Full Slate to Oppose Sitting Council Members

Palm Beach Gardens elections in recent years have been predictable affairs. Because of the power they wield over businesses and residents alike, the incumbents have an enormous advantage. Campaign contributions, access to supporters in the gated communities, endorsements by other insiders – these advantages are sufficiently daunting to discourage challenges or weaken opponents that do come forward.

In 2013, Joe Russo was unopposed for re-election, as were Marcie Tinsley and Bert Premuroso in 2011. Eric Jablin and David Levy both drew challengers, but the built-in advantage of incumbency and name recognition helped them win with comfortable margins of 63% and 57% respectively. Low turnouts, combined with the concentration of voters in a few precincts, make the contests an insiders game. BallenIsles alone, with 6% of the registered voters accounted for 17% of the votes cast – and 79% went to the incumbent in 2013, 94% in 2011.

2014 is shaping up to be a wholly different matter. While there are other issues, the secretive and somewhat arrogant way the city (both staff and council) has approached the stadium proposal is provoking a backlash against the current council. Challengers have emerged to run against all three of the incumbents, and it is likely that the organizing done in opposition to the stadium location will change the dynamics.

Kevin Easton

In group 1, current Mayor and two term councilman Bert Premuroso is facing Kevin Easton, president of the PBG Neighborhood Coalition and 2011 council candidate. Mr. Easton is a Pratt & Whitney retiree, active in many community organizations, and a regular participant in the monthly council meetings. As a landowner in the 40th Street and Sunset area, he has organized his neighbors to push for infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood since it was annexed by the city. He opposed the communications tax and the rewriting of the city charter (which failed on the ballot in 2012), opposes the city’s involvement in the Inspector General lawsuit, and the way the stadium has been handled.

Michael Peragine

In group 3, Vice-Mayor and 21 year councilman Eric Jablin is opposed by Mirabella HOA president Michael Peragine. Mr. Peragine is a venture capitalist and owns a web-hosting firm. Opposed to the stadium location, he is responsible for the “movethestadium.com” website, and thinks the proposal has been mishandled by the city. His opponent, in office for 21 years, he feels is “out of touch” with the residents.

Robin Deaton

In group 5, newest council member Marcie Tinsley, elected in 2010 after the resignation of Jody Barnett, is faced by Bent Tree activist Robin Deaton. Ms. Deaton, an engineer with the South Florida Water Management District with a background in manufacturing engineering, environmental compliance and corporate finance, lives in Bent Tree near the site of the proposed stadium. In response to the perception that the city was moving forward with the stadium over the objections of her neighbors, she has been collecting petitions in opposition, and speaking at council meetings. She is unconditionally opposed to the proposed location for the stadium, and seeks more transparency on the council and effective oversight of city manager and staff.

Kevin Easton and Michael Peragine both sit on the board of “Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits”, chaired by former council candidate James D’Loughy. The group seeks to put a term limits amendment on the November 2014 ballot.

Former Mayor Castigates Council on Stadium Actions

Michael Martino, former Mayor and Gardens Councilman for many years, has been sending written questions about the stadium to the City Council, and so far has received no answers. In his latest letter, included below, he takes issue with the perceived arrogance and disrespect which the Council has directed toward those who object to the proposal.

As it has always been our experience that questions to Council or staff on most things are answered in a timely fashion, the stonewalling that Mr. Martino has received suggests that the behind the scenes maneuvering on the stadium is anything but business as usual.

The following is the full text of Mayor Martino’s latest letter to Council:

Michael Martino
320 Balsam Street
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida 33410

December 12, 2013

To Mayor and City Council:

As a Mayor and City Councilman for the City of Palm Beach Gardens I probably participated in over 1500 meetings during the course of my twenty years of service on behalf of the residents of the City. When I served the public had much more access to their City Council. Four meetings per month were held, two regular meetings and two workshop meetings, not one per month as is currently practiced. I have not attended a Palm Beach Gardens council meeting in probably close to 10 years until recently.

Owing to my interest in the City initiated baseball stadium complex proposal off Central Boulevard I attended the recent November 7th and December 5th City Council meetings. I really wish I had not. I was deeply disappointed in how those meetings were conducted. It was not the Chairman; it was not the manner, or the methods, or even the rules but rather the atmosphere and the attitude.

At the very least at these two meetings, especially when discussing, or rather, not discussing the City’s stadium complex proposal, it is my opinion the City Council and its administration embarrassed themselves. Your demeanor concerning information requested by members of the public about the City’s stadium complex proposal was awful. It was at times an insult to the intelligence of those in attendance, condescending, arrogant, and disrespectful.

