City of Stuart
Friends & Neighbors is designed to give you the information that is happening within our County. My goal is to inspire you to get involved and make a change to make Martin County the best it can be.
There is lot’s to do!
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I am looking for someone from the Palm City area to report on the news there. If you think you could write a piece of between 300 and 500 words twice a month, we should explore that possibility.
ELECTION RESULT TAKEAWAYS
1: A great marketing campaign matters.
With the help of Martin County, the Business Development Board put on a slick and compelling marketing campaign which resulted in an overwhelmingly victory in the ad valorem business tax initiative. Though never used in the previous ten years of its existence, the voters believed it should be continued as a tool in the toolbox so to speak.
This campaign was like the one that School Board Chairperson Li Roberts used in 2018 to tirelessly promote the two successful tax increases for the Martin County School District. BDB Chair, Joan Goodrich, did a great job in having tax-shy Martin County vote to approve this incentive program.
The lesson for the County is that having a clear and concise message is important to promote passing the often-sought-after increased sales tax for infrastructure projects. Roberts committed to how the money would be spent, and since the passage, the School Board has published where the funding is going monthly.
There have been bumps in the road, but for the most part, it has worked. If the County wants to ever pass an infrastructure sales tax it needs to avoid making it a about new cultural art centers, water parks, and club houses. It needs to stick to infrastructure basics like roads and water projects. And it needs to be as accountable to the taxpayers as the School Board.
2: Political endorsements do not mean much.
After nearly 10 years in office, Kelli Glass Leighton had an extensive number of “political friends.” She was endorsed by Sheriff Snyder, Congressman Mast, County Commissioners Heard and Ciampi, County Clerk of the Court Carolyn Timmons, and others. Yet she lost decisively and overwhelmingly to a political neophyte, Jenny Fields.
What Jenny had going for her was 31 years of experience in the Property Appraisers Office. She rose from being a clerk to being deputy. Laurel Kelly, Martin County’s longtime Property Appraiser, did endorse Fields and that endorsement mattered in this race. If Kelly had endorsed Doug Smith for County Commissioner, it would have meant nothing. Kelly’s endorsement of a candidate to take over her “baby,” after nearly 30 years in the position herself, did.
The constitutional offices are technocratic and apolitical. We hardly think about them until we have an interaction. In many places, these types of offices are not elected but are appointed by the governing board. People expect the person in charge to be knowledgeable about what they are going to do. Fields clearly filled the bill.
Political endorsements may not mean much but perhaps another type does. For instance, a property appraiser needs a good relationship with the real estate community. In this case, though many developers backed Leighton, Martin County Realtors endorsed Fields. Did that translate into votes? Maybe since there are always lots of people selling real estate. Realtor-endorsed candidates did well at the polls.
- Incumbency and experience does matter.
No Martin County incumbent lost his/her race for reelection though there was some closer than expected outcomes. Commissioner Smith beat Jo Neeson with 64% of the vote, but she was a weak and underfunded candidate. He had the overwhelming support of the Fire Union which spent quite a bit of money getting him reelected. This is not a Commission that under funds that department, and the sitting Commissioners are rewarded.
Neeson or someone else who ran as a Democrat would probably have beaten Smith in November. Currently there is election law that allows for a write-in candidate to file and that closes out the primary to Democrats and Independents voting. Smith used that tactic here and has done it several times in the past.
There are more Democrats and Independents than Republicans in Martin County. After 20 years in office, Smith has made enemies including some Republicans. The Democrats are beginning to make headway in Martin County, and if they are smart, they will make this seat a top priority in 2024.
Stuart City Commissioner Merritt Matheson easily beat his opponent, Ed Galante, with 67% of the vote. Matheson has been a steady and thoughtful Commissioner. He had the support of both environmentalists and the real estate community not the usual case. Though he only voted against one multi-family project, his insistence that there be an environmental benefit in development was a way to encourage smart growth. In a project earlier this month, he was able to secure 20 apartments being made available at 80% of Stuart’s AMI (Average Medium Income).
Galante had shown no prior interest in either the government or the community of Stuart. He had no real agenda except for keeping everything the same. Just mouthing platitudes did not carry much weight with voters in this election.
Though not an incumbent, Troy McDonald (a former Commissioner) beat his unfunded and little-known opponent, Caryn Hall Yost-Rudge, with 61% of the vote for Glass-Leighton’s unexpired term. McDonald has the experience of being a Commissioner, but he rubbed many Stuart voters the wrong way when he decided to run for County Commission in 2018. After now-Commissioner Stacey Hetherington announced her candidacy for that same County Commission seat, he subsequently dropped out of that race. and filed to run for his then-current Stuart seat. But Matheson had already announced that he was running and subsequently beat McDonald.
A stronger opponent would probably have won against McDonald this time. When he runs again next year, he will once again be an experienced incumbent. He will need to prove to the electorate that he is not so much a politician than a concerned citizen trying to do the right thing.
Both Indiantown Council Members Guyton Stone and Janet Hernandez won their bids for re-election with 44% and 57% of the votes, respectively. Stone was in a 4-way race and his main opponent, Guy Parker had 41% of the vote. Hernandez’s opponent, Tony Zwiener, had not been planning a race much before filing.
Indiantown is predominantly Hispanic. Hernandez is well known and well-liked by her community. Stone is a local businessman and has done great work with the Boy Scouts. Their vision has been growing the government of Indiantown. They along with the rest of the Council have a vision of having their own Fire/Rescue, police and City Hall with a community center.
