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Interviews, selection expected today for county inspector general

By Fedor Zarkhin, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 08--WEST PALM BEACH -- The seven finalists interviewing to succeed Sheryl Steckler as Palm Beach County's second inspector general bring decades of experience, from undercover work for the FBI to investigating a federal spy agency.

The finalists, six men and one woman, will be grilled today by a seven-member panel in 45-minute interviews. The panel is expected to make its decision the same day.

In addition to audit and investigative experience, the committee will be looking for candidates' commitment to staying in the county, their confidence and their communication skills, said Salesia Smith-Gordon, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission.

Resumes "don't necessarily jive with the person who you meet," Smith-Gordon said.

Steckler's contracts ends June 28. She is leaving after four years as the county's first inspector general to spend more time with her family, who remained in Tallahassee when she took the Palm Beach County j0b. After starting the office from nothing, she ran into stiff opposition from county executives who disagreed with her approach to catching wrongdoing and from 14 cities which sued over the way they are billed for her services and have refused to contribute to her budget. As a result she has never brought the office to the full staffing she envisioned.

The position, created after three county commissioners went to prison on corruption-related charges, is independent of county government but the position is classified as a county employee.

The inspector general is hired for a four-year term by a panel made up of the five-person ethics commission, the state attorney and the public defender but can only be fired under extraordinary circumstances. Although Steckler is paid $150,000, two of the candidates asked for $180,000 as a minimum salary.

In March, the selection committee named nine finalists, but two dropped out: Glenn Prager, Arizona's inspector general, and Bryan Denny, an assistant IG at the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Overseeing 23 full-time staff members and a $2.8 million budget at the local level will be a different kind of challenge for the new inspector general, Steckler said, because most of them have experience working in only one agency at a time. The job calls for watching 41 entities.

Working in the county likely also will involve more contact with residents, Steckler said.

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"When you're at a state or federal government level you're not necessarily out there in the public eye as much," she said.

The committee will interview the candidates on the sixth floor of the county governmental center at 301 N. Olive Ave. The public will have an opportunity to comment after the interviews, at 4:15 p.m.

All seven candidates have experience working for federal agencies, and five of them have worked in inspector general offices, according to their applications. All seven have investigative experience. None of the finalists are local.

John Ballman works in Brussels as a representative of the World Customs Organization. Before that he spent almost 30 years working for the U.S. Customs Service and then for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 13 of them in Miami. Among achievements he cited was the development of global projects resulting in the seizure of more than 1 million counterfeit or dangerous electronics.

John Carey is one of three applicants to have been a head inspector general. For the last eight years he has been the inspector general of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, which does military espionage for the Defense Department. As inspector general, Carey he oversaw investigations and fraud prevention programs.

Neftali Carrasquillo is the only applicant to list municipal, state and federal experience. Since 2013 she has been in charge of a team investigating fraud for the Texas Department of Insurance and before that she spent two years as Albuquerque's inspector general. The bulk of her career, however, was at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, where she oversaw criminal and administrative investigations.

Colleen Conyngham wrote that she has worked for the FBI since 1990. She is now a special agent in charge of an administrative division in Houston , making her responsible for auditing and compliance programs. She touts her experience overseeing investigations of public corruption and fraud that led to convictions of federal employees. In the 1990s, she spent two years as an undercover agent in a health care fraud investigation.

Stephen Dingbaum's resume shows the most experience in inspector general's offices, with 38 years at the Defense Department, State Department, and, for the past 14 years, at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As an assistant inspector general for audit, Dingbaum supervised 36 employees and directed national audits of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's programs.

Gerald Montoya has spent 26 years as an investigator and auditor for federal agencies, including the Defense and State departments. Since 2010 he has worked in Baghdad as head of all the State Department's inspector general office's in Iraq. He also has worked in inspector general offices for the Peace Corps and the Department of Defense.

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Theodore Stehney has worked more than 30 years for the U.S. General Services Administration inspector general's office, which manages and supports federal agencies. He is in charge of a 185-person team that audits the agency.

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(c)2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) at www.palmbeachpost.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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