Sunday, July 3, 2022

Weinroth Gets Competitor and GL Homes After More Homes in Ag Reserve

Palm Beach County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, a Democrat who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, got a last-minute challenge for a second term.

For most of the last year, it appeared that Weinroth would draw no opposition. Though Democrats hold six of the seven commission seats and Weinroth won a comparatively narrow victory in 2018—eight points—despite heavily outspending his opponent, the county party seemed uninterested in fielding a candidate with strong name recognition.

On Friday, however, Boca Raton resident Marcia Woodward paid the filing fee of roughly $6,000 and submitted her qualifying papers. Woodward, a Republican, listed her occupation as “Home Maker.” She does not have name recognition. She told me that this is her first run for office.

Three days before qualifying, Woodward spoke before the county commission. She was there, Woodward said, on behalf of residents who had emailed her about “election integrity.” She wanted the commission to support livestreaming from the supervisor of elections office when votes are counted.

Because she would be running, Woodward said, she wanted to be sure that “all of the votes are counted.” In her mind, “Trust has been broken across the board,” and she considers “election integrity” to be one example.

Weinroth, who as county mayor chairs the meetings, pointed out the obvious: Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link is an elected constitutional officer. The county commission has no direct involvement in how Link runs the office.

We already knew that candidates in some county school board races would raise the sort of imagined grievances that have led to legislation in Tallahassee. Among them are Critical Race Theory, which schools don’t teach, textbooks and certain books in school libraries.

But if last week’s meeting is any indication, the imagined issue of “election integrity” may be part of county commission elections—at least the one for District 4. After Woodward, a string of other speakers in a clearly orchestrated fashion complained—without evidence—of “all this election fraud” and machines that are capable of changing votes. One woman said “satellites in Italy” had helped to steal the 2020 election. It was a list of all the discredited conspiracy theories from the 2020 election.

Woodward said she sent her ideas to Gov. DeSantis’ “team.” DeSantis, though, has said that the 2020 election in Florida had no security problems.

Woodward said she is running on behalf of residents who are “not getting results” from local government. Weinroth told me, “I look forward to telling voters about my accomplishments over the last four years.”

GL proposes bid for Ag Reserve development

GL Homes is offering nearly $7 million to Stonebridge Country Club in what appears to be a campaign to get the community’s support for the land swap that would allow the company to build homes in the Agricultural Reserve Area.

The proposed 653-acre site is north of Stonebridge Country Club, at Clint Moore Road and State Road 7. GL wants permission to build 1,250 homes. One thousand high-priced homes would be on Hyder West. The other 250 would be workforce housing constructed elsewhere.

Current rules prohibit that amount of development at Hyder West. So GL wants to trade 1,600 acres outside of the reserve to build 1,000 more homes than county planners envisioned as the limit in the reserve. Current rules allow only land swaps within the reserve in return for higher density.

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A farm on the Agricultural Reserve

Stonebridge residents had expressed concern about traffic the added homes would generate. As the Palm Beach Post reported, however, GL plans to address that concern with roughly $7 million that would go to Stonebridge.

The first $4 million would be payments to the club and the homeowners association. GL also would buy 30 equity memberships in the club, at $90,000 each, for residents of the new homes. GL then would build a path for golf carts from the new community to the club.

News of the proposal arose from comments at a county commission meeting. The Post confirmed the details with two Realtors whose listings include homes at Stonebridge. GL Homes declined to comment.

The proposal shows how lucrative the Hyder West swap would be for GL Homes, especially in the current real estate market. Though the county would get 1,600 acres outside of the reserve for environmental projects, the deal does only harm to the reserve.

In February, the county commission sent the proposed swap to the state for review. When it comes back with what surely will be the state’s blessing, the commission must decide whether to allow the swap.

Delray approves police contract

As expected, the Delray Beach City Commission last week approved new contracts with the police union. Also as expected, the vote was not unanimous.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Julie Casale dissented. Each had no issue with the new salary scale, which, according to the staff memo, makes the department one of the three highest-paying in the county.

Their complaint was the change that increases pension benefits for some police department employees. It’s called the multiplier, and it will rise from 2.75 percent to 3 percent. Lifetime benefits are calculated using years of service and final salary multiplied by a certain amount. The higher the multiplier, the higher the benefits.

Casale noted that the city’s police pension program is just 63 percent funded. If there isn’t enough money in a certain year to make the pension payments, the city must make up the difference from the operating budget.

Petrolia recalled correctly that the commission several years ago pledged to strengthen public safety pension funds. “It was so tough, but we had to keep our city afloat.” She considered the higher benefits to be backsliding and stated that she would oppose the contract “only for that reason.”

The previous three-year contract expired last September. City Manager Terrence Moore said the staff has pledged not to drag things out next time.

Atlantic Avenue is accident-prone

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Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach

Atlantic Avenue is dangerous.

To the east, in downtown Delray Beach, the avenue is the center of the city’s thriving downtown. West of Interstate 95, according to the county, it’s less than that.

New figures show that some of the county’s most dangerous intersections are along Atlantic Avenue. At Military Trail, outside the city, the intersection is tied for first when it comes to crashes. Atlantic and Congress Avenue is fourth. Atlantic and I-95 is fifth.

Boca Council agrees to O’Rourke reimbursement

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Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke

During their Tuesday meeting, Boca Raton City Council members approved reimbursement to Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke of legal fees stemming from an ethics complaint that was found to lack legal sufficiency.

Last year, O’Rourke used her city email address to endorse Monica Mayotte and Yvette Drucker in their respective council races. A resident charged that O’Rourke had acted improperly. The state ethics commission found otherwise.

The city delayed action on the reimbursement to get opinions from the state and county ethics panels confirming that Drucker and Mayotte could vote on the reimbursement, since the complaint had included them. Local governments routinely approve such reimbursements. Otherwise, disgruntled residents could harass elected officials with lawsuits that required them to obtain counsel. The vote was unanimous.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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