Martino: Don’t touch our elections! Don’t touch our term limits! Leave them alone!

On Election Day, November 4, 2014 the registered voters of the City of Palm Beach Gardens were asked to vote YES or NO on the following ballot question…

SHALL THE PALM BEACH GARDENS CHARTER BE AMENDED TO ESTABLISH TERM LIMITS PROVIDING THAT CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS SERVE NO MORE THAN TWO CONSECUTIVE THREE YEAR TERMS

An overwhelming majority of approximately 80%, or 16,000 registered voters, answered YES. With that kind of majority vote there is no question or ambiguity about the registered voters’ intent. The resounding message to the City Council then and now is that CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS SERVE NO MORE THAN TWO CONSECUTIVE THREE YEAR TERMS.

At the October 8th City Council meeting the duly appointed but less than representative of all of Palm Beach Gardens residents, City Charter Committee, submitted its report with its recommendations to the City Council. Three of their most controversial recommendations are…

  1. Change the Term Limit Law to allow City Council members to serve three consecutive three year terms instead of two consecutive three year terms.  Comment: Ballot language must exclude present City Council members.
  2. Allow City Council members to run again for three consecutive three year terms after they have sat out one three year term.  Comment: Ballot language must exclude present City Council members. When does this end?
  3. Allow for plurality of votes cast to elect City Council members rather than a majority vote as presently required.  Comment: Majority must rule. It’s American and the democratic way.
  4. Change current election language from “a majority of votes cast” to language that would eliminate the intent that every vote cast must count in every contested race or issue without question, as the charter now states and Courts affirmed.  Comment: Every vote that is cast must count per current charter language and as the Courts ruled in the Woods – Levy Council race, in 2016. No circumstance can undo a legally cast vote from being counted. A cast ballot is a sacred vote that is untouchable.

The City Council authorized the City Attorney to take the above along with other committee recommendations and legalize them for ballot consideration in March of 2018. I urge the City Council to reconsider their affinities toward these recommendations. I urge the City Council to vote NO to moving forward with a ballot question whose perception is that of self-serving political machinations.

In my opinion, the three recommendations above undermine and thwart the will of the 16,000 registered voters who voted for the Term Limits Law. In essence these recommendations disenfranchise the ballots of 16,000 registered voters. It also conflicts with the results of several candidate lawsuits and the City’s own lawsuit in which two levels of County courts validated the Term Limits Law as is.

Still further, as history suggests, a March 2018 election with no contested Council races in Palm Beach Gardens would generate a voter turnout of approximately 10% of the registered voters, considerably less than a November election. Thus, a small minority vote of, perhaps, 1,500 votes could obviate the votes of 16,000 registered voters.

The ink is hardly dry on the codification of the Term Limits Law. None of the current City Council members have served a single term yet. Their seats are barely warm! Yet they are changing a Law that they clearly understood existed and applied to them when they very recently, March 8, 2017, stood for election to the City Council. In fact, if not for the Term Limits Law, perhaps, none of them would be serving as City Council members. Their opportunity to serve is in many respects because of the Term Limits Law.

My message to the City Council is a simple one…

Don’t touch our elections! Don’t touch our term limits! Leave them alone!

Martino: The New City Council – What We Expect

The City Council of Palm Beach Gardens elections for 2017 are over and my mailbox now has room for my bills. Let me add my congratulations and best wishes to the new Council members, Ms. Rachelle Litt, and Messrs. Mathew Lane and Mark Marciano. They join with Council members, Ms. Maria Marino and Mr. Carl Woods to form the first 5-member City Council since the overwhelming passage of term limits in 2014. At their first meeting the new Council elected Maria Marino as Mayor and Mark Marciano as Vice-Mayor.

So what should be this new City Council’s imminent priorities one might ask? Is it traffic, is it All Aboard Florida, is it development, is it sports fields, is it concerns for our older neighborhoods, is it sober homes, is it fiscal responsibility, is it health, safety, and welfare? The answer to all of those questions is a firm, YES. However, in my opinion, the most pressing subject facing the new City Council is Council protocol. What will be their modus operandi? How will it differ from the past?