Parker and especially Zwiener did not enunciate a clear vision for how they would govern. Both Parker and Zwiener are Indianwood residents. I do not know if Indianwood residents can influence the rest of Indiantown’s voters to be for them.
Could Parker and Zwiener have won this election? They would have had a much better chance if they had started a year ago. Both needed to make inroads into Stone’s and Hernandez’s bases. They needed to have compelling narratives. The turnout was negligible and a small number of people voting made a huge difference.
We can say goodbye to the campaign literature for the next month. Then it will start all over again for the general election on November 3rd. The ballots for those that requested vote-by-mail will go out on September 24th. Election day is more a figure of speech than an actuality with mail-in voting and early voting making up nearly 70% of the 39,000 cast on Tuesday.
If we did not have both those options, the lines on election day would be absurdly long. Many Americans would not have the patience to wait to cast their ballots. Even with all those voting options in Martin County, there was only a 30% voter turn-out.
We can debate whether anything we do will increase voter turn-out or not. The most important thing a citizen can do is vote. Most Americans do not actively engage in the political process. They would rather sit at home and yell at the screen as they watch Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. Most Americans no longer pick up a newspaper or even a news magazine once a week. Yet they spout utter nonsense that they have read on Facebook or seen on Twitter.
A democracy only works with knowledgeable citizen participation. That cannot be accomplished in the solitude of your home. It needs public engagement. And public engagement is not Tweeting or never leaving the confines of your home.
This seems to be a Martin County Commission that wants to expand the mission of the Parks & Rec Department to include much more than the basics.
This business model has the County operating a Water Park, beach restaurants, a catering facility, RV park and campgrounds, and a soon-to-be beautiful golf course with a “Top Golf” driving range. At the same time, there are other parks and athletic fields that are not in such good shape. What is more important and necessary? What should government be involved with?
Should that department spend resources on the above or rather making sure that the parks that most Martin County residents use are spectacular. Is it necessary or even desirable to open bars at beaches that are operated by the County? If more than a concession stand is needed, should not the private sector be the ones doing those things?
I have been shown nothing but courtesy by the Park Director, Kevin Abate, and his entire staff. They have provided any numbers I have requested. Earlier this week, I spent almost 2 hours with Kevin and his staff at the golf course along with another member of the Taxpayer Association. The vision for the future of this facility would make an entrepreneur proud. But is it the correct vision for a government entity?
Some of my colleagues at the Taxpayer Association want to blame staff for the overreach. I do not subscribe to that view. Staff may bring up some of these ideas, but it is the Commission that approves them. They are the ones that hear the siren song and lose all reason in their rush to ultimately flounder upon the fiscal shoals of spending.
They think they will be applauded for creating this or that new thing. The Commissioners may even be told that the water rides subsidize the competitive pool. When the Taxpayer Association delved into the numbers, it showed just losses.
The County is not a bottomless money pit. You can only juggle for so long. If you do not believe me, see the next story.
To read more on the Park’s go HERE
LOCAL TAX RANKINGS
The Florida House has ranked the way every county and municipality spends tax dollars. They are doing this with something called “The Taxpayers Accountability and Transparency Project.” Martin County and its municipalities did not rank high.
Martin County received a D grade for government debt, finishing 29 out of 32 in large county ranking. Government spending did slightly better at 21st with a C grade. Jupiter Island ranked 236th out of 242 small cities for government spending and for the number of employees 232nd. Ocean Breeze received an A for government debt coming in 2nd for 242 small cities yet 110th in spending and 96th in government size.
Sewall’s Point tied with Ocean Breeze at 2nd for government debt, but with spending and size, ranked in the middle at 124th and 116th respectively. My hometown of Stuart ranked 197th in government spending, 191st in debt and 217th in government size for the 242 small city category rankings. Indiantown was 28th in government size, 60th in government debt, and 61st in government spending.
What does it all mean? Every Martin County municipality is ranked as a small city. Yet you can hardly categorize Ocean Breeze and Stuart in the same manner. Jupiter Island ranks up there for spending and debt, but that is a place that wants service and will pay to have it. One more employee on its payroll means nothing to its taxpayers. Indiantown is ranked well, yet as is well documented in the newsletter, the Village just seems to grow and grow.
At 160,000 people, Martin County is classified as one of the large counties. Should it be compared to Broward or Palm Beach County? The ranking categories are done using per capita rates. Modern government requires employees who are specialized. In Martin County, you may only need two GIS specialists while in Broward, you may need five. There are almost 2 million people in Broward as compared to 160,000 here. Broward would be lower in the rankings due to economies of scale.
What should be the takeaway from most score cards…not much. When I saw the website, I was all ready to excoriate our local governments for spending our taxes and how is more nuanced than we are sometimes led to believe. Can Stuart and Martin County spend our taxes in a more appropriate way?
Of course, government can! Yet the first thing our governing boards need to do is set out a philosophy of what government is. Then they need to bring a holistic approach to their budgets. When implementing that approach, they need to ruthlessly cut programs that do not fulfill the mission.
Yet here is where politics and friendships and the “good ole boy” mentality ends up sabotaging the best intentions. Here is where good government gives way to the politician’s disease of fearing displeasure. It is too bad, but the smaller the government, the more all of that is prevalent.
The Martin County rankings can be found here
By Tom Pine
When I first started speaking at Commission meetings a couple of years ago, I often used photos to explain my point of view. Then one day while I was out and about, I was asked by someone why I was no longer showing photos when I spoke at County Commission meeting. I almost always show photos I explained. I then began to investigate the reason why this was occurring.
