City Council Meeting Thursday April 3rd

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, April 3rd at 7pm at City Hall.

Election results and appointment of the Mayor and Vice-Mayor along with Board Appointments will be first on the agenda.  Presentations will include an All Aboard Florida update, DOT PGA Blvd and Beeline Highway, and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) award.

Two issues of long term importance to residents that arose from last month’s meetingwill be on the agenda:

  • Ordinance 6, 2014 – will reduce the number of petitions required to introduce a citizen-initiated ballot question to 10% from 15% of registered voters voting in the last general election.  This is not technically a Charter change, but a modification to the enabling ordinance about elections.  It only requires that the Council pass it and will not be on the November ballot.  The topic arose as a result of a lawsuit served on the city by the group Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits.  This item is on the Regular Agenda
  • Charter Review Committee – under Items for Council Discussion and Action, there is a chart of the history of prior committees and actions taken/not-taken as a result of their deliberations.  Those of you who have served or participated in prior charter reviews may know how members were selected.

Residents of Sunset Drive and 40th Terrace will be especially interested in Resolution 26, 2014: City Council consideration of certain infrastructure improvements for properties along Sunset Drive, 401h Terrace North and Brenna Lane pursuant to the City Neighborhood Improvement Assessment Program (NIAP) and adoption of an associated special assessment.

Tony Doris of the Palm Beach Post has written an overview of the upcoming meeting here with comments by council member Russo.

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.

2014 Council Election Results – An Analysis

The 2014 municipal elections in Palm Beach Gardens generated a lot of interest – a full 19% of registered voters participated, compared to a more typical 10%.

Congratulations to the winners – incumbents Eric Jablin and Marcie Tinsley.

Group 3

In group 3, 22 year incumbent Eric Jablin was outspent by challenger Michael Peragine, who ran more TV and radio ads. Both candidates did a prodigious direct mail campaign with flyers piling up in mailboxes as the election approached. In the end though, it came down to turning out the vote, and Jablin prevailed, winning by 151 votes (1.9%), with 51.1% of the vote.

Peragine dominated the precincts from NW to SE along I95 by large margins, particularly in the area of the proposed stadium and in his home precinct of Mirabella. Jablin Captured the larger precincts that have traditionally gone for the incumbent – BallenIsles, PGA National, and Frenchman’s (Reserve and Creek). BallenIsles alone delivered 784 votes for Jablin (22% of his total) and saw their turnout increase to 43%, compared to 32% last year.

Turnout was up in most precincts, as the challengers sought out new voters. Precinct 1246 for example, which includes Bent Tree, Old Palm and Shady Lakes turned out 22%, up from 6% last year, and delivered 418 votes for Peragine, 87% of their total. If the relative voter turnout among precincts had been similar to last year, Jablin would have won by a larger margin, 54% to 46%.

Not coincidentally, the two precincts with the biggest increase in voter participation were the home precincts of challengers Robin Deaton (Bent Tree and surroundings – up 267%) and Michael Peragine (Mirabella – up 190%).

Group 3
Strong Jablin Weak Jablin Very Close Weak Peragine Strong Peragine
Click the precinct on the map for vote totals.

Group 5

In group 5, three year incumbent Marcie Tinsley turned back a challenge from stadium opponent and Bent Tree resident Robin Deaton. Much less money was spent on this race compared to group 3, and in addition to a smaller direct mail campaign, the challenger depended on a network of volunteers to reach and turn out voters. At the end of the day, Tinsley prevailed by 617 votes (9.2%), 54.6% to 45.4%.

In her home area of Bent Tree and the neighborhoods around the stadium, Deaton turned out 22% of her precinct and won 87% of them. She was also strong in precinct 1190 (The Isles, Paloma and San Michelle). In other areas she was probably hampered by lack of name recognition. Tinsley captured 79% of her home precinct of Evergreene (15% turnout) and was strong in the incumbent friendly areas of BallenIsles, PGA and Frenchman’s.

Group 5
Strong Tinsley Weak Tinsley Very Close Weak Deaton Strong Deaton
Click the precinct on the map for vote totals.