From my perspective, embedded in the discussion of protocol are the problems of transparency, Council-Manager relationship within Charter boundaries, agenda framework, more City Council meetings, among other concerns. Accountability for transparency is only assured by communicating with the public the ideas and thought processes of the collective governmental body that go into the consideration and making of policy decisions in the openness of an advertised meeting. The City Charter spells out the interface that must pervade between the City Council and the City Manager, particularly concerning policy directives and initiatives. Preparation of an agenda format that is more business and resident conscious is a needed modernization. City Council workshop meetings on a regular advertised basis to discuss all City issues among the five Council members in public before the regular meetings for final vote are a vital component in the protocol process.

It is my observation, that the passage of term limits by an overwhelming 80% of the Palm Beach Gardens voters was not based solely on a “changing of the guard” mentality. It was also a desire for refreshment. It was a hope for new ideas and innovative approaches to our local government with more consideration for the concerns of the residents. It is my suggestion that our new City Council members consider these premises.

Martino: Educate Yourself, Pick Your Favorite and Vote on March 14!

On Thursday, February 16th, I attended the North County Neighborhood Coalition Candidate Forum involving the nine City Council candidates for the three open seats, Groups 1, 3, and 5, in Palm Beach Gardens. My attendance was for the purpose of learning more about the individuals who will shape the future of the Gardens. There will be another Candidate Forum on February 28th at the Palm Beach Gardens Library. The election will be held on Tuesday, March 14th.

The forum was well attended. The moderator, Beth Kigel, President and CEO of the Northern Palm Beaches Chamber of Commerce, asked the appropriate and pertinent questions that one would expect of Gardens’ Council candidates and kept the forum on schedule. As time permitted there were several questions for the candidates from the forum audience. The one question that was not asked, however, was, “How would you as Council member embrace, maintain, and improve the older, original Plats of the City?” In my opinion, all of the candidates acquitted themselves with decorum and handled the questions asked of them to the best of their abilities.

One could postulate from the literature handouts and from the candidates themselves that their backgrounds, life experiences, and ages vary rather widely. If you prefer a lawyer, a volunteer/homemaker with a Business Administration degree, several very successful business entrepreneurs, a Doctor of Optometry, a Pharmacist, a neighborhood activist and protector with a degree in Criminology, and a non-profit Executive Director who is a native of Palm Beach Gardens, make your choice, and vote accordingly.

The forum really was an interesting, enlightening, and for me an enjoyable two hours. However, some of the answers and comments from the candidates I would take issue with. From my perspective, Candidates should know more about the Gardens’ historical background and not solely refer to the “last 25 years”, which quite frankly, depending on who you ask, haven’t been that great. Candidates should not just know there are term limits but should know why there are term limits. They should know Council members are advisors to City committees and not members. Candidates should know the in and outs of City Charter. They should understand that the City Manager’s job is to administer the policy directives of the City Council.

This March 14th City Council election is the most important and significant Palm Beach Gardens election in decades. It behooves all Palm Beach Gardens registered voters to educate themselves about the candidates, select your favorite, and most importantly, VOTE.

Martino: Transparency Missing in $30 Million Surtax Windfall Spending Spree

It did not take long for the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens to spend their share of the Sales Tax Revenue windfall from the successful November 2016 Sales Tax Referendum which they opposed. In fact they would spend all of the $30 million expected over the next 10 years, tomorrow, if they could, even though the first dollar has not yet arrived. Am I exaggerating, well maybe a little, but not much?

On the January 3rd agenda for approval was Resolution 12, 2017, which is a request to adopt a formal policy and plan for the expenditure of the one-cent infrastructure sales surtax. The policy and plan as I understand them to be is as follows…

* $11.2 million for acquiring Palm Beach County land at the proposed County District Park off Central Boulevard (think baseball stadium fiasco location) and building a soccer complex

* $2.5 million to expand the baseball complex at Burns Road after demolishing the existing soccer complex at this same site

* $ 6.7 million for a new operations center for the public works (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 7 million to renovate and expand City Hall (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 2 million to renovate police department (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 100,000 to renovate the burns Road fire station (an infrastructure improvement???)

