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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DON’T FORGET OUR PURPOSE
This newsletter is just shy of the 20,000-subscribers mark. I am proud of what has been accomplished.
There is power in numbers and I want to make sure that our voices are heard by our government officials. The reason why the newsletter has the access to governmental leaders it does is because of our readers.
I try to report those things that are important to you, my fellow citizens. Not everything I write will interest everyone. You may not care about Jupiter Island or Indiantown. So read those sections that do appeal to you.
I try to be fair to those that sit on Boards because I know how difficult it is to sit there sometimes. At the same time, I call out elected officials and their staffs when I believe what they are doing is wrongheaded. That is the point of writing this newsletter. It is to make sure someone is keeping an eye on your government and tax money.
Even when I disagree with an elected official, I disagree with his action not his integrity. Yet there are a few officials and government employees that are not there to do good. And when that occurs, I want to be relentless in making sure that you know that.
There are a group of citizens that I label the “good ole boys.” They may not be old, good, or males. What they have in common is their belief that they can get what they want and bully government to give it to them. I want to bring their actions and those government officials who treat them differently than other citizens to the attention of the public. Every favor granted is possible because your tax dollars pay for it.
It is your responsibility to find candidates to run and vote the rascals out of office if you disagree. So, keep sending your friends’ email addresses so that the pols know there are Martin County residents interested in what they are doing. The only thing my newsletter costs is an email address. And it will never cost you more than that.
This is a guest article by Darlene Van Riper who lives in Hobe Sound. She is speaking about the flooding that occurred as a homeowner there and her other pet peeve:
I feel like I am living in the time of Moses! Petulance and plagues, national unrest and now flooding in Hobe Sound. I have got frogs too. They arrived when the lake consumed my swimming pool. That is right, I now have a lake in my backyard inside of which there is a 12.5’ x 34’ in ground swimming pool. I have been here since 1996 and have never seen this happen.
I have no flood insurance. After all I was not in a flood zone. HA! I am one of the lucky ones. Water has found its indomitable way into my friend’s family room. I just came back from ACE where I purchased a ‘wet surface’ caution sign so when the pool guy comes, he will not break his neck on my wooden walkway. (He is going to’ have a fine time finding that pool). At ACE, some poor guy was saying that he has found a leak in his roof. That is after it had collapsed into his kitchen. That is bad. You cannot get down the roads in Hobe Heights either.
So, what the heck? Shall we chalk it up to a 100 year event? I sure hope I don’t see 20” of rain in 48 hours again. Whether you believe in climate change or global warming or whatever you want to label it, I must admit that since the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes (fun times) the storms are more intense and more numerous than I remember.
And finally, it is unavoidable to deny what we have known for years. Which is that Martin County has poor drainage. And that is where it has any drainage at all. We may want to be a backwoods, underdeveloped, homey little county with hints of agrarianism, but we need modern drainage. To that end I propose the Board of County Commissioners make drainage a county-wide priority. Let us address our necessities and focus less on luxuries like, well, the golf course’s new club house comes to mind.
It was revealed at a recent Board of County Commission meeting that the refurbishment of the golf course has already taken the majority of the allocated $5.5 million dollars budgeted for it. And, they have not even started the club house. The Director of Parks and Rec, Kevin Abate, estimates that it will go oh, I do not know, let’s see, about $2 million over budget.
WHAT! And, we are just now finding this out? I do not think I am alone in finding that outrageous. It seems almost contrived. And, I do not think I am alone in saying that I would not be surprised if after the $2 million is extended there will be, well, you know, change orders. There is always change orders. That is, after all, to be expected. And, those will cost even more.
We should build a hotdog hut where beer is sold and leave it at that. That is all the duffers who golf there really want anyway. We can name it after Mr. Abate. The County can call it Abate’s Hut or Kevin’s Dogs. Even better.
By the way, I used to love tropical storms. Now, not so much. But I have ALWAYS hated surprises.
NOTHING WRONG HERE…OPEN IT UP
Florida and most other states should stop implying that their phased openings have anything to do with the pandemic being under control. It bears no relationship to what is actually happening medically with the population. And I have come to accept that reality as should everyone else.
COVID-19 is so yesterday to America now. There is an economic pandemic as well as a medical one. It may literally be your money or your life. And the state has chosen the former.
I am not a believer at all in conspiracy theories. The pandemic and everything else associated with American life is the result of choices we have made. In general, we have chosen not to be informed about the seriousness of COVID-19, and so between the beginning of March and the end of June, we will have 135,000 deaths.
Our government made a show when it was politically expedient to do so. As time has gone on, we are now ready to get back in the swing of things. We are told to use social distancing and wear masks unless it goes against your politics. I no longer think the government is going to give me true guidance in respect to the pandemic.
I will make my decisions, and everyone should make their decisions based on their risk tolerance. I am not going to sit at a bar and have a drink for a long time. I probably will not be attending any concerts at the Lyric. I will not be sitting and eating in a crowded restaurant. The risk to me to do those things is too great. It may be completely acceptable to someone else. Just remember the state is not going to give you the facts…so we are on our own.
