Council Candidate Forum Synopsis

On February 25, PBG Watch, along with the South Florida 912 and the Palm Beach County Tea Party, Taxpayer Action Board, the Palm Beach Gardens Residents Coalition, and the Republican Club of the Northern Palm Beaches hosted a candidate forum for the City Council election. In Group 3, Vice Mayor Eric Jablin was invited and initally indicated his participation, but he would not return our calls for confirmation and ultimately decided not to attend. Despite the empty chair, his opponent Michael Peragine, was able to contrast his views with Mr. Jablin’s and should give you an idea of where they stand.

A Word about the Video

The video of the event, recorded for youtube by Steve Tarr, can be viewed in full HERE. The video icons in the table below are links into the full video that start at the question of interest. If you have trouble viewing any of it, you can click on the “youtube” link under the video frame and view it there using the index provided.

In Group 5, Councilwoman Marcie Tinsley and challenger Robin Deaton filled out the slate.

Moderated by Dennis Lipp, former Vice-Mayor of Loxahatchee Groves and a member of the County Planning Commission, the candidates were asked a set of questions about current issues facing our city, some of which proved to offer a real choice between the candidates.

Present for the forum (and keeping them honest) was former Councilman and now County Commissioner Hal Valeche, and Gardens Mayor Bert Premuroso, along with former Commissioner Karen Marcus and former Mayor Mike Martino.

The meeting was kicked off by PBGWatch Organizer Fred Scheibl, who introduced the leaders of the other sponsoring groups including Shannon Armstrong, founder of South Florida 912, Mel Grossman, President of Palm Beach County Tea Party, Kevin Easton, President of Palm Beach Gardens Resident’s Coalition, and Iris Scheibl, co-founder of the Taxpayer Action Board (TAB), PBC Tea Party and PBG Watch. Timekeeping duties were performed by Barbara Grossman.

The event was well-attended with all seats taken and the library’s large room filled to capacity with standing room only. See Council’s procedures come under fire at forum for the Palm Beach Post article on the event.

Below you will find a summary of the event, with the questions that were asked, and a link to a video of that section of the forum.

Forum Questions
Opening Statement:

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: I do venture capital and volunteer as president of Mirabella HOA. Running on “3 T’s”: Term limits, Transparency and Trust.

Marcie Tinsley: I have 26 years in land planning and government process, and design residential, commercial, parks. VP of Karl Corporation, experience with multi-million dollar budgets, prior to the council, was on BOD and committees of Evergreen HOA, and proudly serve my city.

Robin Deaton: I hope to convince you that I have a good understanding of the problems and challenges that face our community. Engineering background and 23 years experience in the business world, approach problems from analytic perspective, working through problems to their solution. Wife and mother of 2, soft place in my heart for the older generation, will work hard to earn your trust.

Question 1: Growth in Spending – With property valuations starting to rise again, there is less pressure this year on programs and tax rates. Assuming we see increasing valuations in future years, how can we prevent the explosion of spending that occurred during the last period of rising property values? What can you say to the employees who want raises and the special interests that want more funding for their programs?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you need to spend it. As property values go up, taxes go up – what we need to do with the money is address pension issues, and fire and police haven’t received a raise in 5 years. Had an F pension rating, now only a D. Opposed to raising taxes but need to do pensions and raises, then maybe decrease the millage rate.

Marcie Tinsley: We haven’t increased the millage rate in the 3 years I’ve been in office. 5 year plan calls for millage reduction. Been known as independent thinker and fiscally responsible, been in office in tightest economy ever. We cut pension liability by $12M. Did negotiate new fire and police contracts that include some raises.

Robin Deaton: Have experience with budgets, would stop the pay raises for council members – a part time job with full time benefits.