I went home and watched the recorded Commission meeting and much to my surprise there were NO photos being shown when I spoke. I was still jumping through the hoops that the County Administer had set up for me to show my photos in the first place. The photos were shown in the Commission chambers but were not transmitted over the air ways to the public. That was in stark contrast to when I first started speaking at meetings. I felt like I was being played as a fool by the County Administer.
At the next County Commission meeting I brought up the situation when I spoke to the commissioners and the chairman at the time, Commissioner Ciampi addressed the situation and resolved it by directing the County Administer that my photos would be shown just like everyone else’s, as long as I met all the proper criteria.
On July 31,2020 I emailed the County Administer and asked that I be put on the email list with the residents of the Hobe Heights area of Hobe Sound that were devastated by severe flooding over the Memorial Day Weekend, she refused and advised me to file a Public Records Request.
At the August 11, 2020 County Commission meeting I brought this situation up when I spoke before the commission. They took no action!
On August 13, 2020 I filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics over this issue.
I have been a Martin County resident for over forty five years and presently live in the Jensen Beach area where my neighborhood floods on a regular basis and I would like to know what to expect from my County government when we have a similar situation.
I would also like to know how many other restricted email lists that the County Administer blocks participation by the taxpayers of Martin County. How can the County Administer block certain taxpayers from real time communications with other taxpayers of Martin County?
Tom Pine’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
The first chart from The Visual Capitalist is about the coffee supply chain:
The second from The Visual Capitalist details what are the 20 most profitable and least profitable companies by employee headcount.
I urge those who are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to
Info@friendsandneighborsofmartincounty.com or fill out the form on the website.
Our first letter is from Georgia Shurtz regarding volunteering especially for Meals on Wheels:
Meals on Wheels is in DESPERATE need of volunteers. Can you add this to your newsletter? PLEASE I love the newsletter. Georgia Shurts
I have thoroughly enjoyed my three months at the Meals on Wheels volunteer job. I volunteer once a week. I pick up the meals, averaging 10-13 meals at 11:00, and deliver them to the seniors placing them on a chair or table. The seniors will open the door once I ring the bell, but they are very cautious and practice social distancing.
Please sign up for volunteer hours. Folks like Ms. Allison age 100 years old and Ms. Donna, age 96 (names have been changed) are VERY inspirational and appreciate my volunteering. Mr. Tom tells me every Friday I make his day just saying hello. I get more out of this job than I give ️. I love to see the smiles on their faces. PLEASE consider signing Up by Calling Curletha Campbell 772-2237829 or email email@example.com and share this info with family and friends. We need YOU!
The 2nd letter is from the Denman family:
Why are Martin County Covid-19 cases & deaths climbing? What is being done to level off or begin seeing these numbers peak and go down? We watch these numbers daily and have never seen anything but the constant elevation of cases and deaths in Martin County.
Our next letter is from Gayle Marie Merrill:
Thank you – an awesome read & Information..
I/we the community are working hard to have the Carnation Farm property to be up to compliance before they ask for a favor from our county commissioners to build 99 homes on 19 acres of toxic dirt… the county approved/signed off On permit for the old house to be placed into the old septic tank in 2018 – well the permit is empty no info on how this was done & approved by the health department – no worries I have the State involved now…
yes I/we are getting involved..
Thank you for the read this morning!!!
It gave me a reason not to give in to the stupidity of the planning department & admitting oh I didn’t have time to drive by the property and voted that they could have blue skies thank you again.
Gayle Marie Merrill
And one on the same topic with a different point of view from Herbie Howard:
My friends were all concerned about a development going up on Gomez, so I watched the Local Planning Agency (LPA) meeting. This agency determines if a project will progress or not. It does not give the final approval. The Board of County Commissioners does that. So, this project (the Carnation farm wants to sell its 19 acres to a developer who will build homes there) has a way to travel before it becomes a reality. What I want to address is not this particular project, but the overall impression I got from the public comment.
First, know that I grew up on a farm. I remember vividly the day that my father had a realtor over to inquire about selling it. Times had been tough, and he was working construction just to keep food on our table. Since we, obviously, lived out in the country, Dad had to drive 45 minutes each way just to get to that construction job. He had to report to his bulldozer, or ‘dozer as he liked to call, it by 6 am. So, I was about 6 years old, sitting on Dad’s lap listening to the conversation when it hit me, and I looked at him with horror in my eyes. I said “Daddy, don’t sell the farm!”
That was an emotional response to what I could only imagine in my young mind was a terrifying change and loss of everything I knew. It was falling into the abyss.
The owners of the Carnation farm on Gomez, though I have not spoken with them, have indicated they have gone through such hard times. Note that 90% of cut flowers now come from outside the US.
I heard such strong criticism of them. “You’re not a good neighbor” to their faces as they sat there hoping the LPA would allow them to move forward.
Staff indicated that the project falls well within the parameters of what is allowed by Martin County’s beloved Comprehensive Development Plan. What struck me was the tone of fear and hatred of change in the voices of the public. But, as is so often said ‘we are a country of laws.’ Others have a right to sell their property so they can put their kids through college or buy a retirement home or send their grandkids to Europe or any number of reasons that an asset would be sold. It shouldn’t escape us that those farmers were there long before the neighboring developments were built. I am sure they looked with horror at their changing landscape as they watched the many homes go up on Gomez. Maybe they went to an LPA meeting and protested.
I’m not going to argue all the specific reasons for or against the project…drainage, traffic etc. I just hope people will realize that others have extenuating circumstances and ….rights.