Tabular Results

Precinct Reg Cast TO% Jablin Peragine M3% Deaton Tinsley M5%
1186 1460 423 29 91 329 22 210 161 43
1188 784 93 12 28 64 30 53 36 40
1190 2448 322 13 98 217 31 203 107 35
1192 1403 206 15 76 116 40 42 162 79
1194 1907 624 33 450 169 73 153 443 74
1238 1571 426 27 210 215 49 177 212 54
1240 2413 555 23 345 206 63 197 310 61
1242 2392 699 29 470 223 68 212 386 65
1244 1454 355 24 207 142 59 140 187 57
1246 2209 494 22 67 418 14 424 62 13
1248 1415 295 21 91 201 31 162 127 44
1250 65 15 23 12 3 80 1 14 93
1252 2279 989 43 784 194 80 265 602 69
1254 435 65 15 39 26 60 23 41 64
1260 1262 194 15 57 132 30 97 95 49
1264 6 0 0 0 0 0 0
1266 450 9 2 5 4 56 4 5 56
1268 269 11 4 3 8 27 7 4 36
1270 8 0 0 0 0 0 0
1272 1843 233 13 83 148 36 113 115 50
1274 1564 198 13 82 115 42 94 102 52
1280 422 54 13 21 33 39 30 19 39
1284 2091 165 8 103 62 62 54 100 65
1288 40 11 28 5 6 45 6 5 45
1290 2076 211 10 82 129 39 103 104 50
1292 58 8 14 6 2 75 3 5 62
1296 626 27 4 13 13 50 13 12 48
1306 8 0 0 0 0 0 0
1310 4 0 0 0 0 0 0
1324 1237 85 7 26 58 31 45 38 46
1326 584 58 10 21 37 36 27 29 52
1340 10 1 10 1 0 100 0 1 100
1352 2031 223 11 94 128 42 106 105 50
1360 845 113 13 46 66 41 58 49 46
1372 138 5 4 2 3 40 2 3 60
TOTAL 37807 7167 19.0% 3618 3467 51.1% 3024 3641 54.6%

Incumbents hold seats with narrow victories

Possible changes to petition requirements for citizen initiated ballot questions

The City Council had a relatively brief meeting on Thursday night.

Police Contract

The item with most financial impact to the city was the ratification of the 3-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), who represent the Gardens Police. The contract provides for a 2.5% rise in base pay over two years, and requires the union to make a contribution to the pension plan. The contract is expected to cost the city about $1M for its 121 Police employees. The Council, each in turn, congratulated both HR and the union for reaching the agreement, and thanked the police force for being patient during the hard fought negotiations.  It was felt that the contract would address expected retirements, allow for promotions from within as well as new hiring and continue to focus on addressing pension funding issues.  Kudos were given to the department for keeping Palm Beach Gardens the safe place it is.

Term Limits Petitions

A topic with potential long-term impact to city government was discussion related to a lawsuit served against the City earlier in the day by a group seeking Term Limits for the Council.  (See the PB Post article.)  The city currently requires that citizen initiated referenda on the ballot require petitions from 15% of the registered voters, (approximately 5800 signatures). State statutes only require 10% or 3900.   City Manager Ferris and City Attorney Max Lohman both suggested that an ordinance be introduced in April’s meeting to reduce the requirement to the state’s 10% which would resolve the lawsuit as well as make it easier for citizens to engage with their government.  (Given that less than 10% typically vote in a municipal election, and a candidate only needs 1% to get on the ballot, this sounds reasonable.)  Mr. Lohman pointed out that it is an enabling ordinance that has the requirement and not the Charter (which only states “The qualified voters of the city shall have the power to institute initiative and referendum procedures as provided by general law of the State of Florida.”).  Thus, it will not require a ballot initiative to make the change.  Members of the council opined that the initiators of the lawsuit could have come to the council to make the request for such a change instead of resorting to a lawsuit.

The topic expanded to include discussion of a much needed Charter Review – with all the council agreeing that the subject needs to be brought up again.

40th Terrace Project

Another item that has been the subject of discussion over many months was the issue of services to the neighborhood of 40th Terrace and Sunset Drive.  Sufficient responses had been returned to the city to allow for the next step – having an informational meeting / open house for the residents of the area in order to explain what can be done for water and sewer improvements and to answer any questions they may have.  The open house will be on March 24th from 6pm-7:30pm.  Affected residents will be notified and a posting will also be made on the city website.

Honda Classic

The success of the Honda Classic was described by Councilman Joe Russo.  City Manager Ron Ferris also pointed out that the close marketing partnership with the Honda Classic website led to many more hits for the City’s website from all over the world and that the marketing partnership will continue in the future.