Question 2: Non Ad-Valorem Taxes and Fees – In 2011, a 233% increase in the communications tax affecting all households and businesses in the city was enacted, to 3.5%. A partial justification cited was that other cities in the county levy higher rates on more types of services than just communications. Do you favor shifting the balance away from ad-valorem taxes towards more user fee and consumption tax type arrangements? Please elaborate.

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Done in non-transparent way – council denied it was a tax increase. Not opposed to shifting revenue to fee-based, as long as property taxes go down in a compensatory fashion.

Marcie Tinsley: We have received advice from our financial advisers to diversify our tax base. The proposal was to raise it to 5.25% but we as a council rejected that and raised it only to 3.5%. We don’t have other utility taxes and this enabled us to have a triple-A bond rating.

Robin Deaton: Consumption taxes do diversify the revenue stream but they are minor compared to ad-valorem which generates 60% of the city revenue. My opponent approved the communications tax while saying that there were no tax increases.

Question 3: Incentives – Attracting businesses and jobs to the city can be approached in a number of ways. One is to provide tax incentives and outright payouts for infrastructure development like the county did with Scripps. Another is to subsidize private business directly. Another way is to make the city attractive as a place to create or expand a business by reducing the tax burden and simplifying the permitting process. What is your preferred approach to economic development?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Very much for incentivizing business to come or stay here, but not with direct funding.

Marcie Tinsley: Need many economic development tools in our toolbox. I supported an ordinance to provide tax and other incentives. We’ve also streamlined the permitting process. I supported our recent customer service training for city employees to make it easier to do business with the city.

Robin Deaton: All cities want to attract business but the first thing to do is determine what kind of business. We should reach out to the companies already here, find out who their customers and suppliers are, and reach out to them. We can’t continue to lose opportunities like the 400 jobs at Wackenhut that moved to Jupiter.

Question 4: Beeline Flyover – Recently, the Council registered their unanimous opposition to the state proposed flyover at Beeline and Northlake, citing opposition by PGA National residents and a desire to discourage growth in the western area. Yet, traffic is bad now and increased rail traffic in the future will make it worse. What should be done about this intersection, and how can the city affect DOT plans?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: I would not be for a project that the majority of PGA National is against, just like I defended the neighborhoods around the baseball stadium. DOT needs to figure a way to fix the traffic problem. Very much against massive development on Vavrus which would cause too much traffic on PGA Blvd.

Marcie Tinsley: Building a massive bridge next to a subdivision of 5000 homes is not the right thing to do and opens up the floodgates to western development. Agree with Mike – 7000 homes in Avenir is way too much. Opposition gives us a seat at the table at the MPO and with DOT.

Robin Deaton: Need to clarify my position – I am neither in favor nor against the flyover. Linking the flyover to western development is a red herring – flyover is intended to alleviate the existing traffic in the area and address the accidents that occur at that dangerous intersection. My issue is with the way it was brought up at the council when my opponent brought up the issue in the middle of the motion to adjourn after most of the residents had left the meeting. She has some explaining to do.

Question 5: Western Development – Proposals for development in the western areas such as Avenir at Vavrus and the Minto Callery Judge Groves site greatly exceed allowable density in the city and county comprehensive plans, and will affect the city as well as the surrounding region. Without getting into specific issues regarding these developments that may come before the Council, please comment on western development in general, and your view of the balance between density, the environment and the quality of life in PBG.

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: There is 1.5M sqft of business that will create jobs (at Avenir), that’s the good part. It is the 7600 homes and 15-20,000 residents that is the problem.

Marcie Tinsley: In 26 years, seen good development and bad development, normally developers need to “pay to play” regarding infrastructure, but in this case the flyover will build the capacity to enable the density they seek. There will be impact from Callery Judge Groves and others and although without jurisdiction, we can influence through the county and TCRPC. Brought the flyover up under items of council discussion, which is the appropriate place in a public hearing process. The actual vote on the resolution will be in the March council meeting.