The Mayor and City Council offered little in the way of substance on the stadium complex proposal. During the November and December meetings the Mayor and City Council flatly refused to answer reasonable questions presented in writing by myself and those asked by many residents at both meetings. Concerning the stadium complex proposal, I am of the opinion the City Council should answer the simplest of the questions that have been raised. This question is not subject to Florida Statutes, does not require traffic studies, does not need a financial analysis, it does not require a deal, and so on. That simple question is…

Mayor and City Council
“Are you “FOR” or “AGAINST” the proposed stadium complex site off Central Boulevard?”

In my opinion, the Mayor and City Council cling to answers, such as, there is no proposal, I know nothing, or I can’t answer that because of Florida State Statute (FS) 288.075 implies I don’t have to. I am hopeful that more than nothing is known after eighteen months of this proposal floating around, and hiding behind FS 288.075 is at best a questionable excuse. The City has not produced any evidence that it has met the intent of FS 288.075 requirements nor has the City publicly displayed any documentation requesting the statutes benefits. Further, parts of FS 288.075 provisions regarding the stadium complex have already been met, thus, the statute may not even be relevant.

Even though it is your responsibility to do so, the Mayor and City Council choose not to answer reasonable questions about the stadium complex proposal. Members of the City Council even deny in newspaper articles that a City initiated stadium complex proposal exists and reaffirmed those denials directly into the faces of the residents that attended the December 5th City Council meeting.

Since the City Council chooses not to answer reasonable questions about the stadium complex proposal and even is denying a proposal exists, than let me offer some facts…

  1. The City of Palm Beach Gardens hired a Public Relations firm to promote a stadium complex proposal for a baseball Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard at a cost of $60,000 in taxpayer money.
  2. Starting at least as far back as July of 2013, the City‘s $60,000 Public Relations firm and various unnamed City officials have made several presentations to various business entities and private organizations about a Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard. A stadium complex site plan proposal and other information offered insights concerning this Spring Training complex to these organizations.
  3. On October 16th, 2013 at the Doubletree Hotel on PGA Boulevard the City advertised and hosted a full blown public presentation complete with poster boards highlighting pertinent information and site plans for a stadium complex proposal off Central Boulevard. Also, on display was financial information, traffic information, tourism information, etc. Answering questions for the 300 or so persons who attended were the City Manager, other City department heads and officials, the City’s $60,000 Public Relations firm, Palm Beach County officials, and other pertinent parties. Also, in attendance welcoming the attendees was the owner of the Houston Astros baseball team, one of the teams interested in the stadium complex proposal site as their Spring Training facility.
  4. An editorial on November 16th, 2013 the Palm Beach Post gave thumbs up to “the proposed location for a spring training stadium in Palm Beach Gardens” off Central Boulevard.
  5. Also on November 16th in an article in the local section of the Palm Beach Post a Gardens council member is quoted as saying “I would love to be able to tell you what my position is” and continued, “At this point, there is no proposal to base a decision on”. Illustrated in this same article as this quote is a site plan proposal of a “Proposed two-team baseball stadium site” off Central Boulevard in the Gardens.
  6. On the City of Palm Beach Gardens official website under “Important Links” is a link, “Baseball proposal FAQs”, that transports one to a post titled Spring Training Baseball. This post clearly delineates a site plan for a stadium complex off Central Boulevard in the Gardens. Under this site plan is the declarative sentence, “The City of Palm Beach Gardens is currently considering a proposal for a dual-Major League Baseball Spring Training facility.
  7. A City Council member has publicly stated that a commitment by the teams to the stadium complex proposal is needed by the end of the year. Still another member will not commit until the financial questions concerning the stadium complex proposal have been answered. There is a third member who vehemently denies a proposal exists.