* To front load above projects a $30 million bond issue will be secured using the sales tax surtax revenue to pay down bond

At first blush the above policy and plan sounds reasonable and doable. However, one must stretch the definition of infrastructure to accommodate some of the proposed projects. There certainly is a recreational need for more team sport fields of all stripes or so it would seem. Then again there has been and is great reluctance on the part of Palm Beach County to sell all or even a portion of the Central Boulevard land to the City for any use. Other North County municipalities have expressed interest in the County’s District Park plans and are reluctant to support Palm Beach Gardens’ efforts. Perhaps then, this proposed policy and plan has obstacles that may be insurmountable.

Be that as it may, has this spending spree been given enough thought and consideration? In my opinion it has not. Transparency is missing. It came out of left field. There was no workshop, no prior Council discussion or presentation, and no Public participation. Was this plan presented to the Recreation Board, or the Budget Review Board, or the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association for their information and comment? This again appears to be a Staff driven policy and plan. If the City Council members were involved in crafting this policy and plan, when and where did they meet, and with whom? Who authorized the consultants’ study of the City Hall and Police Department renovation and expansion needs, and was the City Council involved?

From my perspective a more comprehensive planning effort needs to be undertaken concerning team sport fields’ requirements, as well as, other very pressing recreational facility and program needs for the City’s future. Public Works, a long overlooked department that contributes mightily to the success of Palm Beach Gardens, certainly has facility needs and deserves them. Work space requirements, if needed, should be accommodated. But what is needed most is transparency by the City Council in making their case for the above policy and plan to the Public.

Martino: Sober Homes Should be Addressed by the City Council

Do you know what a Sober Home is? If you don’t, you should. The chances are if you live in a single family neighborhood in Palm Beach Gardens you do, or probably soon will. Sober Homes are group homes for people who are recovering from addiction issues, such as, drug and alcohol abuse. While living in the Sober Home these people, who come from all over the country, have stringent rules they must follow and may undergo periodic drug testing. These “homes” are locating in residential neighborhoods at an increasing pace and can pose various and different problems for these neighborhoods.

Sober Living Homes, as they are also known, is a creature that surfaced from an amendment to the Federal Fair Housing Act passed by Congress in 1988 to protect persons with disabilities and families with children and from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which mandates “for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities” enacted in 1990 by Congress. The ADA more or less recognizes addiction as a psychiatric disabling illness. As a compassionate society we must recognize the disease of drug and alcohol addiction and the devastating effects it has on the individual, families, friends, and the community as a whole. However, the combination of these Acts with their amendments, mixed with the bureaucratic interpretive rules that have been written, and add to this associated State legislative and bureaucratic activities, and you have a formidable governmental shield for what is now a National multi-billion dollar industry. Big government, big business and big money, can and often does, lead to fraud, abuse, and bigger societal problems.

For local County and Municipal governments these Federal and State Sober Home mandates present a growing problem of significance. How do local governments maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods, the esteem of their property values, the safety and protection of their residents, the essentials of their governing Charters, and their basic Home Rule powers? The governance of these quality of life issues need to be balanced with the needs of the disabled protected by these Acts. That is the challenge and it’s a daunting one. It’s not an easy task but it’s doable. I would propose a more proactive approach by the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens then is currently being pursued. The following are suggestions …

