Fla. Senate minority leader to Abruzzo: Don’t back down

TALLAHASSEE – Wellington Democratic state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo got some high-level help Tuesday when Minority Leader Chris Smith voiced public support for two Abruzzo-backed audits in Palm Beach County.

Smith opened Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus urging Abruzzo, “don’t back down” in the face of criticism of his audit demands for the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics.

“It’s tough when you’re investigating people,” Smith said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon. “You come under fire. It’s par for the course when you’re doing the right thing …

Abruzzo featured
Fla. state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo

“You get attacked when you weed out corruption.”

Smith’s comments came amid a Palm Beach County public spat pitting Abruzzo against the county’s ethics commission over an audit Abruzzo sought by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

Criticizing the audit, Ethics Commissioner Ronald Harbison went public with allegations that Abruzzo initiated the action after a former aide was passed over for the Ethics Commission executive director post.

On Tuesday, Abruzzo said he had concerns about the ethics before the aide, Philip Massa, even sought the job, and released a letter to Ethics Commission Chairman Michael Farach outlining Abruzzo’s timetable of events.

Abruzzo requested the OPPAGA staff to request the audit Feb. 13, the letter states. “To my knowledge, Philip Massa’s interview took place March 21, 2013,” Abruzzo wrote. “He was officially notified in writing April 1, 2013, that he did not receive the position.”

“It has never been more apparent to me to me that an audit is necessary to obtain information and have a thorough review for how the board conducts itself.

“It is irresponsible that someone in a position representing high ethical standards would make allegations in contradiction to a factual timeline without making any attempt to verify their negative assertions.”

Fla. state Sen. Jeff Clemens
Fla. state Sen. Jeff Clemens

Abruzzo concluded the letter by asking Faruch to meet with him after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Abruzzo also downplayed reports that Sen. Jeff Clemens, who officially requested the audit of the Delray Beach CRA, no longer wanted to be involved. He acknowledged asking Clemens to request the audit and released a separate letter to Clemens stating the audit would go forward under Abruzzo’s name.

“I accept full responsibility for the audit of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency,” Abruzzo wrote. “I will be notifying the committee of the removal of Senate Clemens from any and all audit request and inserting myself asthe sole requester of the audit. The audit of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will proceed as scheduled.”

Clemens was not in his office late Tuesday and did not respond to a message seeking comment.

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