From Lois Brown regarding masks:
When you decided to run for office, you knew that you would have to make decisions that are best for the entire community so why is it so difficult now? The CDC insists we should be wearing masks but you are worried about losing friends (who are these friends that don’t respect what you do and the decisions you have to make?)? What about people losing their lives? I find all of the commissioners to be questionable in truly representing what is in the best interests of the community. They should all be replaced.
And part of my answer:
You realize I am not a Commissioner.
I agree that masks should be mandatory. While the Commission gave it a try, not all believed in them. The president and governor need to be imposing the mandate.
As to replacing Commissioners, there were three seats up for election. Two will receive additional terms because no one ran against them. Smith has an opponent that has very little chance of winning. If you were one of the 5 would you be worried about what the public thinks or when citizens make statements such as they should all be replaced?
Next from Tyrone P. Monte regarding federal police:
The Founders didn’t want a National Police Force.”
True. But ponder this: the whole push by the social activists to discredit and defund the Cops, open the Jails, promote further leniency for criminals, will culminate in a push for a National Police Force!
That force will be more about enforcing political correctness than crime prevention.
American NKVD to coddle the criminals and bully the victims.
Veronica Stein commented on the Farmer’s Market:
I participated in the drive through farmers market at the beginning of the pandemic and wish the farmers market would stay at fair grounds full time and become a permanent fixture. I find it ironic that Flint Michigan has a permanent farmer’s market and we don’t. It would be wonderful to have a cheese shop, bakery, seafood store, vegetable/fruit store and other hand crafted items. All locally produced items only, all sold in one place.
Last from Marcus Rothstein re my piece regarding what is appropriate for government to do:
I hope you get to publish this as an opinion piece or OpEd if suitable in the paper. It is crazy that the majority of voters want the things that the Parks department is doing.
I’m totally in agreement with you Tom. If they want commercial quality, then let a commercial entity finance and run it.
Really, What Is The Mission?
Thanks for writing. Best, Marcus
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 11, 2020
Commissioner Heard dove into the mask controversy during Commissioner comments. There were several anti-mask speakers during public comment. She made a motion to revise the ordinance that expired on August 8th. Sara Woods, the County Attorney, said you need to advertise to have an ordinance. There currently is an emergency order in place that strongly recommends the wearing of masks. There are no penalties for non-compliance.
Heard suggested mandating masks as an emergency order. However, an emergency order provides for the possibility of criminal arrest and conviction of a 2nd degree misdemeanor. No other Commissioner wanted that to happen.
In an exceptionally long statement, Ed Ciampi said that it would be a disservice to the public not to have this discussion as an agenda item after proper advertisement. Of course, it is painfully obvious that nothing more could be done without the grueling hours of public debate. He made a substitute motion to bring back a proposed ordinance on the 25th which was seconded by Heard.
Smith wanted to have some sort of standards in the language so that the mandate could be lifted or applied depending on the listed circumstances. Then, they would not have to rescind and then have a new ordinance if it became necessary to reimpose the mask mandate. Smith wanted to know what the County should determine as a standard of success. Ciampi agreed as did Hetherington. Jenkins was not interested in a mandate.
Smith went on to state that many businesses were glad that the mandate was in place because it relieved them of having to impose requirements for their individual businesses. According to him, business improved because more people felt safe with being out and about.
The Commission kept throwing around the terms “ordinance” and “order” as if they were interchangeable. They are not. An ordinance is a law. To be deemed adopted in Florida, an ordinance must be duly advertised and passed at two Commission meetings. They can pass an emergency ordinance which requires no advertising and only one vote. That is what the Commission did with the original mandate. An emergency order is promulgated under the County’s police powers. It is most often exercised during hurricanes when there is need to have curfews for short term events. Violation carries criminal penalties.
The motion passed 4-1 with Hetherington dissenting.
CAN I GET A DRINK HERE?
Parks Director Kevin Abate is asking the Commission for permission to apply for a full liquor license for the Café at Stuart Beach. It will be a new dining establishment with an outside Tiki Bar. It will not be open at night.
Heard had a concern about having a full bar. Ciampi would not have a problem with Daiquiri machines and drinks in a can but thought “Jack and Coke” a bit too much. Abate and the Commissioners kept speaking about the customer experience as if they were running Disney World instead of a public beach.
I thought the customer experience was just going to the beach, foolish though that seems. If shooting clays over the water would enhance the customer experience, would they institute that? I always thought that if you have a hot dog and a beer, that was the food experience most people were looking for at the beach.
Ciampi said more discussion was in order when they bring it back after getting the license. Motion passed 5-0.
CHANGE ORDER 17
The golf course construction needs another $127,000 for new lawn reseeding in fringe areas.
Ciampi said he took a tour, and the new course was amazing. It is being constructed to have a more Florida feel. It is a hundred-year-old golf course, and things were found that were not anticipated. Heard stated that she was the most fiscally conservative member of the Commission and she was sold. She also called Abate the best salesman in Martin County.
Yet there is still design work to be done on the parking lot and clubhouse. And here we are with Change Order 17. The only Commissioner that did not seem to be falling in line was Hetherington. She wanted to have a comprehensive plan and budget. Though there was a budget that Jenkins and Heard fought for initially. That $5.5 million is now a mere suggestion. And both have acquiesced.
I think like the Beach Café the Commission forgets that they are not a board of a private business but a government. There should absolutely be a golf course. It is not and should not be using tax dollars to create Augusta National. Yet it seems the 95% of Martin County taxpayers that will never set foot on that golf course are being charged to build much more than what is needed. When does it stop?
