Let’s Be Honest about the “Biotech Cluster”

Yesterday, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to void their interest in the deed restriction that would have prevented “Project Diamond”, the UTC techonology showcase proposed within the “biotech campus” on the Briger tract.  The other government players – Palm Beach Gardens and the state (represented strangely enough by FDEP), concur.  Scripps, while disagreeing that this is an appropriate use, is not strongly objecting.  Kolter (of course), the NPBC Chamber and the Economic Council are all strong supporters.

As part of the complex and expensive (to the taxpayer) deal that brought Scripps to Jupiter, 100 acres adjacent to I-95 was set aside for use only by biotech related enterprises, all part of the vision for a “biotech cluster” in Northern Palm Beach County.

It would seem the deed restriction standing in the way of the UTC project has been cleverly sidestepped by the BCC and the other government players.  They are not “ending the Biotech era” and blowing up the restriction you see, just making a one-time exception in a way in which Scripps cannot object. In Commissioner Hal Valeche’s words:  “You get a bird in the hand like this, it doesn’t come along that often.”

UTC, being an excessively green “smart building”, that “fits the vision of high tech enterprise” may end up being similar to a biotech campus in meeting the 2003 goals, but avoiding the restriction is tacit agreement that the whole vision of the Scripps Project was flawed.  “We’re not giving up on bioscience or biotechnology,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.  Surely not.

The Scripps Project, by most measures, has been a failure.  Although Scripps itself has met their committment in terms of jobs created, the 40,000 related jobs promised when the deal was done have not materialized.  The amount of public money that was spent to bring Scripps to Jupiter exceeded $1M for each job actually created.

The UTC HQ project will be a fine addition to the county and the city, although the amount of cash and tax avoidance they are being given is distasteful to one who believes in free markets and fiscal responsibility.  Clearing the way for them with a deed “exception” though is not being honest.  Let’s just acknowledge that the Biotech vision was a failure and move on.

Maybe when Kolter brings their next non-biotech project forward they will finally admit it.

See:   County OKs UTC HQ near Scripps

Good Old Boys’ Actions Show Why Term Limits Passed

Term Limits pervaded the April City Council Meeting from start to finish, with some City business thrown in for good measure.

Up first on the agenda was the annual reorganization vote – selecting Mayor and Vice Mayor. Palm Beach Gardens has a Council-Manager form of  government so the position of Mayor is largely ceremonial, not elected by the residents. The Mayor does serve as chair of the monthly City Council meetings though, and influences how business is conducted.

April 2, 2015

The Mayor and Vice Mayor positions have been held by all on the council except for newest member (elected in 2010) Marcie Tinsley.  So one could reasonably assume that Mrs. Tinsley, who has not held either office, should get her turn as Mayor or Vice-Mayor, since like Mr. Jablin (who has held both positions many times) and Mr. Premuroso (the incumbent mayor) – they all have 2 years left on their final term-limited term.  She is certainly qualified, but this Council being essentially a “boy’s club”, she was not even discussed for Mayor, and her nomination for vice-Mayor by Bert Premuroso was cast aside with patronizing ease.

David Levy nominated Eric Jablin for Mayor. The ensuing convoluted discussion rationalized his election as if it had always been a done deal, and he became Mayor on a 5:0 vote.

A prevailing assumption by the Council, for several months now, since term limits were first placed on the ballot, is that Levy is eligible for another term (because he resigned for a few months to run as County Commissioner) and that he obviously will be re-elected without any opposition. He could then have another opportunity to be Vice-Mayor or Mayor. But somehow, in even more tortured debate, the men on the Council decided that Levy needed to be the Vice-Mayor to afford continuity on the Council and ensure the city didn’t collapse as the board turned over. While nominated by Premuroso, Tinsley received no support, even from him, as she argued gamely on why she should be Vice-Mayor; Levy was elected 4:1. The arrogance of the discussion was overwhelming; we highly encourage the Council to watch the entire meeting themselves and understand why people voted for Term Limits. 

Term Limits arose again during Items of Resident Interest.  The North Palm Beach Blog of the PB Post had an article earlier in the day suggesting rumors that the Council would take action to over-ride the Term Limits charter change voters supported with 79% of the vote.  68% voted for it to be retroactively applied to the current Council.   While Council member Russo suggested that such an action, taken by the Council, would be a slap in the face of the voters – it was clear that there were others on the Council who did not agree.  Later in the evening, the ‘new’ Mayor suggested that the folks who are against term-limits come in force to Council meetings, thus giving the Council a rationale to take some action to reverse the ballot amendment.