These two charts are from The Visual Capitalist:
The first one explains how companies and employees feel about working from home:
The second chart illustrates the number of employees that were furloughed off from various companies:
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 this week is not really a letter but a quote that Audrey Capozzi sent:
“The good citizen will demand liberty for himself, and as a matter of pride he will see to it that others receive the liberty which he thus claims as his own. Probably the best test of true love of liberty in any country is the way in which minorities are treated in that country. Not only should there be complete liberty in matters of religion and opinion, but complete liberty for each man to lead his life as he desires, provided only that in so doing he does not wrong his neighbor.” – Theodore Roosevelt
The next is from Susan Auld on nonprofits:
How many non profits in our county/area have similar missions –food pantries/shelves
Activities for children/and on, senior programs
What is the combined overhead for each? What are the salaries.
Would we save money and improve service if we combined overhead, saved on salaries-and more clearly define the services-
How much is public money-state, local and federal?
How much of the budget comes from donations?
John Dixson wants to know about the golf course:
The reason (s) for the $2 million ( 36% ) overrun was/were not explained in the current Friends and Neighbors issue. Missing capital expense projects by 36% in private sector businesses is serious, whereas here, it seems to be a “ boys will be boys “ situation. Details??
They were not explained at the meeting. A few Commissioners always wanted a clubhouse that was more like Mariner Sand’s than a place to have a sandwich. A wink and a nod and staff gets your meaning….stay tuned this will be one the water park all over again.
You confirmed the reason for my note: no explanations were offered nor required.
“ Amazin’ “ in Casey Stengel’s words.
BTW, re having a sandwich at Martin County Golf Course: at the Bar the bartender was named Vinnie, who had a photographic memory for faces and what they drank. This Vinnie:
And lastly regarding the emergency alert system from Ellen B:
I would like you to look into WHY getting ALERT MARTIN back running in a user friendly mode is not possible> where we can get ALL weather alerts by a call on our landlines, our cell phones and by Email, just as RED Code used to work for us. I changed to ALERTMARTIN when they told us RED CODE would no longer be available
Some of us do NOT have texting abilities, and in the BOCC Meeting on Friday, it was explained by the Fire Chief, we have to sign up for ALL kinds of weather alerts and the directions we are given on the web site does not show any profile to check several different alerts. “They” want you to sign up using the text numbers, but not having texting abilities, you chose the alternative to request enrolling by email, or a phone call. Remember too, some of us do not have computers or fancy smart phones.
I do not know anyone who got an extreme Flood warning last Monday nor did they get the alert when there was a tornado warning. If you had your TV on, you might have gotten that there. And I have talked to several people, who have stated they did not get any alerts on their phones. Michele Jones (EMO) said she would gladly update my personal choices, but that doesn’t help all our folks, including Caregivers at the start of the hurricane. I would not be allowed to submit names and phone numbers for Caregivers.
The Last time ALERTMARTIN worked for me, was on JAN 23 when the sheriff sent out a notice there were burglaries in the neighborhood and please lock your cars. I had that call on my land line, on my cell phone and by email. It worked well when the sheriff needed it!??
And Why are we still not using RED CODE? That always worked.
Thankfully, COM Stacey Hetherington is going to let Michele know, we need to have this user friendly. Even Doug Smith mentioned in the meeting we need to look into the technology and see that it can be updated. SO this is a work in progress, but it is important.
We did get it partially fixed for her.
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 2, 2020
During Commissioner comments, Ciampi was ready to go. Apparently, he had heard from his interest groups, and he was not going to wait until later to move things along.
The first motion was to allow 2 people to share a golf cart whether they were from the same household or not. Currently, only those who live in the same home can do so. The County Attorney, Sarah Woods, stated that it would be easier just to rescind the emergency order covering that. Ciampi changed his motion it was seconded by Hetherington after she wanted to make sure there was social distancing. Riding in a golf cart with someone precludes the social distancing.
Heard went on to provide all the evidence showing how numbers are rising. I agree with Commissioner Heard, but I am afraid she has lost that fight. As of June 12th, when I am writing this, the number of new Martin County cases is 62, the highest on the dashboard. There are also 16 deaths recorded. Of the 1020 confirmed cases, 109 have been hospitalized. That is 1 out of 10 Martin County residents that are confirmed will spend some time in the hospital.
There is no way that we are going back to any restrictions, and whatever is left will be gone by the end of the month. And by then America will have lost 135,000 people…the most of any nation.
The vote was 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
The moving of the fairgrounds to Indiantown was supposed to occur before the next fair. Lo and behold, that is not going to occur now. Because of the economy and Covid-19, the independent board that will sign the lease with the County could not raise the money (at least that was the official line) that the agreement stipulates.
Ciampi made a motion to push back the dates another year. That means the fair will be held in Stuart next year. However, the independent fair board will be able to take advantage of clearing the land etc., since much of that is donated. The motion passed 5-0.
Another Martin County extravaganza is planned for the new fairgrounds. Millions and millions will have to be raised to make it happen. Yet time and time again, it never materializes. I predict that the County will do most of what is needed in order to move the fair. Much of it they already committed to do, such as water and driveway improvements.
How long do you allow the Stuart location to be tied up? At some point, that land needs to be sold for other things to happen. I just hope I am alive to see it.
At the last meeting Commissioner Hetherington asked that representatives from the City of Stuart appear and present their development plans. It sounded like an imperial command. If I were still a Stuart official, I would have said no, no, NO! That is not the way to foster good intergovernmental relations.
Mayor Meier began by looking up to the stage where the County Commission reigned over the City. While not quite a supplicant, Meier did not appear their equal, which is what he is. After a few remarks about working together, Meier then said something that rang true.