Public Comment

Residents speaking during Public Comment were:

  • Ruth Peeples requesting more information on the confidentiality agreement with the stadium proposal as the document disclosed under a public records request wasn’t signed by anyone on the council or the city manager.  The City Attorney explained some of the relationship between the Business Development Board and requirements of State Statute 288.075.  Note: Similar questions had been raised by Vito DeFrancesco and former mayor Mike Martino – so the transparency/handling of the stadium proposal remains a citizen concern.
  • Michael Peragine (candidate for City Council Group 3 and on the board of Palm Beach Gardens Needs Term Limits) took issue with the council comments on the lawsuit, stating that many emails had been sent to both the administration and council requesting such a change with no response.  He also spoke in favor of a Charter Review and was strongly in favor of the PBA Contract.
  • Sheldon Rich thanked the Council for all they do and praised the city.  He was upset by the negative politicking during this election cycle and negative press for the City as a result, and suggested that those who are unhappy should consider moving out.

All Ordinances and resolutions on the agenda were passed unanimously.

So save the date – April 3rd for the next City Council meeting and remember to vote on Tuesday March 11!

Thanks to resident Steve Tarr – who once again recorded the meeting in its entirety and posted it on Youtube – view it  here.

Council Video – 03/06/14

Index: 0:00 Pledge; 1:32 Items of Resident Interest; 17:17 City Manager Report; 23:39 Comments From The Public; 36:46 Consent Agenda; 41:37 Public Hearings (re: Land near Northlake/I95); 48:25 Resolutions (Collective Bargaining); 57:41 Items For Council (40th Terrace)/Adjournment.

What is the Gardens Election About?

Palm Beach Gardens is a nice place to live. A collection of mostly upscale, private communities, surrounding a business core along PGA Boulevard that features the Gardens Mall, Downtown at the Gardens, and Legacy Place among others, it is green, attractive, safe and prosperous. Taxes are not too high, planning and zoning rules ensure that new development adheres to standards of attractiveness, and the economy is improving. City government has been fiscally responsible for the most part, and no officials have gone to jail recently.

Yet this year, two of the three council members up for election in March have drawn an opponent, a group is circulating a petition to enforce term limits on the incumbents, and large numbers of red-shirted protestors invaded the usually staid Council Meetings. Is there trouble in paradise?

It is easy to conclude that the proposal to place a large baseball stadium in close proximity to schools and quiet residential neighborhoods is the cause of the angst, or more specifically the way the proposal was managed. Backroom discussions between the team owners, county officials and the city were ongoing for over a year before the public became aware of it. A minor story in a Houston paper that quoted Astros Owner Jim Crane that the Palm Beach Gardens stadium was 95% complete and only needed a final vote by the City Council took many by surprise. What followed was a series of obfuscations and denials from city officials that went on long enough to generate a large and vocal opposition.

To many, the handling of the stadium proposal by City Manager Ron Ferris, and the reluctance of any of the sitting council members to disclose if they support it or not, showed arrogance and a distinct lack of transparency. Although restrictions do exist on divulging the content of confidential discussions related to economic development projects, once Jim Crane let the cat out of the bag the Council should have been more forthcoming.

So let’s stipulate that the stadium is a black eye for the current Council. But is this serious enough to threaten the seats of the two incumbents, Marcie Tinsley and Eric Jablin?

Incumbents rarely lose, unless they are tainted by major scandal, or voters perceive the government has gone off the rails in some way. In Palm Beach Gardens, there is no scandal that we know of, and most residents who are not actively involved with the city have little about which to complain. At least on the surface, the stadium is now a non-issue, as the Council has voted to terminate the project.

On the “typical” issues of taxes and the budget, economic development, the environment and growth, the candidates are really not very far apart.

So what is this election really about?

At PBG Watch, we strongly believe that no elected officials should get a free ride. It is good for our system of government when there are challengers, and since no official or group of officials is perfect, there are always shortcomings to criticize. After several years of observing Council meetings, we have seen a certain smugness from the dais. The mishandling of the stadium project suggested a lack of preparedness for hard questions, and the refusal to fully disclose the true status of the project is a symptom.

Over the past weeks, the candidates met the voters and each other in various meet & greets, forums (including ours on February 25), gave interviews to the media, sent many pieces of mail, and otherwise got out their message. They used many different issues to differentiate themselves from each other and to educate the public on what is important.