The agenda item can be found here
Attorney Woods stated that she called the Fair Association’s attorney, and he was unaware of any problems regarding the lease. At the last meeting, Jay Spicer, the Fair Manager said that not having a signed lease was preventing the association from raising the $3 million needed to sign a lease. This is despite an irrevocable option by the County to enter a lease whose terms have been agreed and attached to the option. The lease can be signed upon the fair raising that sum which is the same sum they, themselves, insisted be in the option.
Woods also stated that Spicer did not respond to her. The ball is in the Fair’s court.
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 10, 2020
For many years, the Kiplinger family has owned property on both sides of Indian Street between Kanner Highway and the river. Last year, the Commission voted to annex only the part of that parcel that lies on the north side of Indian Street. A few weeks ago, that piece became the site for Bridgeview, an apartment complex.
The reason for the annexation was because the County would allow offices to be built not residential development. When the Commission ultimately agreed to the complex, the terms struck were for a better project that could have been built in the County. (See where it was approved here)
The City should have insisted that the entire parcel be annexed. The southern part of the parcel is next to a County preserve area. At the time, the owner claimed they wanted to keep that property perhaps for future development.
The City could have had some open space in return for making the property being annexed more valuable. Unfortunately, the only Commissioner that saw the benefit to the City was Matheson. He voted against the annexation yet ultimately voted for the complex.
This week Kiplinger donated those several acres to the County…the same County that would not allow him to sell his land to a rental apartment developer, even though the County claims to support the development of less expensive housing. The City will be receiving additional new tax revenue for the development. The County will be receiving much more in the way of taxes and impact fees for the development. They collect taxes and fees on all properties in the county regardless of whether in the unincorporated section or municipalities. Martin County will not however have to provide any additional municipal services to the new residents.
Stuart Commissioners were too afraid that the project would not happen if they pressed the issue. Was it a case of not wanting to irritate a prominent person? There were probable tax benefits to Kiplinger by doing it the way he did.
The County will include this donated portion in the current preserve that is already there. Yet if the City had made annexation of the entire parcel a condition or allowed the partition of the property with a dedication later, the City would have 7 additional acres of preserve on its books. It could still be incorporated with the existing County preserve, but it would be part of Stuart.
The County gets all the benefits of the new complex such as cheaper housing, impact fees, and taxes but none of the headaches such as providing services. At the same time, both Kiplinger and Martin County get to pat each other on the back. Is the City going to benefit? Sure, it will, but it should have benefited more. Unfortunately, only Matheson saw the possibility. That is too bad.
WHAT IS YOUR SCORE
The City was looking for a way to give density bonuses based on developers providing certain amenities that the City wants to encourage. Incorporating a list of things into the code puts everyone on notice that these are things Stuart wants to recognize as public benefit in approving a PUD. This is a good idea up to a point….and that is a PUD must have 7 points of benefit to be approved.
Real Estate is more of an art than a science. Putting together a successful project requires looking at it in several ways. Each project is unique and has a financial component that could be different. For example, a PUD in East Stuart would be an economic driver regardless of whether any of the proposed things listed were attached. On the other side, a project downtown can afford to have more “extras” to get through the process.
Once you start taking away discretion, unintentional consequences happen. This could result in throwing things in that do not meet the intent while they may satisfy the code. The second is that it narrows the Commission’s discretion. For example, if an East Stuart project does not meet enough of the criteria to make the 7 points, do you then give them a pass but not the guy downtown who can afford some superfluous things to win approval?
I like the idea of the Commission spelling out these preferred things in the code but giving each amenity a certain number of points is unnecessarily complicated. By having them enumerated, staff, boards, and the Commission can judge a project by their incorporation without restricting decisions because of them. My advice is to leave out the points but incorporate the goals. The ordinance with table can be found here
The Commission passed the ordinance on first reading 4-0.
This was the 2nd reading of Harbor Grove which will be in South Stuart. There was no public comment. Originally, there were some concerns about traffic on US 1, but nothing surfaced this time. It went to Tallahassee for comment because it is over ten acres between the 1st and 2nd readings, and there were none.
Out of the 324 units, Mayor Meier had asked that 5% be set aside for rent at 80% of the AMI at 1st reading. Subsequently, Matheson spoke with the developer and had him to agree to a nearly 7% set aside (20 apartments) for 10 years. Motion was made by Clarke and seconded by Bruner. It was approved 4-0. The market will dictate if there is actually a need for these 20 apartments.
The presentation can be found here
SPECIAL BUDGET MEETING AUGUST 17, 2020
The Commission met to discuss the upcoming budget. The presentation can be found here
Given how precarious the Florida and national economies are, it was odd that the Commission did not look to cut any expense going forward. The only hint of a Commissioner wanting to cut a line item was to cut Main Street’s budget by $20,000 to $50,000. Mayor Meier explained that the Commission’s plan was to cut back the subsidy over three years. The other Commissioners stated that they recommend no changes for another year due to COVID hampering the leasing of Flagler Center for events.
Most of the discussion that did take place was about everything but numbers. Everyone received accolades and acknowledgements. Like the County, Stuart is facing an economic bomb that no one wants to admit yet. Many of our residents are already out of a job or will be soon. The official unemployment rate in Martin County has grown 250% since last January.
This could be the last flush budget for a decade. They will most likely be cutting programs and people next year and maybe even this year if all the revenue is not realized as anticipated.
