unclean hands” doctrine. Another way of saying it is “those seeking equity must do equity”. It means if you want to be treated fairly, you must be fair yourself, and you must be mindful of the means you employ if you want to claim the ethical high ground. There is legitimate success and there is improper success.

It appears to me that many of the players in this smelly affair have ample reason to not sleep well at night.

John R. Smith GET AUTHOR RSS FEED

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company. He is a frequent columnist for BizPac Review.
John R. Smith

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