The City is doing infill projects and small ones at that. Meier believes in the concept of new urbanism. What many do not quite understand is land and construction costs, especially within the City, demand that there be density. The alternative is what Heard would say is sprawl. Secondarily, many of our workers and young people cannot afford the down payment on a home. Apartment living gives them an opportunity.
Kev Freeman, Stuart Development Director, did a fairly good job though he brought along the wrong slides for one project. He is knowledgeable and well versed. I thought he could be more forceful when some Commissioners treated him as if he still worked at the County.
Freeman presented four projects in various stages of development which are on the border of unincorporated Martin County. If all are, built there will be 806 new apartments and 80 townhomes with a total density of 16.5 units per acre. That is not exactly big-city standards.
Heard kept saying that the roads are too congested for anything. My answer would be that is why there are impact fees collected by the County. How about they actually spend that money on the roads surrounding these projects? Unincorporated Martin County will receive millions in new tax revenue for these Stuart projects. And as everyone likes to say, City residents are also County residents, so how about a few dollars in road projects if traffic is impacted.
Both Heard and Smith were concerned where traffic lights are to be located in conjunction with the projects. That is a valid concern. It is for the Stuart Commissioners also. But neither the County nor the City control the placement of traffic lights. That is FDOT’s responsibility currently. It appears that FDOT will not approve a light in anticipation of greater volume and will consider one only after the congestion occurs…and then it is many years in the future before it is installed. If you wait for the traffic light to be approved, then you would never build anything else ever again.
Hetherington, whose summons started all this, was really interested in information. Unfortunately, she is not yet savvy enough to know that this was nothing more than a political opportunity for two Commissioners. Ciampi made it known that he was appreciative and more agreed with the City’s strategy of providing a variety of housing. Jenkins said only thank you.
Smith was especially galling when he insinuated that the townhouses being proposed on Ocean next to Kingswood were only two stories because of it being surrounded by City residents while other projects are three and four stories because they have unincorporated Martin County neighbors. That is ridiculous. The buildings are only two stories because the developer proposed that they be two stories. Projects are designed by individual developers not staff.
Dyess who said very little, unfortunately, stated that the City has a land mass of 6.5 sq. miles and has grown by 2.4 sq. miles in the past 30 years. He should have gone on to say that Martin County has grown by thousands of new residents in the same time frame while Stuart’s population has changed by a couple of hundred. But again, it was a summons and so Stuart’s representatives just stood there. City Commissioners Matheson and Bruner were in the audience and said nothing.
This could have been a valuable exercise if it had been done more in the spirit of collaboration. Having County Commissioners sitting on a stage and grilling Stuart staff is insulting. More could have been accomplished in a workshop setting around a table where Freeman would make his presentation and then the County would make a presentation of their projects that may affect the City.
And I do not mean a workshop like those completely useless meetings of the School Board, City, Indiantown, and the County. Those are too big and unwieldy. I know this cannot legally happen, but attendance should be the Stuart Commissioners Bruner, Matheson and Meier combined with County Commissioners Jenkins, Hetherington and Ciampi. Then, true cooperation would be possible in development projects. But that would require checking political grandstanding at the door. It is hard for the lifers to do that. Which results in extraordinarily little progress in cooperation being made.
SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT WAS ANGRY
Laurie Gaylord was angry. She felt that the BOCC was a little too imperial last Friday at their special meeting when they were goaded into sending a letter to the School District stating the BOCC wanted to know why schools weren’t being used this summer. Gaylord went on to state that she never said that she would not be opening the schools for hurricane shelters. Further, the portables that were mentioned were rentals and they would be going back to the rental company.
Gaylord wanted to know if the BOCC is going to rescind asking the School Board to operate under their policy 7510 which is an emergency declaration. Woods said they are not invoking anything under Florida Statute 252 which pertains to the opening of schools in hurricanes.
Commissioners hemmed and hawed and said maybe it would have been better if they had reached out to the School District instead of relying on the speakers for accuracy. That probably would have been a good idea. The County Commission, in this case as in the Stuart summons, acted with hubris. They demanded answers of two independent local authorities as if they reported to them.
They rescinded the letter about any takeover, and in Ms. Gaylord’s case, ate a little crow.
BIG MOUND PARK AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM
When the County turned over Big Mound Park to Indiantown, the County was going to run the program until Indiantown was credentialed. I believed the continuation of that program was necessary as a condition of receiving those parks. According to Commissioner Hetherington’s recollection, the Town Manager specifically said they would continue the program. That apparently was then and not now.
Kevin Abate, the County’s Parks and Recreation Director, wants to discontinue the County running it and return the unused grant money to the Children’s Service Council. It is disappointing that Indiantown, which was so anxious to assume the parks, does not want to continue with a long-standing program that has been around for decades. The County is doing the right thing since they no longer own the parks nor receive the MSTU from Indiantown taxpayers to maintain the parks and their programs.
Commissioners wanted to know whether the Village had been notified that the County would terminate their involvement. Kryzda answered yes. Jenkins believed that even though assurances were made by the Village, it was a Village issue. Heard said she had the same recollection as Hetherington’s. Hetherington said that she felt misled by the Village Manager.
A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Heard to terminate the program. It passed 5-0.
SAILFISH WATER PARK REOPENING
Abate proposed a detailed plan to open the park in the coming weekend. The plan was as good as it can be. There will be no more than 50% occupancy with 806 guests. It will employ 136 people. And it is in line with everything else that is being opened. This, of course, is even as our Covid cases are climbing every day.