To see the complete $30 million plus budget, go here
SPECIAL MEETING AUGUST 17, 2020
The Board had its meeting to go over the Citizens Advisory Committee’s recommendations.
They agreed with the six candidates that the committee recommended although Li Roberts did not want Mr. Grantham to become a semi-finalist. Tony Anderson wanted all the candidates recommended by the committee to move forward, and it was the position of the rest of the Board.
Ms. Roberts further wanted to add Mr. Dunsmore to the list. No other member had any other additions. The Board will select the next superintendent from these seven out of the forty-five applicants that applied. This will be the first appointed school superintendent in Martin County after the voters mandated the change from an elected superintendent in 2018.
Each Board Member already has given the recruiting consultants a question for the applicants to answer. At the Board’s request, 3 will provide video answers and 2 will provide written answers. There will also be a five-minute video presentation by each of the applicants in the next round.
A video response would be appropriate for one question to see how a respondent speaks and looks when addressing an audience. I also think that how an applicant can frame an answer in writing is as important if not more so.
To see all the semi-finalists and their packages go here
BOARD MEETING AUGUST 18, 2020
The Board reviewed the plans for the two new elementary schools to replace Jensen Beach Elementary and Palm City Elementary. Both buildings will have single-point entry and will be two-story. They are each 88,000 square feet. The District has bought additional contiguous Palm City property and will buy more for the elementary school there. Initially, the budget for each is $32 million, but I am sure that figure will grow as planning and construction moves forward.
What struck me is how everything about the conceptual design seems antiquated in just a few months. With 40% of our students attending remotely now, will “in school” learning return to the earlier model and need the amount of space that it did in the past? Everything about the design may be antiquated going forward.
With the growth in competition for traditional public schools by charters, private, and home schooling, what is the future of this old model. Martin County has seen fewer students enrolling than in the past. If Florida continues this trend of encouraging alternate education, will there be over capacity. Will more restrictions be placed on local boards by Tallahassee thereby limiting their discretion in all matters going forward?
These two proposed buildings and all of Martin County schools are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They are valuable assets that are totally underutilized by Martin County taxpayers. Gyms and auditoriums are locked and inaccessible to the public. Duplicative athletic fields, basketball courts, and other facilities are owned by municipalities and the County while those in schools sit empty for half the year, weekends and at night.
Martin County taxpayers should not have to provide a gym for a kid during school time and then another athletic complex for after school, in summer and on weekends. Yet this is our model. It is a model of waste that should be eliminated.
The Board should be questioning the very concept of its building model. There are schools empty and under-utilized all over America. While it has not happened yet here, it may be coming, and the Board needs to anticipate and not just spend.
The conceptual drawings can be found here here
SCHOOL IN A PANDEMIC
I was at a polling place during the Primary election and speaking to a few people. One said that she could not believe that the District would close a classroom because a kid had a sore throat. Could they be sending home an entire classroom of kids and making them quarantine for 14 days using that as a reason? Readers should know that is not happening.
When I asked where the person heard the information, it turns out it was a Facebook post. That rumor, like so many others, is not true. The same day as that encounter, the School Board held their pandemic meeting. It was all about what happens when a kid becomes ill. Like many things that are happening in this pandemic, determining when to send a kid home or quarantine a class is much more complicated than that.
If a child complains about having a symptom related to the virus, the school will send that child home but not the entire class. For the entire class to be quarantined, the child must have tested positive or someone in the home where he is living. The other children in class must be designated as close contacts of the affected child. Even if the kid or someone in his home tested positive, if the kid had not been in school for two days prior to the positive test, there is no need to close.
When I was a kid and the way my kids were treated, if you did not have a fever you went to school. That can no longer apply especially in the age of COVID. This virus is so virulent that any possible exposure should be treated seriously. The schools are on a mission to stay open, and they need everyone to help them do just that.
The attached presentation can more fully explain what the Health Department and District procedures are here
THE BOARD’S AGONY
I really feel for the School Board. They are being castigated for opening the schools. The unions and others felt they should have delayed the start of in-person learning. They had the leeway from the state to do that for a few weeks. After a failure to come to agreement with the teachers, the Board proceeded to follow the schedule as published.
Not opening at all or resorting to all online instruction was not an option. In this case, the governor and education commissioner issued mandates that forbid that from occurring. It was immaterial what the Board wanted. So much for home rule or CNN.
During some long and cryptic comments, Tony Anderson made that point. It appeared that he was taking flak from some of his former teacher colleagues that felt he had abandoned them. Anderson said that he was still one of them, and he always would be. That may be true in his heart, but he recognizes that there are other things he needs to consider in his current role.
We now have two Board Members that were elected after careers in Martin County classrooms. They do bring that educational perspective into the Board when making decisions. At times, it is valuable at other times it may seem they are carrying water for the teachers and staff. School Board Members cannot just be representatives for sole groups.
I can see Anderson’s pain as I do the rest of the Board’s. At times, they are forced to implement a policy they may not feel is entirely appropriate for Martin County. In the case of COVID, they are just cogs in the bureaucracy of state. The box that they operate in is sent from Tallahassee. They can move the inside walls a bit, but their marching orders are implicit.
WORKSHOP MEETING AUGUST 11, 2020
The Town is a beautiful spot surrounded by the St. Lucie River and the Indian River. There are two bridges to connect the peninsula to Stuart on one side and Hutchinson Island on the other. Sewall’s Point’s only natural connection to the mainland is through North Sewall’s Point Road to Jensen Beach.