Robin Deaton: We are in agreement on Avenir. Vavrus zoned rural and density proposed is 19 times what is zoned and I will not support it. Need to make responsible decisions about any undeveloped land left in PBG.

Question 6: Sustainable Development – The county has adopted the “sustainable development” agenda that promotes urban concentration over suburban development, mass transportation, and other “green” issues, starting with the premise of rapid population growth in South Florida, and the city has adopted some aspects of the agenda. Some would say that this will result in erosion of property rights and limits to the way we are allowed to live our lives. What is your understanding of “sustainable development” (aka “Seven50”) and how would you deal with the issue on the city level if elected?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: At this point PBC has not adopted a sustainable development plan although concepts have been discussed. At this point I am very skeptical wand would not be in favor of Seven50

Marcie Tinsley: Many ways to achieve sustainability. PBG did not support or become a part of Seven50, but there are ways we have already achieved sustainability – solar power, recycling, mixed use developments. Proposed bus shelter program to promote multi-modal transportation.

Robin Deaton: We live in a democracy and every city should determine its own destiny rather than adopting a specific plan like Seven50 which deals with urbanizing the coastal area. Each development project should be evaluated on its own merits, including its impact on surrounding areas.

Question 7: Trust in Government – Openness and transparency in government is necessary to foster an environment of trust among the public, and the current council has been criticized by the Office of Inspector General and others, for holding unscheduled votes at the end of long meetings after most of the public has left. Renewing the no-bid Waste Management contract, and joining the IG lawsuit are examples of that. Do you agree with this criticism and what would you do to improve the public’s trust in City Government?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Agree 100% there is lack of transparency in PBG. The baseball stadium, whether you were for or against it, it was mishandled in secret, council should not have signed confidentiality agreement but come to the residents. $17M Waste management contract should have been put out to bid, was not on the agenda but voted on late at night after people had left the room. The important items need to be brought to the front of the meeting.

Marcie Tinsley: 100% support the IG but we joined the lawsuit because we don’t agree with “double taxation”. Waste Management contract was approved initially (5 years ago) in an RFP process – this was just an allowed extension. It saved $1M and we have the lowest garbage rate to date. I have track record of transparency – everyone has my number. Gentleman wanted to film council meetings and now we’re doing that.

Robin Deaton: Agree there is a lack of trust in government, first thing I’d do is get elected – that would make a big improvement. Backroom deals must stop and the Sunshine law should be followed. Marcie pushed the limits last week by bringing a fellow councilman to an HOA meeting and commented on city matters. Either doesn’t understand the sunshine law or has blatant disregard for it.

Question 8: Stadium Process – Over the last year, the one issue that generated the most controversy in the city was the matter of the stadium proposal for 117th street. Public opinion was divided – business interests supported it, neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity did not, but many residents wanted to hear a full proposal before deciding. The way the city conducted the process – in secret and through misleading statements by both staff and Council, was a large part of the problem. How could this have been handled better?


Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: It was completely done backwards. NCNC, representing 30,000 residents found out about it in the newspaper when it was said to be 95% done. Business community knew every detail about it but the residents knew nothing. City continued to say there is no baseball, even when they passed the ordinance exempting the city from the uplands provision, which was needed for the stadium.

Marcie Tinsley: Ms. Deaton thinks she can get elected on this topic, but the stadium was a $50M development opportunity brought to us by the Business Development Board. These projects have to be handled in a particular way. Companies involved are competitive and want and need confidentiality, gave teams to December for proposal but did not have one at that time. Did our own site plan to see if it would work and invited the city to a workshop to evaluate it. It was clearly not the right site for baseball and we voted against it.

Robin Deaton: It’s the issue that got me involved, but there is the larger issue of how the city handled the stadium debacle. First – I would have been straightforward from the beginning, had a town hall meeting to get resident input, not a dog and pony show to sell it. Would have used a third party economic study, not one paid for by the team. Would have involved the surrounding communities and the two schools that would be directly affected. Would have decided on what’s best for the residents and the city.