Heard was skeptical and, in my opinion, right that this should not be reopened. Yet when the great majority of people are intent on believing that the virus will not be life-threatening if they catch it or completely disregard that it is even around, then you have lost the battle. You cannot protect people from themselves.
The motion to reopen passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
You can find the reopening protocols HERE
SPECIAL MEETING JUNE 12 2020
This COVID-19 special meeting had a somber tone. The medium age of virus victims is 39 in Martin County. Why our numbers are jumping is not because of increased testing. Our percentage of positives to negatives are higher than St. Lucie and Indian River Counties. We have more cases than the other counties combined.
Rob Lord of Cleveland Clinic stated that there are alarming trends and hospitalizations are rising exponentially. When we were shutdown, there were 9 people in the hospital. Once Phase 1 began the hospitalization rate was in the low 20s. This past two weeks, it went from 21 to 47. Hospital stays with the virus are 25 to 30 days.
It is simple. Our behavior needs to change, or the disease will continue to grow. We need to wash our hands, wear a face mask, and practice social distancing. If we do not do this, our economy will not get better and we will continue to see skyrocketing cases. Lord said this is not political but medical. We need to listen to the medical experts. Transmission is not happening in the hospitals.
Cleveland Clinic is using plasma therapy, Remdesivir, biologicals and other therapies to treat COVID patients in the hospital. If our population continues this same path, our numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths will grow exponentially.
Ciampi tried to motion for the wearing of masks in food service and when retail workers are near customers. Heard was listening but Jenkins and Smith were not. Hetherington was not at the meeting. The best he could accomplish was that staff would work on a policy to be brought back at the next meeting.
We are never going to close our economy again. Just because we are opening, it does not mean that we have a vaccine or a cure for the virus. Nothing has changed since February as far as the disease. Those that think it is over are sadly mistaken.
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 8, 2020
Most of the 5 plus hour meeting was devoted to the black/white divide in Stuart, Martin County, and the nation. The recent justifiable marches throughout the country regarding George Floyd’s death highlight the problems we still have. The Stuart problem was highlighted because of the racist slurs and graffiti that occurred over 90 seconds in the recent CRB zoom meeting. This was apparently perpetrated by teenagers, but it is far from a prank.
That incident shows that no matter how much progress we think we have made, there is much more to go…so much more that my grandchildren will be dealing with the residual effects. Most of the racist tropes are more subtle today than what was heard during the CRB meeting hack. Perhaps there will be less of that hatred spewed tomorrow. But it will still be there in some people’s souls.
The City and Commission apologized, and that is fine, but those are words. Our society needs to come to grips with more than just words. They passed a diversity ordinance and that is fine as a matter of a declaration. They will look at bringing back a special commission to tackle the problem. Yet the problem is so endemic in the U.S. that a national effort needs to be made.
Most spoke with heavy and sad hearts. The words were meaningful. There was no grandstanding from the Commission or the public. When things like this occur, it shows how far we must still go. Yet without concrete actions, we just have another gripe session.
The Chief of Police suspended the use of the choke-hold. That is good concrete step, but the state and federal government should also outlaw it. Is what happened by members of the Minneapolis police force indicative of all law enforcement? I do not believe it is. But cops like Chauvin should have never been hired. That is what must be addressed.
In the past thirty years, we have militarized our police forces. There are some tactical units that need to have that gear available. Patrol officers should wear bullet proof vests, but should they be wearing combat boots? Cops need to wear a uniform so that we know who they are. They are patrolling our neighborhoods and not fighting a guerrilla insurgency in Baghdad. The way that all police officers behave should reflect America’s highest ideals.
Dyess said that the FBI was looking into tracking down the perpetrators of that 90 second hijacking of the meeting. I hope they are successful. I am not so sure what they did was a prosecutable crime. It was nevertheless a crime to our psyche and our ideals. Chains from 400 years ago are still a part of our legacy and still contribute to the divide in this country. That is a fact.
The motion to pass a diversity resolution was 4-0.
You can read the ordinance here
Last summer Phil Harvey had his plaza for sale on Martin Luther King Blvd. He received a waiver from the Commission allowing him to sell alcohol from 9 am to 9 pm. The waiver was needed because of the proximity to Stuart Middle School. Mr. Harvey had his realtor speak on his behalf at the meeting. There was a prominent for sale sign displayed on the property. The prime reason he was asking for the waiver was so that the property would be more attractive to a potential buyer. There was neighborhood support.
That waiver runs with the property which means the selling of alcohol is already allowed. The eventual buyer, Shaher (Sam) Barghouthy, has been the owner of Speedy Mart in Gary Plaza for 28 years. That store location will be closing, and he is moving to the new location. The hours of his existing store are 9 am-11 pm.
Perhaps because of the proximity to Stuart Middle School, a waiver should have never been granted. Yet a prohibition on alcohol sales within certain distances of churches and schools seems antiquated. Medical marijuana is legal and other drugs are very accessible. The additional two hours does not really change the matter except recreating what already exists in a new location a few blocks away.
The Commission voted 4-0 to allow the extension.
You can read the application here
AND ALL THE REST
The Commission also had on their plate almost $100 million of real estate projects that needed to be voted on. Because of the lateness of the hour, the appropriate oversight may not have been given. Anyone who had wanted to speak had long gone by the time these matters came to the forefront.
It is not that I would not have voted for them, yet it does not seem appropriate that, except for Harbor Grove, not much of a presentation or discussion occurred. The Commission was tired and exhausted and did not give these items the attention they deserved. This is a ridiculous way of tending to the City’s business.