And may I take some further liberties to inform about the following pieces of information that have been circulating…

  1. It has been brought to my attention that a Gardens council member was visiting some of the business establishments along the PGA Boulevard corridor touting the stadium complex proposal and that these businesses would do well to support it.
  2. Reportedly, at a recent meeting of various North County Home Owners Associations the Palm Beach Gardens City Manager was the featured speaker. His subject was the Palm Beach Gardens proposal for a dual-team Spring Training Complex off Central Boulevard. In his company was a representative of the $60,000 public relations firm the City hired to promote the stadium complex proposal. Also in attendance, by mere coincidence I am sure, were certain City Council members. At least one of these Council members commented on the presentation concerning the stadium complex proposal by the manager. It may have been raining that day so the Florida Sunshine Law may have been washed away.
  3. One City Council member has privately stated to city residents that the handling by the City of this stadium complex proposal has been abominable (may not be the member’s exact word but the meaning is close). Yet the member remains publicly mute.
  4. Apparently, the principals of Timber Trace Elementary School and the Watson B. Duncan Middle School principals had a lengthy “informational” meeting on December 4th with the Mayor, the City Manager, the Chief of Police and other city officials. Displayed for the principals were site plan maps, charts, and other information of the proposed stadium complex. It was inferred to me that discussed were such details, as extra security for games held during school hours, parts of the 117th North road will be closed off at all games during school hours, and other elements of the proposed stadium complex as it would be used by the various teams.

So what are we as residents of Palm Beach Gardens to believe? Is a proposal for a stadium complex real or imaginary? Does a proposal exist or doesn’t it? One could make light of all this by asking, “Who is kidding who here?” but this is not a laughing matter. In the City of Palm Beach Gardens a major policy decision has been made to pursue a proposal to build a dual-team Major League Spring Training facility in the middle of a prestigious residential area…

  • directly affecting the property values and the quality of life of the residents of some 1900 homes and many thousands more on the periphery,
  • affecting the safety of the students of two first rate school facilities,
  • destroying a City park,
  • upsetting the tranquility of the City tennis courts,
  • endangering environmentally sensitive land and all the non-human critters that live there,
  • creating more traffic problems for an area of the city that has enough congestion scheduled,
  • and with a price tag pegged at $100,000,000.

When the City Council denies the existence of a stadium complex proposal the council members are at variance with the truth. The City Council denials fly in the face of reality. With each denial that a stadium complex proposal exists the City Council members insult the intelligence of the residents of the Gardens. Each denial calls into question the competence of this City Council and its administration.

The City Council attempts to parse its words. The City Council would have us believe the stadium complex proposal is not a proposal at all but merely a concept. A concept is something conceived in the mind, or a thought. A proposal is an offer to accept or adopt something, or an act. Spending $60,000 to hire a Public Relations firm to market a stadium complex proposal is an act. Creating a site plan for a stadium complex proposal and putting it on paper is an act. Marketing a stadium complex proposal to business organizations, homeowner associations, the public, and creating a link on the City’s website depicting the stadium complex proposal site plans and related information, all are acts

If we are to believe the City Council that they have little or nothing to do with this stadium complex proposal, a major policy decision, than who is responsible? Why was this major policy judgment delegated away by the elected City Council?

By its Charter the type of government that is established for the City of Palm Beach Gardens is a
City Council-City Manager form of government. It is not a City Manager- City Council government. It is my opinion that the City Council has abdicated some, if not all, of their governmental authority and responsibility on the stadium complex proposal issue, and quite possibly others, to the City Manager. That is unacceptable governance and needs corrective measures immediately. 

After their election, City Council members take an oath of office, swearing to represent the trust given to them by the residents of the City of Palm Beach Gardens. The protection of the residents’ health and welfare, and their quality of life, should be the foremost concern for a City Council member as decisions are made on behalf of the residents.

City Council members are elected to serve the residents of Palm Beach Gardens. Council members are not elected to serve any other masters, not Major League Baseball or any of its owners, not Palm Beach County, not the Grapefruit League, not the Tourist Development Board, or any other entities.

Finally, the longer questions go unanswered concerning the stadium complex proposal the more the ugliness of speculation rears its head. Laws of propriety may be called into question. Transparency and openness can be challenged. Ethics become part of the conversation. If the Mayor and City Council were to ask my advice, and I am not holding my breath that you will, I would strongly suggest…

  • a workshop meeting devoted only to the stadium complex proposal to answer the lingering questions surrounding this proposal be publicly advertised and scheduled for January of 2014
  • that the City Council answer the simple question spelled out above and below, sooner rather than later, better yet how about right now…
“Are you “FOR” or “AGAINST” the proposed stadium complex site off Central Boulevard?”

Michael Martino

Now on to topics actually on the December City Council Agenda…

While much time was devoted to the proposed stadium in Public Comment, there were other items on the agenda at the December 5th, 2013 City Council Meeting.