In our view, the Council’s biggest area for improvement is in transparency and respect for due process. Listed below are several actions taken by the current Council that could have been handled better. This election, in our view, is really about these things, and whether the voters will decide that a change is needed. Hopefully, we will have a more open and responsive council going forward, whoever wins.

The following are some past council actions that we hope will be considered by the voters as the make their choice on March 11:

  • While details of the stadium proposal were being suppressed, the Council moved ahead on Ordinance 16 and 19 – which eliminate the “uplands setaside” provisions for land owned by a government. While staff denies that it was introduced specifically for the stadium project, they do admit that not having it would make the stadium harder.
  • The Waste Management contract was renewed for 5 years without going out for bids. This was done a year ahead of schedule, added to the Council agenda a month before it had been advertised, not included in the printed agenda at the meeting, and voted on near 11:00pm when most of the meeting attendees had left. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler admitted the action did not violate the letter of the law, but it should not have been done this way. When Delray Beach did this, new Councilmen were elected who then moved to void the contract after the fact.
  • When the Inspector General Ordinance that extended jurisdiction over the city was passed by 72% of the voters in 2010, the Council and staff moved quickly to add definitions of “waste, fraud and abuse” to the city code with the effect of obstructing the jurisdiction of the IG over city business. Similar definitions had been proposed and rejected by the county ordinance drafting committee.
  • When West Palm Beach brought suit against the county, objecting to the ordinance requirement to pay for the Office of Inspector General, our Council voted 5-0 (again late at night) to join the lawsuit and withhold payment for the OIG. The net effect is to limit the investigative power of the OIG by constraining staffing.
  • When the City Attorney determined that the City Charter was in conflict with state statutes, the Council directed him to create a ballot question for the 2012 election. Rather than introduce individual changes to the charter, the entire document was scrapped and re-written from scratch, without convening a charter review committee or drawing from the work of the previous committee report, and public comments were entertained only after the fact. The first iteration contained an “incumbent protection” provision that eliminated runoff elections for city council when a race contained 3 or more candidates and no majority is attained. That provision was dropped only after significant public opposition. The ballot amendment was defeated by the voters and the existing charter still stands.

Have the challengers, Robin Deaton and Michael Peragine made their case for change on these issues? Have the incumbents, Marcie Tinsley and Eric Jablin offered explanations that are acceptable to the voters? We will find out on March 11.

City Council Meeting Thursday, March 6

Thanks to all who came to the PBG City Council Candidate Forum. If you weren’t able to make it, please read the synopsis here. And please vote on March 11!

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, March 6th at 7pm at City Hall.

Consent Agenda:

At the February City Council Meeting, the Council unanimously voted to give Vice-Mayor Jablin authority to speak on the Council’s behalf at the recent MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) meeting, taking a position against the proposed Northlake/Beeline Flyover. Part of the discussion was to make sure that the Council’s vote was followed by a formal resolution to be voted upon at the March 5th meeting. Note that this item (Resolution 19, 2014 – OPPOSITION TO STATE ROAD 710 AND NORTH LAKE BLVD URBAN INTERCHANGE) will not be voted upon as a separate resolution but lumped in with all other items on Consent, unless it is moved to the regular agenda by a council member prior to the meeting or at the meeting. Thus – if you wish to speak for or against the Council’s position – please do so at ‘Comments From the Public’, which occurs on the agenda prior to approval of the Consent Agenda. There are several other items on the consent agenda.

Regular Agenda:

The Regular Agenda includes Second Readings of Ordinances (and an associated Resolution) already passed unanimously by the Council in its February Meeting.

New on the agenda is Resolution 14, 2014 “Approving and ratifying a collective bargaining agreement with the Police Benevolent Association for Police Officers, Sergeants, and Communications Operators employed by the City’s Police Department for Fiscal Years 2013-2016.”

The PBA has already voted in favor of ratification of the agreement. Along with other items, the agreement provides for a new Salary Plan and adjustments to starting salaries. “Additionally, all employees will receive a 2.5% increase to base salary effective October 1, 2014, and October 1, 2015. These proposed salary increases will cost a grand total of approximately $1,040,333.” Modifications to the Pension Plan were also made, consistent with the City’s strategies and goals “by maintaining the current pension plan with some pension benefit adjustments for the future, continuing to reduce the City’s unfunded pension liability”. Click on the resolution number above if you wish to read the resolution and full contract.

Items for Council Discussion and Action: 40th Terrace and Sunset Drive status update.

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