I have written before that overloading agendas causes insufficient time for deliberation. It does not help that Commissioners take up at least the first hour and more of every meeting with their personal peeves and citing what they did since the last meeting. Taken together with proclamations, arts moments, and employee recognitions of how long people have worked for the City, it may be good for politics but lousy for policy.
The abandonment of the ROW on Osceola was so concerning earlier especially to Snug Harbor. It did not even rise to a nod at 10:15 pm. A new appraisal was included showing that the applicant will pay $16,000 to the City. Richard Baron probably paid more in professional fees than what he will spend for the property.
The same could be said for the whimper that ended the storm of the Ocean Town Homes Project. While there were fears that this would cause all manner of problems for the neighboring community of Kingswood, those fears were allayed when the developer made concessions including transferring property to Kingswood for their parking.
The developer reached a deal with the Kingswood community for what were known as Parcels A & B for that purpose. A new site plan was attached leaving off those two parcels from this development. attached
Harbor Grove Apartments is proposed to be built on Commerce and Indian Street. It will consist of nine 3 story buildings on the nearly 14-acre property. There will be 324 units with amenities such as a pool and clubhouse. There will be assigned parking spaces and the density is 23.3 units per acre. The rental rates will be no more than 120% of the Area Median
Income (AMI) for Stuart as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This project was one of the ones that the County Commission lamented would cause more problems for the roadways. The development will provide $420,000 in County impact fees supposedly to be spent on the roads surrounding the project. When the County raised concerns about the roadways to Stuart’s development director, he stated that statute requires that there will be a rational nexus for where those fees are spent. The County’s response was it is not on their CIP and, therefore, ineligible.
Such an explanation is a “Catch 22” that is worthy of that moniker. The County gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to ameliorate the impacts of new development. By saying it cannot improve the roads around the project because the work is not on the CIP is ludicrous. With that logic not another house would be constructed in Martin County. Impact fees are then an extortion payment to get an approval and nothing more.
Meier suggested they add a floor to the maximum height restriction to reduce rents to 80-100% of AMI. That is another problem with our current height limit and why 4-story buildings are seldom built. When you add another story from 3 to 4, you need to include elevators. Unless you are receiving higher rents than most projects would command, the 4th floor costs more than the income provided.
Meier then suggested with Matheson’s endorsement that perhaps if a percentage of rents could be at 80-100% of AMI, then there could be other apartments at 140% of that number. The developer stated that he would look at it and see if a different proposal could be had on second reading. It passed 4-0.
The presentation can be found here
Lastly in a less than 10-minute discussion, the Commission voted to proceed with buying the Wells Fargo Building on Ocean with the intention of City Hall being moved there once Wells Fargo vacates. Wells Fargo’s departure could be anywhere from 6 months to 10 years. The price is $7,000,000. The vote was 4-0.
What to do with the existing City Hall was not discussed. How much renovation would cost to make a building older than the current City Hall ready for City occupancy was not discussed. In the time frame allotted at the end of the night, the Commission was not in the mood. They passed it 4-0
I am in favor of buying this building. Extending the reaches of the commercial district is a good idea. Maybe even the move of City Hall is a good idea. Of course, a referendum on what to do with the existing building would need to go to the voters. Unfortunately, I have seen too many times that the Stuart City Commission wants to proceed with grandiose plans only to fold once a few people with tee shirts protest whether they are residents of Stuart or Katmandu.
The Sailfish Ball Park scene is a perfect example. Twice that was put out for development and twice the Commission refused to go forward because of two hundred people, mostly from Palm City, that protested. You did not hear anything from the 16,000 actual City residents although it is their tax dollars that pay for it. The Commission believes in one step forward and two steps back.
But that night at that time, the Commissioners were hungry and tired. They had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP JUNE 2, 2020
I do not often say this, but this workshop, comprised of three reports by staff, was outstanding!
The most fascinating was the first by Jennifer DeShazo, Director of Public Information and Public Relations. It was a detailed survey of the District’s stakeholders about reopening.
On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest, 36% of parents felt extremely comfortable in sending their children back in the fall with 16% scoring 4 on the scale. Nearly a third of parents will need some form of childcare. 57% will not be using bus transportation if eligible.
Nearly half the parents want their child to receive all their education in person at school. However, if because of social distancing policies not all students can be at school at the same time, 36% would want to see kids go to school every day and roughly the same would like to see an alternate day schedule.
It is evenly split over whether to wear face coverings or not. And 82% want outdoor recess. School employees overwhelmingly want to return to work with 70% (on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest) falling in the 3-5 range. Only 20% need childcare to resume their in-person duties.
You can see the entire report here
There were two other presentations by Julie Sessa the Coordinator of Risks and Benefits and Dr. Tracy Miller, Chief Academic Officer. Both outlined what the next school year may look like. Of course, at this moment no one knows the eventual outcome.
On June 11th, 10 days after the meeting, the state has let it be known what will be acceptable or not because of the social distancing needed. Whatever is decided, the District staff is thinking about options and different scenarios.
To read Sessa’s here
SPECIAL SCHOOL BOARD MEETING JUNE 9, 2020
It appeared there is a disconnect between the Board and Superintendent as to what should be done over the summer for Martin County kids.
The superintendent has clearly stated that any District programs that might be offered will be virtual. The Board believes that more needs to be done. They are not asking that the District reverse its position on that. The Boys and Girls Club is offering to stand in for the District this year and, in effect, offer in person programs.
