BRADENTON, Fla. - Amid a federal corruption scandal related to bond financings in Palm Beach County, Fla., a local official is suggesting that underwriting firms be selected competitively as opposed to the long-held practice of commissioners selecting the firms that will sell the triple-A rated county's debt.

The new selection procedures, and a proposed debt-management policy, have been forwarded for county commissioners to review by county administrator Bob Weisman.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive examination of the county's debt issuance practices is under way by Palm Beach County's elected clerk and comptroller, Sharon Bock.

"The clerk and comptroller's review is expected to be complete in early April," Bock's spokeswoman, Julie Rosborough, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Bock's review was undertaken after federal charges were pressed against former county commissioner Mary McCarty and her underwriter husband Kevin McCarty earlier this year.

Pprosecutors charged Mary McCarty with using her influence to steer lucrative bond business to the various underwriting companies for which her husband worked. The bond deals in question involve several entities in Palm Beach County, but none approved by the county commission.

"The commission is waiting for the county clerk to come in with a report," Weisman said in an interview. "I prepared suggestions for the board to consider with the intent of considering them once we get the clerk's recommendation."

Weisman's proposed new underwriter selection policies, prepared by the county's debt management staff and financial adviser, would require underwriters for negotiated bond offerings to be sought by a competitive procedure through a request for proposals, which is a practice recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.

The current practice is for commissioners to individually appoint firms to the county's underwriting pool.

Weisman said Bock initiated her own review. He said he did not know what she hoped to uncover.

"We have taken great pains to make sure we do things legally. The selection of underwriters was legal also," Weisman said. "What happened with Mary McCarty and her husband was outside the specific business dealings of Palm Beach County government."

Mary McCarty resigned Jan. 8. In addition to using her influence to steer bond business to her husband's companies, she also admitted taking free or reduced hotel rooms from companies doing business with the county. Both face federal charges and jail time.

Kevin McCarty, who pleaded guilty to withholding information about his wife's crime, will be sentenced March 27. Mary McCarty is scheduled to plead guilty to one count of fraud the same day.

Meanwhile, the seven-member county commission may have to work on bond policies with two new members.

Last Friday, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Boca Raton attorney Steven L. Abrams, 50, to replace Mary McCarty on the commission. Abrams takes his place on the dais on Tuesday. He was mayor of Boca Raton when, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, anthrax was discovered in the American Media Inc. building, killing a photo editor.

On March 6, commissioner Addie Greene announced that she would resign from office April 30 for health reasons. Crist is taking applications from candidates interested in filling her term.

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