Question 9: Inspector General Funding – The voters overwhelmingly approved the Inspector General and Ethics Ordinances and their application to municipal as well as county government. 15 cities (now 14) including Palm Beach Gardens have sued the county over the planned IG funding mechanism, but many would say it is an attempt to thwart the wishes of the voters. While the lawsuit is being litigated, some municipalities have entered into MOUs with the county to pay their assessments in the meantime and not hamper the operation of the OIG. Would you support an MOU for Palm Beach Gardens? Should the city withdraw from the lawsuit? Please elaborate.

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: PBG needs to withdraw from the lawsuit immediately. The cities not paying are trying to cripple the IG. Agree we should start paying.

Marcie Tinsley: I support the IG 100%. We agreed with the original .25% of contracts and were willing to pay that. It is a case of double taxation without representation. County changed the mechanism and sets a precedent where they could charge us for other things. Taxpayers are paying twice for the same thing. We are required us to pay for third party auditor as well. We suggested not paying for the IG audit function.

Robin Deaton: I believe in city government being accountable to the residents and the OIG performs a very important function. Creation of the OIG passed with 72% of the vote and it is important to people. I support an MOU so the city can pay their fair share. We should also join Wellington in dropping out of the lawsuit.

Question 10: Term Limits – Currently, a local group is circulating a petition to place a term limits amendment for Palm Beach Gardens on the November ballot. There are term limits for state representatives, as well as county commissioners. Do you favor term limits for City Council as well? Why or why not?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: 100%, we need term limits in Palm Beach Gardens. I have an opponent who has been in office 22 years and asking for 3 more – a quarter of a century – that’s a long time. When someone gets in office they become beholden to special interests – just look at how many signs my opponent has on PGA Blvd – all those businesses he’s been approving. Just look at his contributions – all special interests, land use attorneys, developers, people who sit in front of the council and get approvals. My contributions include not $1 from special interests. President only gets 8 years, why do councilmen take decades to learn their job?

Marcie Tinsley: I think we will all agree on this issue, but should be reasonable terms. I’ve been in office for 1 full term and have so much more I want to do. Ultimately it is something our residents should decide.

Robin Deaton: Wholeheartedly believe in term limits. City council is about serving the community, it is not a career. If elected I will put term limits on the council agenda. In the work world, it doesn’t take 3 or 6 years to learn a job – get a performance review after a year or six months, if you can’t function in a year, it is pretty hard to stay employed.

Question 11: Rail Crossings – With the coming of increased rail traffic from the TriRail expansion and All-Aboard-Florida, there will be more frequent traffic stops at crossings in the city and more overall noise. It appears that the city will have to pay for any crossing improvements, such as sound barriers. What options do you see for this problem?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: First priority should be to protect the safety of the residents. MPO has already pledged $6.6M, should pursue TIGER grants and the county is working with the legislature to obtain additional funding. Need to get some studies done immediately.

Marcie Tinsley: Hot topic for a while. FECI is private. Being on TCRPC and MPO, have talked to many involved. FECI will be paying for some infrastructure improvements but quiet zones need to happen. Looking at opportunities like TIGER Grants (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery – originated with the federal stimulus bill), need to work cooperatively with Jupiter and county over shared crossings and make sure we don’t burden our taxpayers, yet get quiet zones implemented at the same time FECI is making their improvements.

Robin Deaton: A complex problem and we are not in it alone, need to work with neighbors and consult with experts in traffic and noise.

Question 12: Fire / Rescue – Some cities (Jupiter for example), contract with the county for Fire/Rescue services, rather than maintaining their own department. Do you favor such an arrangement for Palm Beach Gardens. Why or why not?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Only in favor if taxes go down or level of service goes up.

Marcie Tinsley: Came up in my first month in office. Have excellent quality of service with our fire department, residents went ballistic and wanted to keep it in the city. Looked into it, did not save us money. Would have new MSTU but retain pension liabilities. Willing to revisit in the future.