No one believes in taking COVID-19 seriously more than I do. Parents must go to work, and kids must learn. Do we keep educational buildings closed indefinitely? The disconnect seems to be that the District Superintendent, and perhaps the rank and file, may not be anxious to get back to work during a pandemic.
Home school is an option for a very dedicated parent with a set of beliefs. I concur that it should be an option. The vast majority of families need the structure of a traditional school with traditional learning. Children need to have socialization skills. They cannot just hunker down at home forever.
For the District to continue virtually is not adequately serving the kids of Martin County. While teachers and staff put together a great program on the fly this spring, it was not meant to go on as the new norm. Besides Florida students already have a virtual school district online for K-12. Our Schools do not have to recreate it.
We need to make sure that kids have alternatives this summer. Boys and Girls Club is providing the educational, recreational, and childcare that the District has decided not to do this summer. Those school buildings belong to us, the taxpayers, and are only in the care of the District. In my opinion, the facilities should be open to all County residents when school is not in session.
To charge Boys and Girls Club a rental fee is ridiculous. They are doing their part and it is free to the kids. The Board has it right in this case.
At this special meeting Anderson, Defenthaler, DiTerlizzi, and Powers are looking after those kids that need the attention the most. This program is in Stuart Middle School that abuts East Stuart. The Boys & Girls Club should not have to pay thousands in rent to do what should have been done by the District.
I think allowing the program to run from June 15th to August 6th is a Godsend to kids that need the help and their parents. The deal that was structured would have them with access to the gym, cafeteria, teachers’ cafeteria, and the media center if needed. The Club will do the cleaning and provide the paper towels and other expendables, and they will pay for the machinery for expanding the Wi-Fi if necessary.
Mr. Anderson summed it up by saying that we need to get on with this. And getting on with it is important. The vote was 4-1 with Roberts dissenting. I left a text and phone call for her to get her take, but she did not respond.
One other thing…it appeared that Ms. Gaylord hung up and left the meeting. I have much respect for her as a professional. Perhaps the disconnect was a technical problem. Anderson also said that we all get mad at times, but life goes on. A good sentiment here.
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 26, 2020
The end of an era for this community!
By a 5-0 vote the Commission has decided that pickups can now weigh up to 8000 lbs. Several people spoke in person and via zoom. Most were in favor, but some were not. There was a petition that was signed by 17 residents that were against allowing the larger vehicles.
It seemed, in most instances, that whether you were for or against the issue was generational. Like so many things, passing the torch is not easy. Newer residents with families wanted their pickups as much as families in the 1950s and 60s wanted station wagons.
One resident believed that property values would be lessened by allowing pickups that large. I could not find any hard evidence to support that though there was anecdotal evidence. Many families want to drive pickups to haul around their kids’ gear, their fishing stuff and maybe to tow a boat or popup. Yukons, Escalades, and pickups are the new family car as long as we have cheap gas. Then people will have Priuses in their driveways instead.
2019 AUDIT REPORT
The audit report for the year ending September 30, 2019 is one which shows the Town in good financial condition.
Going forward into budget years 2021 and 2022, Sewall’s Point like many other local governments may not be in such a good position. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 economic depression, local revenue could be down substantially. How will this municipality cope when so much of its capital budget relies on grants from state and federal sources?
What has not been seen so far is white collar employment being affected. This will probably change by the end of this year or beginning of next as the economic hardships work their way through America. That should be a concern for Sewall’s Point.
If property values begin to fall, ad valorem taxes will decrease in those out years. The only significant expense the Town has is the police. Could that budget be on the chopping block? These are questions that the Commission should be asking of staff now. Different scenarios should be considered and prepared for in local governments throughout Martin County.
The audit report can be found here
In May the existing playground equipment was deemed unsafe. That has sped up the timetable and what is planned. The Town Manager has now taken it under her wing. After discussing the project with the Park Committee, a slightly less ambitious project is now going to move forward.
The entire amount will be slightly under $200,000. It is anticipated that the equipment will be installed this summer so that it will be ready for the fall. The Commission voted 5-0 to move ahead. Perhaps after years of discussion, the new playground will be finished in a few more months. The Manager’s report, drawings, and estimate, both new and old including renderings, can be found here
The Town Engineer brought back the South Sewall’s Point Road phase. It is being designed for a 25-year 3-day storm event. Most of the funding will be courtesy of various state and federal grants to the amount of $1,235,000. That portion should be completed by the end of the year. To see the presentation including maps and more detail monetary explanation
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JUNE 9, 2020
I always thought that a monthly workshop to talk about what should go on the regular meeting’s agenda was redundant. That is not to say that there should not be workshops. They should just have a point besides what has three votes to be placed on an agenda at a regular meeting to be voted on.
Workshops in other places are for specific subjects such as a budget or development. This week there was three specific Commissioner-sponsored items that were not well thought out.
The first was on signage at Harbor Bay Plaza. Mayor Fender wanted to discuss it. At a meeting, a few months ago, the Commission asked that the Manager speak with the Plaza to see what they wanted. Berger is in the middle of doing so.
Mayor Fender’s remarks were not asking how that was proceeding. It was as if nothing had happened before. That can be dangerous. For example, in 2015 there was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert that essentially said a government could not dictate sign content. The Town drafted a new ordinance subsequently which complied with Gilbert. It appeared that Fender was open to changing that if it would help business. He said he does not know what to do or how to do it.