  1. As a local government the City Council should recognize and admit there is a problem and give it a public airing. Identification of Sober Home locations probably would be a good start, if not already available. Possibly, the assimilation of a data base would help to prevent over concentration in any one particular neighborhood. Neighborhood concentration is detrimental to the existing residents, as well as, it defeats the goal of localized non-institutional integration back into society of the addicted because the concentration suggests a semblance of institutionalization. The City Council should request staff to research the problem and report back with interventionist solutions that are non-discriminatory. Consideration of other, Local, State, and National resolutions that have proven successful may be useful. Keep our Federal and State elected officials informed of the City’s concerns and efforts while continuing to insist on their cooperation to lessen the fervor of the problem. Continue the conversation with monthly workshops, updates, including public participation, until reasonable solutions have been realized.
  2. To address the problems Sober Homes may present, the City Council should modernize, update and reform all zoning codes, not just single-family areas, by carefully crafting amendments that apply equally to able and disabled people alike. Parking codes, health codes, and safety issues should be updated with equality as the goal while considering Sober Homes in the equation. Zoning code definitions should be reviewed, refreshed, and new ones created, if needed. The Acts discussed above do not preempt local zoning laws but they do prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, thus, the importance of code equality for both able and disabled persons.
  3. Third, work with other local municipalities and the County. Encourage them to take similar steps concerning Sober Homes. This will prevent the problem from being passed on to another jurisdiction. Request the County and State League of Cities organizations to take more vocal stances on the Sober Home issue and to lobby with more emphasis of the urgency of the problem while continuing to research for solutions.
  4. Fourth, Sober Homes have economic value and economic consequences, also. The City Council should consult with the business community in seeking solutions. Business oriented organizations, such as, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Development Board, and the Economic Council could be valuable resources for ideas that can contribute to solving the Sober Home issues. Another positive resource could be the Palm Beach County Task Force that was created to brainstorm for solutions to make Sober Homes’ community assets rather than liabilities.

These are my opinions and suggestions on the burgeoning Sober Home issue. I am sure there are many others. I would encourage the Palm Beach Gardens City Council to give concerted effort to this issue promptly.

Martino: IG – Take a Closer Look at Palm Beach Gardens!

On September 20th the local section of the Palm Beach Post ballyhooed the following headline…

Palm Beach Gardens

Inspector General Report

IG: GARDENS VIOLATED LAW ON CLUBHOUSE

City didn’t record some meetings concerning $4.5 million project.

Well, Mr. Inspector General you might want to take a more in depth look at the Gardens. In my opinion, this is business as usual in Palm Beach Gardens. Transparency is not a virtue or a basis upon which this City Council and its administration practices its authority. As one who regularly attends the once per month Palm Beach Gardens City Council meetings I marvel at the lack of respect and concern exhibited for open government. My sense is that our Council-Manager governance has become subservient to a form of “shadow government” that is exercising power beyond the scrutiny of the public.

Underscoring the above, one only has to study the 2013-14 “baseball stadium fiasco” where the City promoted a $100,000,000 stadium in the middle of prime single-family neighborhoods and the City Council claimed to know nothing. How about the surprise disappearance of 300 units from the Avenir development which was never adequately discussed in public and then its approval? The Shady Lakes Drive extension debacle and its contract cost confusion raise perceptions of silent maneuverings. There is the little matter of the City’s Palm Beach Gardens Municipal Golf course name change to the Sandhill Crane Golf Course without a public meeting or supposed City Council knowledge. The City’s website was renamed without benefit of a public discussion. More recently, both a park and pavilion, City property owned by the taxpayers, were named for sitting City Council members without public notice or meeting. Not for public consumption agenda reviews, development reviews, budget reviews, and who knows what other reviews, are held presumably with individual Council members, where and when is a mystery, choreographed by an unidentified whom, with what questions asked and answered, and with what records kept, is all unknown.

Is there “ill Intent” involved, I hope not. But is there “intent”, I think so. Over the last ten years or so the incumbent heavy City Council has meticulously constructed a crafty façade, a false front government, to give the appearance of transparency, but it is an opaque front. Charter changes have been deceptively presented as good for the City but have put distance between the public and its right to information and participation. Regularly scheduled workshops concerning important developments and City problems have been eliminated. Policy making seems to have matriculated into the realm of the City Administration and away from the dominion of the City Council.

