Ex-Sheriff leaves things to be desired as his legacy, Fla.

By Glenn Henderson
The Palm Beach Post
March 25, 2001

(St. Lucie County, FL) - Question: What do former President Clinton and former St. Lucie County Sheriff Bobby Knowles have in common - besides having "former" before their names?

Answer: legacies that keep getting worse.

Before leaving the White House, Clinton managed to sour his reputation significantly with questionable pardons, commutations and decisions over what furniture to take on his way out.

Knowles left the sheriff's office furniture behind. But two incidents involving thousands of dollars misspent or merely lost have left St. Lucie taxpayers with a bad taste in their mouths and a sense of relief that the Knowles era has passed into history.

Pension boost for underling

During Knowles' final weeks on the job late last year, he gave then-Undersheriff Dennis Williams, who lost his bid to replace Knowles, a $67,000 pension boost that also included five years vesting in a retirement plan.

For Williams, who has been demoted by new Sheriff Ken Mascara, that was a mighty sweet deal. For taxpayers, it was anything but.

Now comes news that Knowles invested about $1.8 million of public money in a bank account that earned less than 1 percent in interest. When Mascara called Riverside Bank to ask about it, the rate suddenly skyrocketed to 5.3 percent.

Now that's service! I'd call my bank and ask the same, but since my holdings don't come close to $1.8 million, I doubt I would have the same success.

When trying to explain the low interest rate to a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Riverside President Vernon Smith said some accounts don't pay as much interest because they aren't charged check fees and other service charges, and he pointed out the benefits of dealing with local banks instead of ones in distant cities.

Hmmmm, very interesting

This piqued my interest, so to speak, so I decided to do what we in the newspaper business call "investigative journalism" - I opened the phone book and placed a call. I immediately hit pay dirt.

I asked the officer at First National Bank what kind of interest rate I could get for - oh - $1.8 million, in an account with unlimited check-writing ability. She suggested an account that carries a minimum balance of $100,000 and an interest rate of 5.1 percent, fluctuating weekly.

As for those nasty service charges, the bank imposes a $15 fee if the balance falls below $100,000 - not exactly enough to scare off someone with $1.8 million to invest.

Why the budget folks working for Knowles couldn't find a better rate than 0.82 percent is curious. He insisted it has nothing to do with the fact he owns a small amount of stock in the bank, or that Smith and the bank's board of directors are longtime Knowles supporters.

What cannot be disputed is this: In both the pension buyout and the Riverside Bank boondoggle, it was Knowles' pals, and not the St. Lucie County taxpayers, who got the sweetest deals.

That's enough to sour any politician's legacy.

And the final insult?

The lost bank interest could easily have paid off Williams' pension "perk."

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