Commissioner Kurzman had two items…one about trees and the other about on-site water retention. What is near and dear to the residents’ hearts are trees. Sewall’s Point currently has one of the most extensive tree ordinances around. And that is a good thing.
It appeared to me that Kurzman wanted to speak about two instances regarding removal and severe pruning that had recently occurred in violation of the ordinance. In both instances Berger had already fined the offenders, and in one case, had collected a $10,000 fine. But Kurzman kept bringing up that any trimming should require a permit.
What I did not understand was whether he was upset at the lack of enforcement or whether he thought that making landscapers or residents get a permit would stop tree removal and pruning. The current ordinance already spells out when a permit is necessary. The need for a permit is probably more extensive than anywhere else in Martin County.
Now if he thought enforcement of the ordinance was lax then that could be a discussion point. It was unclear. When things are unclear then every Commissioner seems to speak about whatever their pet peeve is even when it is only tangentially connected to the subject.
Here is a novel suggestion! If a Commissioner has an idea, then he needs to do research and clearly present what he would like to achieve with an agenda item. Commissioner Mayfield thoroughly did her research when she brought forth the pickup truck change. What she wanted to accomplish was there for the other Commissioners to comment upon. It was great and it resulted in a change.
If individual Commissioners want things to be considered by the others, they need to spend some time fleshing out their proposals. They can work with staff and then make a cogent presentation for consideration.
Maybe workshops do not need to happen every month. It appears that Stuart needs more meetings and Sewall’s Point may need fewer. In most cities, Commissioners are given all the backup ahead of the meeting and they vote at that meeting. Sewall’s Point discusses items to then put them on an agenda to be discussed again. Is this redundancy necessary is the question?
COUNCIL MEETING JUNE 12, 2020
There were no momentous decisions at this meeting. Rather, it was one that showed ideological fractures within the Council. It could easily had been a matter of not wanting to vote because of the issues involved. I do not believe it was that. It seemed to be a matter of stubbornness and conviction.
There were two added items that were not originally published with the rest of the agenda last Friday. Gibbs-Thomas adamantly stated that she believes in only going forward with items that are included by that date. And her statement that neither was of an emergency nature was true. It was the subject of those items that could be open to interpretation on what her motives were.
One of the items was to pass a mirror resolution of what Stuart passed celebrating diversity. The other was to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day. Could these items have been included on the regular agenda? I guess they could have. Yet in this time of a national crisis on race, exceptions should be accommodated. Even ideologies should be overlooked.
Gibbs-Thomas said over and over that moving forward with these items when she had not had a chance to hear from the public is not transparency. That is true, but as an elected official, you can use your own judgment. And both these things are in the no-brainer department. It is clearly a time of anger, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It is admirable that she stood on principles. When you have two competing beliefs, you need to decide which one is more important.
Both resolutions passed 3-1 (Clarke was absent). In both instances, Gibbs-Thomas wanted to abstain, but the Attorney had to remind her that under Florida law she must vote. I agree with Gibbs-Thomas that unless it is an emergency, there is no reason to add to the published agenda. In this case, the emergency is that these two resolutions were needed to bring Indiantown together and to show solidarity during a difficult period.
2019 AUDIT & BIG MOUND PARK
The Village’s audit for the year ending 2019 is attached. The auditor gave it a clean bill of health. The audit can be found here
The Village took up the children’s program at Big Mound Park…another agenda item that was added. I have researched back to when the parks were transferred, and Indiantown did say they would assume that program. Things do change, and perhaps given how few children this program serves today, it should be discontinued.
There are other programs, including one at the elementary school. The viability of programs such as these now need to be determined by the Village. That is why they incorporated. The Council needs to decide what their priorities are. This program will be discontinued.
COUNCIL MEETING JUNE 8, 2020
The meeting was held at Riverside Park at the Francis Langford Pavilion. It was good to be back after a couple of months.
The County gave a COVID-19 update. There has been no one from the Town that tested positive. There was also a hurricane shelter presentation. Because of social distancing, the County is looking at opening 8 or 9 shelters instead of the usual 4.
John Maehl, the County person in charge of water issues, asked that the Town support the County’s position regarding the federal water savings clause that the County is against. Stuart already has signed a letter of support of that position. A motion was made by Arnold and seconded by Locatis to follow that lead. It passed 6-0.
Their audit report had a clean opinion. There was both income and expenses that were less than they previously were. It was pointed out that grant money had come to an end and all work was completed.
The entire report can be found here
Several months ago, the Council instructed its staff to engage Marcela Camblor to see whether it is feasible to have a multi-modal connection to the plaza where Publix is. That would mean going outside the Town onto Maple Street and Jensen Beach Blvd. Although doable, there are challenges.
Currently, it is illegal to use a golf cart on County roads unless the cart is street ready. While you could use sidewalks, the current ones are not wide enough to legally do so. There would need to be negotiations with property owners. Gerold also brought up that the railroad crossing will be reconfigured when the second track is added. This is complicated. Further state roads do not allow golf carts, and Jensen Beach Blvd becomes a state road after the tracks.
To read her report click here
10 YEARS INTO THE FUTURE
The Mayor has a vision. It did not look like that vision was shared by the Council.
It was interesting that this could have been the most important part of the meeting. Yet I and only one other resident stayed for what should have been noticed as a visioning session. The Council President called the items out, and the Mayor (whose show this was) led mostly a discussion with herself.