Robin Deaton: Generally good idea to partner but should look at cost impact and quality of service. Could be a viable option, would have to look at the details.

Question 13: Would you spend money to revitalize PBG Neighborhoods (eg. Palm Beach Gardens Estates) (Audience Question)

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: You’d be shocked to know this area is part of PBG, sidewalks buckling, serious problems, code violations, etc. Don’t know why it is not being addressed. Should spend money on that part of the city from the increasing tax revenue from increasing valuations.

Marcie Tinsley: Absolutely, if someone brings up an issue we’ll go out and look at it and try to fix it.

Robin Deaton: Know the area and understand the concerns there. Should utilize code enforcement equally and fairly. Another thing – look at budget and prioritize what needs to be repaired.

Question 14: Accountability – The municipal elections typically have about 10% voter turnout, so the winner is elected by less than 5% of the residents. Some seats go unchallenged and are not elected at all. As a Councilman in office under those conditions, how do you decide who you represent? How do you or plan to get input from residents regarding your actions as a Councilman?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: I think Eric Jablin here has by design done a good job to make sure people don’t show up to the polls. A very small group of communities in PBG have control of the elections – it needs to be the whole city. Regarding televising meetings – I was at a meeting where they said it would cost too much – by design, there is an attempt to limit resident involvement in the city. There needs to be much better communications.

Marcie Tinsley: I represent the entire 50,000 people whether they vote or not. I have an open door policy and meet with everybody. My opponent has never voted in a March election and that is sad. When the city was asked to announce the election on the electronic sign I asked the city manager to do so.

Robin Deaton: Did not vote in municipal election but have been moved to run for city council. As a council person you represent your constituents. One way to improve accountability is to broadcast the council meetings. That could increase turnout because people will feel more a part of the city. Council should also hold town hall meetings.

Question 15: Charter Revisions – The city attempted to “clean up” the charter and bring it into compliance with state law and practice with a 2012 ballot amendment which failed. The amendment was criticized as having been developed without a charter committee, and ignoring past proposals. What is the next step and should action be taken prior to the next 5 year review required by the charter? What other charter issues should be considered?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Like the stadium, this failed because of the process. There were items giving the city manager Ron Ferris more power, and other stuff that went beyond clean up.

Marcie Tinsley: We have had charter committees before but they didn’t consider things like term limits. Charter is antiquated – for example, we are not allowed to pay electronically, must cut a check. Failure sometimes gives a gift – in this case a lesson that we tried to do too much. Should have a committee and take baby steps – consider only 2-3 items at a time.

Robin Deaton: Bottom line – charter not in compliance with state constitution, should form a committee of residents and try again.

Question 16: Council Districts (Audience Question) Should we go to a system where each council member is elected by district rather than city-wide?

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Have to think about that.

Marcie Tinsley: End up voting on things affecting entire city so should keep it the way it is.

Robin Deaton: Good question – to do it justice should get resident input through town hall meeting.

Closing Statements

Eric Jablin: Refused to respond to invitation.

Michael Peragine: Need term limits, Eric has been in office a long time. Transparency, no more no-bid contracts. With the council votes mostly unanimous, how can you say that things are not being discussed outside the meetings, telepathy? My experience and qualifications will be a big asset on the council in Palm Beach Gardens.

Marcie Tinsley: Track record as independent thinker, do my homework, go out to the sites, created the neighborhood improvement program giving the means to provide infrastructure, made tough decisions to keep on budget and be fiscally disciplined, reduced unfunded liabilities by $12M, used my experience to make the city a better place. Have many more things I want to do to improve our city and our quality of life.

Robin Deaton: After hearing my position on the issues, I hope you will see that I am sincere, thoughtful and caring and determined to make this city the best city that it can be. Please put me to work to solve our city’s challenges.

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