Possible annexation is limited. Growth is contained to a new home on an empty lot. That is why what is being proposed on 7.9 acres between North Sewall’s Point Road and the Indian River is a major development for the Town. Banyan Hill Estates will have 6 lots. When it was approved in 2009, there were 7 more traditional lots.
Vice-Mayor Barile had the most comments and suggestions for the plan. He thought that there needed to be more water retention by the North Sewall’s Point Road area. The developer has planned to have a preserve area with a PAMP in the middle of the development. There will be a homeowner’s association for maintenance of those common areas.
Each lot exceeds minimum lot size and will be required to handle its own storm water on site. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, is recommending that it be approved with master drainage plan and an outfall. The developer will construct a grass paver connection for River Road through the property. The Town may want to require that the developer finish the connection through the property since now River Road is incomplete.
It may take years for the lots to be bought and built upon. The developer is not building any homes only subdividing. It could be 10 years or more before 6 new homes are built. The developer’s presentation can be found here
What does it mean for a fence to be street-ward? When should the fence be 5 feet and when can it be 7 feet? What material should be acceptable? Can it go all the way around the property?
Ordinance 82-276 needs clarification according to staff. And the Commission dutifully looked at the drawing above and waded in. When they finished, it was more confusing. This needs to be further “workshopped”.
Discussions like this are hard to have in a Zoom meeting. This is something that needs to be discussed around a table. Yet why can’t the Commission give this to its Planning and Zoning Board to hash out?
I notice the smaller the government, the more the elected officials want to be involved in everything. Yet by not bringing in others, they are depriving the citizens of taking ownership in government. Public comment is nice, but it usually is more in the realm of kibitzing than offering useful suggestions. Get the community involved in the form of volunteers under staff auspices to draft a proposed ordinance and then bring it to the Commission.
STORM WATER & GRANTS
The Town is in the unique position of being a poster child for resiliency projects. Though not a barrier island like Hutchinson, it still must contend with rising tides and water encroachment. How do you move enough storm water off the peninsula and into the lagoon? How do you clean it before it gets there?
They have done remarkably well providing sewer hookups. I wish more people would take advantage of the ability to get off septic. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, has done a great job in obtaining grants to do the work. How many years will it take to complete all the work needed to raise South and North Sewall’s Point Road, finish storm water projects and all else needed to keep the Town viable as climate change becomes a larger and larger factor.
It was good that the Commission gave the titular go ahead to move forward on other grants, contracts and buying land. I say titular because this was not a meeting but a workshop where no votes can be held. So, everything that the Commission nodded their heads to tonight needs to come back for a vote at a scheduled meeting.
The reason to hold workshops is to talk about policy. Everything about water and grants has been talked to death. Yet for the double reasons of waiting for funding and bringing everything to a workshop before being able to vote at another meeting slows the process down.
Capra’s presentation could have occurred at a meeting that was advertised. After the same discussion, a vote could have been taken. The Commission was not rushing through anything. It was not as if they were working through whether these water improvements were necessary. This was already decided years ago at this point.
The workshop concept in this Town continues because the Commission cannot seem to break a habit. Preparing for all these meetings takes up an inordinate amount of staff time… time better spent dealing with problems. The Commission has one legislative meeting a month. Any ordinance passed needs a workshop and then two Commission meetings which means at least 2 months before anything is final. It is time to reconsider the validity of workshops instead of two meetings per month.
Captec’s presentation can be found here
BUDGET MEETING AUGUST 13, 2020
Mr. Brown introduced the new budget. It still will be tweaked but what is in the presentation is what will be ultimately passed. The tax rate will remain the same at 1.6304 mil per thousand dollars of taxable value. There is funding for 17.5 positions…five of which are Council Members.
The budget includes moving to leased space at Indiantown Non-Profit and finishing the water works purchase. The entire budget will be almost $7 million including $2,100,000 from the new utility fund. What was not included was the Fire/Rescue MSTU that is paid by the taxpayers directly to Martin County.
I cannot tell whether the proposed fire chief’s salary is in the budget or not. If it is, at present, it would be taken out of the general fund without any corresponding tax input. If they go another year without hiring a chief, the Village effectively created a place holder for money that could be spent on other things.
Without a line item budget, you cannot tell whether the land purchase for a new Town Hall is in the general fund or not. It does not appear to be in the capital budget. If it is being borrowed, I do not see where it is being booked.
The City of Stuart places a proposed line item budget on its website. You can find not only broad categories but also how it is broken down by departments, sub departments, and categories. While this budget is not of the same magnitude, to have created the power point attached, it needed to have that much detail.
Interestingly, during public comment, someone asked why the Village needed to buy and build. Anthony Dowling stated that they had no choice because there was no place to go. Yet they are going to Indian Non-Profit and I would imagine they could sign a longer-term lease that will meet their needs for several years. I sent the following email to Dowling:
Council Member Dowling:
You said that there was no place for the Village to go. You found Indiantown non-profit. It is not possible to sign a longer lease? It appeared that the commenter mentioned that building as a solution.
Could you explain why you said there was no place to go?
Mr. Dowling responded.
Will get back with you.
I have not heard anything else. If Dowling does, I will include in the next newsletter.
The budget presentation can be found here
COUNCIL MEETING AUG 13, 2020
The Parks Director, Albie Scoggins, gave a presentation as to the improvements to the parks and those that still must be made. The Village has three parks and I do see improvements since the Village took over. Are they entirely completed? Absolutely not but it is getting better.
