Martino: Return to the Sunshine of Council Chambers

In an August 5th Palm Beach Post article discussing the City of Palm Beach Gardens budget process several statements attributed to Council members Eric Jablin and David Levy attempting to defend a flawed course of action are very troubling. They excoriate any semblance of openness, transparency, and accountability in the process of governance that the current City Council is following and in particular with the creation of the City’s 2015-16 budget. Their comments did little to assuage the obvious process grievances. Further, their quoted remarks revealed more questionable practices and problematic rationalizations for a touted process that fails to satisfy the entitled needs of the public to information.

The Public’s governmental process preference is simple and required by law. All governmental policy process, direction, thought process, and discussion must be conducted with the public in attendance. Exceptions to this should be close to never and allowed only when a demonstrably higher law exists.

The article states that current Council members say the current budget process is already as open as it gets. Jablin says the draft budget is “online” so anyone can read it. Jablin says he spends a lot of time vetting the budget with the City Manager and the staff. Jablin is quoted, “This is the process…I’m proud of the process…it’s a good process.”

Okay, let’s analyze this good as it gets process! If the draft budget is “online” then where did the draft come from, who created it, at what public or private meeting was it discussed, and so forth. If one does not have access to “online” or is technically challenged like so many of us, how does this “good process” satisfy the need for public information in an open government forum? Admitting, as Jablin says, that he spends a lot of time vetting with the City Manager and staff, stabs at the heart and soul of open government. If the other Council members follow this same path then we have a very suspicious “good process” that at best pulls the shades down on the Sunshine law and at the worst blinds the Sunshine law in the darkness of backroom shadows.

Levy sites an award that the City receives from the Government Finance Officers Association for Distinguished Budget Presentation, as testimony, that “peers and experts have said that this is an open and accessible budget process.” He also says, “…it is a very good budget, and a very good budget process.” Levy’s attempt to rationalize an award given for Presentation and not for process, or creation, or content, into factual substantiation for “an open and accessible budget process” has no creditably.

Jablin and Levy are currently serving in the ceremonial City Council positions of Mayor and Vice-Mayor. In the Post article, for Jablin and Levy to posit the proposition that the City Council is practicing open government, stretches believability, and is less than probable. Their own words and admissions demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for openness, transparency, and accountability. When Jablin says and Levy reiterates, “I’m proud of the process we established, and I think it’s a good process” even though it excludes the information that the public is entitled to have demonstrates little respect for the electoral trust they were given.

In my opinion, the City Council needs to come out of the backroom shadows and return to the sunshine of the Council chambers. More publicly scheduled meetings to discuss any and all City business is warranted and expected. Those would be steps toward a “good process” and a process to be proud of.

Eligibility for HUD Grants Excites Council and Staff

The August 6th, 2015 City Council meeting ran smoothly, with relatively little discussion on the several Resolutions.  Council Member Russo was not in attendance, and all Resolutions and the Consent Agenda passed 4:0, except for Resolution 37, 2015 (Police Tactical Training Facility) – which was pulled so that Council Member Tinsley could recuse herself due to her husband’s involvement with the project, thus passing 3:0.

August 6, 2015

Everyone, however, became quite enthusiastic when Resolution 28, 2015 was described.  Palm Beach Gardens population, having passed 50,000, makes the City entitled to apply for HUD Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).  The City must submit a 5-year Consolidated Strategic Plan, along with an annual Action Plan, in order to be granted about $177K/fiscal year.  The funds can be used in conjunction with the City’s existing CAST (Community Action Support Team) program.  The first year’s action plan will focus on single family home rehabilitation for low and middle income home owners – such as senior citizens on fixed incomes, with projects such as new roofs, yard cleanup, repairing substandard homes, accessibility, etc.    The funds should be available in October, after which applications will be taken.  The program is apparently very flexible, and the amount can grow as the population does.

Mayor Jablin began the meeting with a moment of silence for the recent passing of three very active County residents: James Mandell, Judy Kelleher and James Woods.

City Manager Ferris’s report included:

  • Thanks to City Clerk Snider and her staff for going digital (to paperless agendas) and saving almost $900K in that time.
  • PBG Fire Rescue obtaining 2015 Lifeline EMS Silver Level recognition Award – the second year in a row.
  • PBG Finance Department receiving the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the 18th year in a row
  • City Attorney Max Lohman receiving a certification in government law from the Florida Bar

Public Comment included:

  • Kevin Easton and Carol Courtney of the Sunset Drive/40th Terrace neighborhood complaining about the cutting of two 100+ year old trees to create a cul-de-sac.  Mr. Easton asked what trees will the City be planting to replace those;  developers always have to replace removed trees with other plantings.  Ms. Courtney gave a moment of silence for the trees.  Mayor Jablin said that he could not comment due to litigation between the City and Mr. Easton.
  • Mark Marciano inquired as to the possibility of the City purchasing just a portion of the Palm Beach County property in the 117th St area, to augment the City sports fields.  Dr. Marciano also invited the public to attend the next Budget Oversight Committee Meeting, of which he is chair, to be held on August 13 at 8:30am in City Council Chambers.
  • Sue Ellen Williams questions the over $2 million expenditure for the Police Tactical Training Facility.  The ensuing comments by the Council gave full support for the need for the facility.  The Palm Beach Post summarized the discussion here.