Bus Shelter

Jamie Voss, assistant to the City Manager, took the Council through various alternatives on how bus shelters could be provided for key locations using various funding sources.  She presented four options ranging from $188K to $670 for 12 shelters out of a total of 163 bus stops within the city limits.  Tom Cairnes, speaking for the PGA Corridor Association, preferred one of the options with a single design used throughout.  He also talked about collaboration with Palm Beach State College for design additions and with FPL for solar lighting.  Joel Channing, also from the association but speaking for himself, said he preferred an option with multiple coordinated designs.  Both agreed that the shelters could be used for ‘branding’ the city and making it clear one has arrived at a ‘special place’.  Also speaking was Dr. Whibey – both Chair of the association and Provost for the PBG campus of Palm Beach State College.  She also spoke in support of the collaboration opportunities.

After some discussion, the council voted for Option 1 which would use AIPP (Art in Public Places) moneys for the project.  Most agreed that maximizing the number of shelters which could be built while avoiding spending taxpayer dollars is a good thing.  AIPP is funded by impact fees paid by developers.

Public Comment – other topics

Barbara Grossman spoke about a Palm Beach Post article quoting WPB Mayor Muoio on the All Aboard Florida proposed quiet zones.  Barbara said that neither the state nor All Aboard Florida have the funds to pay for the quiet zones.  So who is going to have to cover them – the taxpayers in the affected cities?

Steven Tarr (sorry if name is incorrect) suggested that the City look into either a tv station or streaming city council meetings.  Discussion veered into the city’s communications strategy, which City Manager Ferris said had been decimated by cuts over the last several years.  TV station – no – but the council did suggest that Mr. Ferris return with what could be done to stream meetings.

Ordinances 16/19, 2013

These ordinances were up for second reading after comp plan changes were approved by appropriate departments in Tallahassee.  Natalie Crowley, Director of Zoning and Planning made the presentation and reiterated that 40% of the city is already set aside for preservation; that these ordinances were not related to a specific project; that the ordinances are not retroactive and that any waivers would have to be approved by the Council.

Vito DeFrancesco, Robin Deaton, Cathy Sorkin and Bruce  Oestreich all spoke on various aspects of the ordinances – reiterating the common perception that these ordinances are being passed now due to the proposed stadium.  Additionally – the residents raised issue with proper notice given on the second reading and errors in Ordinance 19, 2013 referencing a non-existent chapter in the City’s Land Development Regulations.  While the Council did vote on Ordinance 16, 2013 – they decided to pull Ordinance 19, 2013 until January, re-notice it and vote on it (possibly both) again on January 9th, 2014.

Ordinance 20, 2013 – CVS at Military Trail and Northlake

As in first reading, Mayor Premuroso and Councilman Russo recused themselves.  After some discussion on the merits of Royal vs. Sabal palms – the ordinance passed 3:0.

40th Terrace and Sunset Drive update

A short presentation about the ongoing project showed that monthly cost for each parcel would be $267.90.  Sidewalks were not recommended because it would require ‘taking’ of land, leave too little frontage on many lots, and be too expensive.  The 2nd petition to inform and survey owners of projected costs will occur from Nov-Feb 2014 with results to be presented to the Council at the February 2014 meeting.  The Council voted 5:0 to proceed with the 2nd

Stadium Fight Kicks Up a Notch – December Council

Are you for it or against it?

This was the mantra repeated by a dozen or so opponents of the proposed stadium on 117th street, backed up by a sea of red shirts in the audience. Speakers included Bent Tree residents Cathy Sorkin and Bruce Oestreich, Vito DeFrancesco of Shady Lakes, former Gardens Mayor Mike Martino, and Mike Peragine Sr. a former mayor of a northern city.

Cathy Sorkin charged that the city has not shown the residents respect – limiting the information disclosed and proceeding with a project against the wishes of their constituents. She also reported that Roger Dean apparently is running a $1M/year deficit backed by the taxpayers – not something she wishes for the Gardens.

Bruce Oestreich expounded on the history of similar projects in Miami and Homestead that didn’t end well, and suggested the property be used for a regional park (its original purpose) rather than to support a for-profit enterprise with taxpayer dollars for a business that doesn’t care about Palm Beach Gardens.

Ruth Peeples referred to last months session where a parade of boosters – many from outside the city or employees of the city or county, came to speak the praises of the stadium. “Speakers solicited by the city” she claimed.

Mike Martino, referring to the long list of question he sent to the council and staff for which no reply has been forthcoming, said the council has offered little of substance on this issue. They should say if they are for or against it, and then “the people will know what to do.”

Vito DeFrancesco charged that the council and staff have been hiding their role in the project. A public information request he filed for communications between city representatives and the Astros management came back “nothing found” yet “someone” developed a preliminary site plan, did traffic studies, etc. Where is the transparency?