Resident Mark Marciano, speaking during Public Comment on several topics, suggested that the Council should tackle Term Limits, and that the 2 3-year terms, as passed, were ‘not only short-sighted, but even dangerous’. He reiterated a drumbeat, heard mostly by electeds, that people didn’t know what they were voting for, and were just expressing frustration that Congress doesn’t have term limits.

Finally – the last item on the agenda was the City Manager Contract Extension. In previous discussions on the topic, the contract, expiring in 2016, was proposed to be extended by 2 years to 2018. But suddenly, Mayor Jablin proposed a 5-year extension to 2020 – once again citing Term Limits as the reason this had to be done. The clueless new Council that will exist from 2017 on, will destroy the city without the continuity provided by the current City Manager. Normally, Russo said, 5 years is too long to extend the contract – but Term Limits overrides such need for caution. Tinsley encouraged that the time be used for a succession plan for City Manager Ferris’ retirement; Russo said the same. The extension passed 5:0.

As to the Business:

  • Kudos to Riverside Enrichment Center for receiving Apple Accreditation 
  • Kudos to Km! Ra, the City’s Purchasing Director for being awarded a 2015 UPPCC Agency Certificate 
  • City’s Resident Opinion Survey – 400 residents were surveyed in January 2015 and results were compared with the survey conducted in 2006 – with a sampling error of 4.9%. 96% would recommend living in Palm Beach Gardens and cited Family, Weather, and Shopping/Restaurants as why they live here. The results will be posted on the City website on Monday.  Here is the PB Post’s article on the survey.
  • Mirasol ClubHouse expansion passed 5:0 on First Reading
  • Purchasing rather than leasing Golfcourse Maintenance Equipment passed 5:0
  • Council appointments to external and internal boards remained unchanged except for one that requires the Mayor’s participation.

Martino: City Manager Contract Extension Premature at Best

On Thursday April 2, 2015 the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens has an agenda item to discuss an extension of the current City Manager’s employment contract with the City for two additional years from 2016 to 2018. I have a few questions for the City Council to answer. The current contract expires in 2016, so why now? Why the rush? Are there specific and compelling reasons for this extension?

This call for an extension to this City Manager’s contract has been promulgated before, in July 2014 at two Council meetings, and at a September 2014 meeting. There was Public comment, press coverage, and a news article in the Palm Beach Post featuring City Manager, Ron Ferris, and his commentary specifically dealing with this extension. I will return to his comments in a bit.

As the Public Record reflects, in no particular order, without identifying the Councilperson, and as I understand them to be, below are the City Council’s reasons for extending the City Manager’s contract to 2018. My comment to each is below.

  • our leader, the City Manager should be able to stay here as long as he wants…

Really, I thought our leader was the City Council and the City Manager’s length of service to the City is determined by the City Council.

  • …we control the City now…term limits will change that…

How arrogant! How insulting to the residents! Term limits are now a reality, and yes, Councilperson, they will change that, thankfully.

  • …we owe it to the City Manager because of his future plans…

The personal future plans of the City Manager are his to deal with and not the City’s.

To my knowledge there have been no Public comments from the City Manager on the contract extension. Therefore, I must return to the Palm Beach Post article to find quotes from City Manager as to why his contract should be extended. What the City Manager says and my commentary on them is below…

  • …he wants to stay four more years…with several major developments to steer…I don’t feel like my job is done yet…

The steering of any major or minor developments is accomplished by and the responsibility of the elected City Council members’ policies and not the City Manager. The City Manager’s tenure with the City is depended primarily on the quality of the daily administration of City Council policies.

  • …he has a 2-year and a 4-year plan for his succession but won’t discuss them because they involve personnel matters…

First and foremost, the City of Palm Beach Gardens is not some sort of monarchy that requires a succession plan with an anointed successor. In my opinion, the selection of a successor to any City Manager is the business and policies of the elected members of the sitting City Council and not subject to or part of any succession plan or plans by the outgoing City Manager. Secondly, if a City Manager has a plan or plans for City business, he or she, is compelled by the Sunshine Law to reveal them to the Public. As my past experience recalls, an exception for personnel matters is only relevant when negotiations are being held on Municipal Labor Union matters.

Therefore, based on the above public commentary the reasons given, thus far, for extending the current City Manager’s contract lack sound policy conviction and principle. From the above, I can only conclude that the contract extension basis is personal rather than professional both from the City Council and the City Manager’s perspectives. Until, and if, the City Council can respond for the public record with better reasons and the City Manager can enlighten the public with his plans for the City a contract extension is premature at best. From my point of view, to date full transparency for this proposed contract extension is lacking and, therefore, compromised.