Note that there will be two meetings in September as part of the 2015/2016 Budget Hearings.

Martino: Consent Agenda Demonstrates Why Council Needs a Monthly Workshop

I just reviewed the City of Palm Beach Gardens August 6th agenda. Under the Consent Agenda item the City Council is spending nearly 9.4 million dollars of taxpayer money without any discussion among themselves or presentation to the residents. How disappointing. But that’s par for the course in Palm Beach Gardens. It’s business as usual the less the public knows the better.

In any event, my criticism is with the City Council’s process. My concern is with the City Council’s lack of scheduled public meetings.  It is not with the expenditure or the result the expenditure might yield. There are six different expenditures listed for consent only consideration. Apparently of the six disbursements, four have been competitively bid, one is under an existing contract, and one is a piggyback/access contract.

Should the Administration been given instructions concerning these expenditures by the City Council in a public forum? Should the City Council review these disbursements with each other while the public is in attendance? The answer to both questions is a loud YES. Was that done? Not with the specificity that each deserved and with the openness, transparency, and accountability that the public expects. In my opinion, all six of these subject expenditures should have had a detailed work-shop-type scheduled public meeting at the very least.

To reiterate, please bear in mind it is process, procedure, and the lack of public meetings that I am critical of. For clarification of my thought process I will discuss the Police Training Facility which is an expense exceeding $3,000,000 on completion. $2,582,000 of that cost is on the Consent Agenda for August 6th with no discussion on the vote. For the record there has been some minor discussion on two prior occasions that I can recall concerning only the cost of building the Facility of around $1,500,000. There have been no public presentations scheduled or otherwise, showing the location of the Facility, drawings or sketches, training equipments or apparatus that will be inside the Facility, who will be doing the training and teaching with associated costs, continuing costs, insurance exposures, and so forth. Lastly, why was the Request for Proposals a Design/Build contract and not separate issues?

From my perspective, the public has a lawful right to and the City Council has a duty and responsibility to, provide any and all pertinent information concerning City business, and in particular, expenditures. To be both transparent and accountable the City Council must process in open public forums relevant facts concerning City business, prior to any Consent Agenda vote or any other regular meeting vote.

My suggestion to the City Council to alleviate any lingering misperceptions about the lack of transparency in the governance of the City of Palm Beach Gardens is a simple one, more scheduled meetings with the public. I have said it before and I will say it again, there are four Thursdays in a month, not just one.

In the short term, perhaps I could suggest that a Council member consider pulling one or more of these important expenditures from the Consent Agenda for discussion. Any takers?

Eric Jablin, David Levy, Bert Premuroso, Marcie Tinsley, Joe Russo


Next City Council Meeting on Thursday, August 6 at 7pm

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


  • None listed

Consent Agenda includes:

  • Resolution 36, 2015 – Approving the plat for Church in the Gardens Planned Unit Development (PUD) – the City Council had approved rezoning and site plan amendments in July 2014
  • Resolution 37, 2015 – Design/Build of Tactical Training Center – this is a Purchase Award/Contract for $1.5 Million – competitively bid
  • Purchase Award of a 3 year contract to Blue Cross/Blue Shield for Group Health Insurance valued at $5.63 Million – competitively bid
  • Purchase Award of a 1 year contract to Symetra Life Insurance for Stop Loss Insurance valued at $367K/year – competitively bid
  • Purchase Award of $318K for Construction of Sewer Connection and Lift Station – under an existing contract
  • Purchase Award for Targetry Package for Tactical Training Center – piggyback/access contract – valued at $1.082 Million.
  • Purchase Award for Contract Labor Services for Sandhill Crane Golf Course for 3 years – for $360K – competitively bid

Editorial Comment – Note that the total value of the contracts under the Consent Agenda  for this meeting  is over $9,000,000!

 Public Hearings and Resolutions include:

  • Resolution 31, 2015 – Alton PCD (AKA Briger) Community Design Elements
  • Resolution 33, 2015 – A request from Ballenlsles Community Association to consolidate approved property development standards and amend select property development standards for all residential communities within the Ballenlsles PCD
  • Resolution 34, 2015 – FPL PUD Amendment for Ryder Substation to allow construction of a Wireless Telecommunications Tower and related structures
  • Resolution 26, 2015 – Updating Fees and Charges for   Fiscal Year 2015/2016
  • Resolution 28, 2015 – Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds
    • In 2014 Palm Beach Gardens population passed 50,000 which qualified it as a new entitlement community for HUD grants. Prior to 2014, the City had an inter-local agreement with Palm Beach County.

The agenda (with links to full detail) can be found here.  Check the agenda to see if any additional items have been added before the meeting.

See a summary of the July City Council Meeting as well as the latest Martino Minute on the PBG Watch website.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do.  Hope you can make it.  If you can’t make the meeting try and watch live-streaming or on-demand.