They are doing what a parks and rec department should do. To see the presentation, go here
GIVING AWAY MONEY IS TOUGH TO DO
There was supposed be a meeting of the Indiantown Community Trust Fund Committee to discuss the grant requests. Dowling kept saying he wanted to table the item to the next meeting. It finally came out that Dowling had missed the Committee meeting.
Clarke wanted not to give out the money this year. Hernandez does want to reconsider. Attorney Vose said everyone must follow the procedure. During public comment, Vernestine Williams (a Committee member), said the Committee was diligent, but some applicants had missed the deadline. Linda Ivory, another Committee member, also commented.
I believe sunshine was broken when three Committee members, Dowling, Williams, and Ivory began discussing the work of the Committee. I am surprised Mr. Vose or Mr. Brown did not cut this off much sooner.
The deeper question is why a member of the Council is even on this Committee? It should be composed of citizens and their recommendations should go to the Council. It is more important to have as many residents as possible on these Committees. Dowling or any other Council Member brings nothing to the table when these grants are being discussed. It is just another way to aggrandize by politicians.
Keep politics out of the mix. Politics obviously is part of the mix since at the last meeting Council Members wanted to control the work of the Committee and give Boys & Girls Club another $10,000 from the fund without Committee input. There does not appear to be boundaries. This is bad for the Trust Fund and the government of Indiantown.
The motion by Dowling to table was seconded by Gibbs-Thomas. It passed 5-0.
COUNCIL MEETING AUGUST 10, 2020
The meeting was about finalizing the docks for Sun Communities. For the past year or so, Sun Communities and the Town have been discussing placing the docks in the river. They have gone back and forth. For a moment, it seemed that another meeting would be needed because of confusion about the number of posts needed for the elevator lifts.
If you look at the diagram, you will see that there are no lift posts attached. Why the Council cares about this is another question. The two things that boards should be concerned about are how many docks will be permitted in total and whether they will be allowed to be rented to others besides residents. Everything else will be handled through permitting with the Town staff and DEP.
I wonder when the owners of the new homes will start to come in and want to know why their taxes are so high and why they have no representation on the Council. They are going to want to have amenities and they could not care less about Sun Communities. This Council needs to broaden its scope to look at things that all residents of the Town are concerned about. The diagram can be found here
A motion was made by Gerold and seconded by Docherty. It passed 5-0.
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 20, 2020
Mayor Pidot held one of his “Coffee with the Mayor” and he said he had quite a few people attend virtually.
Pidot was particularly hard on the County Commission for letting the mandatory mask ordinance expire. He said he would shop in Palm Beach County where it is still mandatory instead of Hobe Sound. He felt much safer with it in place. Many store owners liked the idea of the County being responsible instead of the store for instituting the policy.
He may need to speak with his County Commissioner, Harold Jenkins, for Jenkins stated at the last BOCC meeting that he was not in favor of re-instituting the mandatory ordinance.
It would not make much difference practically but symbolically if the Town passed such an ordinance it would show at least one County Commissioner that it mattered to a very influential group of his constituents.
The Commission sat as a quasi-judicial body to hear two appeals in the same dispute from decisions of the Appeals Board. It took more than three hours to hear and decide the matter. It was good to see the Commission took their time in deciding the outcome. I do not know if any other governing board in Martin County could have come to such a reasoned decision.
They denied the appeals. The appeals were technical in nature. Without reading and studying the testimony and the transcript of the Appeals Board’s deliberation, it is not possible to venture an opinion. I wonder whether it will now go to District Court.
Florida has joined a unique group of states. We along with New York, Texas, New Jersey, and California have more than 10,000 corona virus deaths. These five states alone account for more than 50,000 American deaths. By the time you read this the United States will have had more than 175,000 people die from the pandemic.
We are just going along as if there is no way short of a vaccine that we will slow the disease. That simply is not true. It may end up never being eradicated but we do not have to accept the appalling amount of deaths and new cases. Masks, hand washing, and social distancing are needed.
The economic consequences will be long term and devastating. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and 40 to 50% will never return. The economy was already heading into a cyclical downturn. It now has been turned into a depression.
The Great Depression began in 1929 and really did not end until the early 1940s. Between 1929 and 1932, the worst year for the Depression, trade fell by 70%. This was caused by the tariffs levied due to the 1930 Smoot-Hawley legislation and the same thing being instituted all over the world. Tariffs stop nations from buying each other’s products. In this case resulting in a 46% drop in industrial output in the U.S. during those years. In the past 90 years we have learned nothing since we have embarked on the same policies again.
Our economy will not have a “V” shaped recovery as some have predicted. COVID-19 has exasperated the inevitable economic downturn that was due. Coupled that with governmental mismanagement of fiscal and trade policy, it will produce our coming depression. We will not even begin economic recovery until people feel hopeful about virus containment.
To read more from my Medium Article “Our Exceptional Nation” go here
GET THE WORD OUT
Friends and Neighbors of Martin County is your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.
ARTICLES OF INTEREST
From The New York Times the housing crisis is a national one:
The next article from the Washington Post states that during pandemics there is more extremism:
The Tampa Bay Times writes that Marion County thinking about returning to an elected superintendent after 30 years:
Lastly from Route Fifty that government employees using their personal devices put their employers at risk for cyber-attacks:
The first chart is from Frame of Reference it outlines the education of all 46 presidents:
And two charts from The Visual Capitalist:
The first is the worlds oldest and youngest countries:
And what is known as the Buffet Indicator for all time high risk:
Annual Medium Income (AMI)
Basin Action Management Plan (BMAP)
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Center For Disease Control (CDC)
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World Health Organization (WHO)