Two realtors Steve Barnes and Marc Schafler both spoke of home value impacts, people moving out, and lack of interest by prospective buyers until the stadium issue is settled.

Other speakers touched on the core issues to the nearby residents – danger to the school children from drugs, alcohol, traffic, scalpers, noise, bright lights and other ills that the stadium would bring.

In response, none of the Council would say how they felt about the proposal, saying they have to keep an “open mind” until a formal proposal is on the table. It was suggested that the sea of red shirts did not represent the city – that many people who support the stadium just didn’t come out tonight. The audience was invited by Mayor Premuroso to “keep coming back each month” to make their views known. Joe Russo suggested that the issue was “bigger than the city” and with the future of baseball in South Florida at stake, the county and state have an interest in the outcome. He may not have meant it this way, but it came across to the audience as “we may be asking you to make a sacrifice for the greater good..”. Perhaps a diminished quality of life and declining property values for “the 5%” is a fair price to pay to save baseball in South Florida?

Many of those opposed to the stadium location wore red shirts. Both councilman Russo and later councilman Jablin, fully knowing the significance of the shirts, jested that they were already dressed for the Christmas festivities (caroling and Christmas bazaar) during the weekend. The residents were NOT amused.

It is clear to an objective observer that this entire issue has been mishandled by the city. Going to the residents first and getting buy-in from those most affected would have avoided the bitter fight that is coming. Instead we got secrecy (the County Business Development Board and Sports Commission and others meeting with the teams out of the public eye), the public statements by the team owner that it is a “done deal” before anyone had heard of it, and a continued lack of information coming from council and staff. The good reputations of the city leaders could be tarnished by this ham-handed approach. And, as one of the speakers so aptly put it: most of the mistakes that a council invariably makes can be easily remedied by repealing an ordinance – building a stadium in the wrong place could do irreparable harm.

Several speakers alluded to the upcoming March municipal election. Given the usually light turnout, if all of the voters of Bent Tree, Shady Lakes, Old Palm and the other affected neighborhoods get out the vote, then Council Members Jablin, Tinsley and Premuroso may have a tougher time getting re-elected unless they start to listen to their constituents.

For other items discussed at the 12/5 Council Meeting, see: Now on to Topics Actually on the December City Council Agenda

Final City Council Mtg of 2013 – Ordinance 16/19 back for 2nd reading!

The December Palm Beach Gardens City Council meeting will be held on Thursday, December 5th at 7pm at City Hall.

The Council asked City Manager Ferris to come back with more details on the status of the proposed Stadium.  While not listed on the agenda, it is possible that his response would fall under the City Manager Report.

  • Ordinance 16, 2013 and Ordinance 19 are back for second reading.  If you recall – many residents believed that the proposed stadium was the reason that this change was being made now – although staff and the Council stated that the stadium could be accomplished without these modifications.  From our summary of the October meeting:

Ordinances 16 and 19 were presented as a single item, since both are necessary in order to accomplish the waiver criteria and 25% set-aside capability.  Director of Planning and Zoning Natlie Crowley presented the ordinances and credited Councilwoman Tinsley’s questions from the September meeting and her involvement with the team in making it a better and more solid set of proposals.  Public comment included – Vito DeFrancesco who was concerned that the comp plan changes could jeopardize wetlands and historic properties. Responses by Councilman Levy and affirmation by Ms. Crowley were that there were federal and state regulations that would prohibit such actions.  Barbara Grossman related the proposed changes to Seven/50. Iris Scheibl was concerned that the criteria would allow almost any project to be approved, whether there were mitigation requirements for governmental entities as there were for private developments and finally – asked if the stadium project be completed without these ordinances. Mike Peragine seconded the question on the stadium. Answers given were that the comp plan changes were not required for the stadium, that they could be applied to other upcoming projects, and that mitigation would still be possible with the comp plan changes. The Council’s vote was 5:0. The Comp Plan change will now go to Tallahassee, where after approval, the two Ordinances will once again appear for 2nd Reading, most likely in the November time-frame.

  • Ordinance 20, 2013 is set for Second Reading.  This item was on the November agenda; rezoning to allow a CVS pharmacy on the NE corner of Military Trail and Northlake.
  • Also on the agenda under Items for Council discussion and action is ‘Neighborhood Improvement Assessment Program for 40th Terrace North and Sunset Drive.

The short form of the agenda can be found here and the full agenda/long form here.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do.  Hope to see you there.