From my perspective, transparency is a fundamental necessity for good government but the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens does not practice it. A City Council that meets together only once per month with its residents in a public meeting is not fostering communication. A City Council that regularly affirms important decisions with little discussion with its constituency and then casts 5 to 0 confirmatory votes is not promoting accountability. A City Council that regularly alludes that all their questions are asked and answered in some clandestine manner is not demonstrating openness. In my opinion, this protocol is not the definition of transparency but it best describes the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens attempt at it.

Martino: New Council Members Need to Demonstrate Leadership, Change and Transparency

In March of 2016, the Palm Beach Gardens City Council elections were held. Maria Marino, a new face, was certified as the Group 2 City Councilperson. Because of various court challenges to the election results in Group 4, newcomer Carl Woods had to wait until October 2016 to take his seat on the City Council. Both of these new Councilpersons were elected, in part, as a result of term limits.

Hopefully, Ms. Marino and Mr. Woods, recognize that embedded in their elections is the trust of the voters’ term limit expectations, of which at the top of the list are change and transparency. In my opinion, it is important that these two new Councilpersons move quickly to restore communication, openness, and accountability, as the foremost governing principles of the City Council.

Leadership from Ms. Marino and Mr. Woods must begin in earnest and begin now. As a result of term limits the March 2017 City Council elections will welcome three additional new faces to its body. Expectantly, these new faces will campaign to complete the term limit demands of change and transparency. Ms. Marino and Mr. Woods must provide the inspiration and the direction to motivate the new City Council to embrace the values of communication, openness, and accountability.

With the March 2017 City Council election results will come new potential, new opportunities and new challenges for the City’s future. I would like to offer my congratulations and best wishes for a successful tenure to Ms. Marino and Mr. Woods as they move the City forward..

Martino: Erosion of Council-Manager Form of Government

From my perspective, the August 4th Palm Beach Gardens City Council meeting further emphasized my concerns about the deterioration of the Council-Manager form of government in Palm Beach Gardens. On exhibit was the City Council members’ usual lack of questioning, discussion, and thought sharing among themselves and with the public concerning the agenda items.

On display, once again, at the August 4th meeting was the shabby treatment of the rightful concerns raised by the Shady Lakes residents concerning their perception of the damage being done to their quality of life. This modes’ operandi has become a staple of the Palm Beach Gardens City Council. The Council all too often has chosen to stiffen its neck to concerns rightfully raised by its constituents. It avoids conversation about resident concerns and allows the administration to often debase them. The City Council has become tone deaf and devoid of compassion and understanding. It is one thing to defend a policy position but when the defense becomes contemptuous a hostile environment is often the result.

The lack of serious conversation and discussion among the City Council members concerning August 4th agenda items is a matter of grave concern. The absence of serious discussion, conversation and thought sharing among the City Council members has become business as usual for them. It deprives the public of its right to information and it has been going on for too long. The advertised August meeting had 16 items for approval on the consent agenda, many of which could and should have had had a word or two of conversation by the Council so the Public could better understand the City Council’s willing consent. The Public Hearing portion of the agenda contained 3 items. Yes, there was little in the way of comment by the Public, but there was even less to none in the way of comments and or questions from the Council members. All that the public attendees heard were the developers’ explanations which were blessed by the staff, and followed by the comment “Staff recommends approval”. Then the compliant City Council approved favorable motions with its usual tag along 5 to 0 votes.

To describe the current practice of governing by the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens as a Council-Manager form of government is dubious at best. In my opinion, the current practice of governing has become and is Administrative driven, led by non-elected bureaucrats. The City of Palm Beach Gardens government is no longer led by the City Council, the persons elected and entrusted to do so. This erosion of the public’s right to control its government is not incipient but has been maturing for a decade or more. This subjugation of the representative rights of the public to bureaucrats, whether accidental or calculated, is shameful and needs correction.

Martino: Kudos to the Gardens’ Police Department!

Police Departments around the country have been front page news of late. Our local County and City departments have not been excluded. As first responders to our health and safety issues they deserve our respect and the benefit of our doubts. Most carry out their job responsibilities above and beyond the call of duty. A rare few do not.

During the week of July 11-16 I was exposed to still another side of policing that gets little to no attention, recognition, notoriety, or too often not even a thank you. I was witness to a public service that our Palm Beach Gardens Police Department performs but does not get enough recognition for, its interest and work with the youth of our community.

My 12-year old grandson, Oliver Jones, participated in a basketball camp at the Palm Beach Gardens High School Gym sponsored and hosted by the Gardens’ Police Department. Basketball is my favorite sport so I attended the 5 afternoon sessions of the camp to watch and encourage Oliver.

The basketball portion of the camp to my pleasant surprise was fantastic. There were approximately 100 boys and girls of all nationalities, skin color, and backgrounds. It featured two former NBA All-Star players, Michael Ray Richardson and Otis Birdsong, as the “coaches”. These two men represent and lead an organization known as Ball Stars Youth Camp. The camp is a free summer program whose goal is to help deserving youth reach their potential. They stress the importance of fundamentals, teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership as part of the skill set necessary for success on the basketball court and also in everyday life. To highlight the life lessons needed for success off the basketball court prominent local business and community leaders are invited to address the kids and share their life experiences. Subjects addressed at the Gardens’ camp by the speakers as they relate to teenagers included, Social Media and the Internet, Drug Prevention and Education, Law Enforcement and Community Involvement, and how to relate with the police when a special situation occurs.

All in all, what a wonderful week of basketball and life lessons was presented to the basketball campers. A special thank you and recognition are in order for Assistant Chief Jim Stormes, Sergeants Dorian Hawkins and Randal Anderson, Officers Orlando Elcock, Darrin Walker, Jason Sharon, and Robert Ayala who were assigned the duty to make this camp the tremendous success that it was. The other members of the Police Department, and in particular Chief Stephen Stepp for his leadership, are to also be congratulated for their daily Community Service to the residents of Palm Beach Gardens.

Once again the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department, in its own inimitable way, has reminded me why I am proud to be a Palm Beach Gardens’ resident. Thank you.

Martino: PBG Truly Has a New Face

Congratulations to Mr. Carl Woods, Palm Beach Gardens new Group 4 City Councilperson. It’s been a long and arduous journey for Mr. Woods to navigate. His journey was an uncharted path of twists and turns littered with obstacles. For Gardens’ residents, it was an intriguing escapade to watch, witness, and wonder why this is happening.

Mr. Woods’ journey began in the latter part of 2015 when 3 candidates qualified to run for the Palm Beach Gardens City Council Group 4 seat, the incumbent David Levy, and the challengers Kevin Easton and Carl Woods. It ended on July 20, 2016 by order of a Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge declaring Carl Woods the winner of the March 14th election by default based on the fact that that Mr. Woods was the only eligible candidate left in the race. In between the beginning and the end the City Charter’s election and term limit language was questioned, lawsuits were filed by the candidates, the City, and the Supervisor of Elections; a candidate withdraw from the race; an ethics complaint was filed; an election was held on March 14th; a winner was declared but then ruled ineligible by the Palm Beach County Court of Appeals; the winner became a loser who resigned to avoid being ousted. Carl Woods, finally, took the oath of office as Group 4 City Councilperson on July 21, 2016.

Mr. Woods has successfully completed his difficult election journey but he now embarks on a new one. This journey is the art of governing. The challenges of governing in a Council-Manager form of local level government as a part-time elected official can be and often are complex and complicated. Creating and maintaining the balance in the chain of command between the residents, the City Council, and the City Manager is complex. The responsibility for the health, safety, welfare, and recreation of all the City’s residents is complicated.

Carl Woods has persevered in the face of adversity. He defended the words and meaning of the City’s Charter against incoherence. He fought for what he thought was his right. These are admirable traits and qualities that will serve him well as he begins his new journey as a City Councilperson.

In Carl Woods the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens truly has a new face.

(Editor note:  If you would like to see a timeline of the election see Sarah Peter’s article here.)

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