The first thing she wanted to discuss was paying the Council and officers a salary…not much of one but something so that people would understand their worth. Both the President and Vice-President flat out said no. The rest stood silent. In my opinion, the Town of Ocean Breeze should not have a paid Council. They were right to say no.
The second thing mentioned was regarding quorum and voting. The Town Attorney said that he can only remember once in 35 years where there was a problem with having quorum. The Council of 6 members, which is an even number, has not had very many tie votes. It is also unusual that there is an elected mayor that is not a member of the Council. Again, no member of the Council wanted to discuss any changes.
Mayor Ostrand then mentioned changing the meetings to perhaps later in the day to accommodate the residents from the new homes. The only Council Member that seemed interested was Docherty. He still works full time. The time of their meeting is set by ordinance and not by statute so no charter amendment would be needed. At some point if the new residents become involved, most will probably be working and then it may be necessary to change the time.
She wants Ocean Breeze to have its own Town Hall. The only problem is there is no place for the Town to do so within the Town boundaries. There was some confusion as to whether legislation had been passed in Tallahassee to allow a meeting place outside of the Village. Mr. Crary will have to investigate it. The building Ostrand found is the Wells Fargo building in downtown Jensen Beach for about a million dollars.
The Mayor said she could find grants for the purchase. Nothing was really mentioned about the costs of renovation. There is much due diligence needed before proceeding including an appraisal that can support the price. The Town is rather small and there are only a few employees, I cannot see going into debt for it. The Council recommended she gather more information including ongoing maintenance costs.
The idea of Town promotional events was raised…to silence.
Lastly, she wanted to speak about annexation. That would not be a bad idea if you pitched it to the businesses of Jensen Beach. The only reason they would want to begin paying higher taxes would be if they received a benefit. It would have to be to encourage heavier development, and ultimately, a loss of control for the current Council.
Also, the way annexation works is that the property owner comes to you and requests it. This fact will make it less likely to occur unless they begin negotiating with Jensen so that Jensen could use Ocean Breeze as a shell to have its own municipality free of Martin County.
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 9, 2020
Dr. Shamarial Robertson, Deputy Secretary of the Florida Health Department, spoke from Tallahassee and our own busy Carolann Wegener-Vitani from Martin County accompanied her virtually. Robertson did not know when the order for electronic meetings would be lifted in Tallahassee. There has been an uptick in cases in Indiantown and Stuart zip codes. However, at the Stuart meeting, it was disclosed that by checking the addresses of those that were positive, only 40 people were within Stuart borders. Ms. Vitani said that the virus was spreading in the Hispanic community among landscape workers.
The Public Safety Chief gave a report about what to expect with this year’s hurricane season. We can all expect a more active one. We can have anywhere up to 10 hurricanes with perhaps 6 being considered major. Because of COVID-19, many of the Town’s residents may not be leaving for other places this summer. Some may have never been through a storm. The Public Safety Department goes to every home to see how many occupants are there and any needs they may have.
To see that presentation
The department has an investigator that is adept at monitoring social media to see whether there are any marches or rallies that would affect the Island. There was one supposedly happening on Bridge Road and Federal Highway for later in the week. The Town’s first line of defense would be the Sheriff and then, if it seemed to unwieldy, they could raise the bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Those optics could surely be problematic!
Two employees of the department were instrumental in responding to two fishermen struck by lightning on the beach. One of the victims had no pulse and they were able to revive him. Both will be receiving lifesaving awards from the Town.
CURRENT AND NEXT YEAR’S FINANCIAL PICTURE
The Town Manager gave his monthly report on the current year’s financials. Everything seems to be in budget with total revenues of $7,385,000 and expenses of $5,203,000. Some savings were found by Town Manager Ventura continuing with his position of Financial Director and Chief Garlo as Deputy Town Manager. The only additional employee is a senior accountant.
The report can be found here
The draft budget for next year is less than 2020 by about $230,000. There is a small 2% COLA increase for employees. The Town will have a mil rate of 4.0391 which is the same as 2020. To view the entire 2021 proposed budget, go here
JUPITER ISLAND ARTS COUNCIL
The best part of what I do is everything I learn new. I did not know that there was a second Arts Council in Martin County. Jupiter Island has its own well-run council. It is an independent 501(c)3. It has a speaker series at Town Hall and has on loan the wooden Blue Heron sculpture in front of the chamber.
This Arts Council has even given almost $8,000 in unused grant money back to the Town. A list of projects and art is in the attached packet. It is quite substantial.
I wish there could be better coordination with the Martin County Arts Council. It just seems the non-profits in Martin are so busy doing their own things that the combined energy of working together is lost. We have so many wonderful people yet so disconnected. Too bad.
The presentation can be found here
The U.S. and the rest of the world has been through much in the past 6 months. I believe our society is going through tectonic changes that will leave us a very different 2020 than when we began the year. If you believe that our businesses, society, and character are not being tested, then you must be living in another place than I.
Times of change are also times of opportunity. The biggest mistake people make is trying to hold on to a past that no longer is relevant. Americans once had the ability to roll with the punches. A 19th century pol named George Washington Plunkett once said, “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.” Well to me nothing sums up the American character better than that. As a nation, we need to see our future opportunities and take them.
I do not want to be looking for any of yesterday’s supposed greatness because tomorrow will have unlimited opportunities that are even better. I am not interested in wallowing in how it was so much better in the past when I can grab the future. Besides for many Americans it was not very good. That is what Americans need to strive for. That is what Americans need to embrace. We do not want to be known as the “all hat no cattle” nation.
To read more 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
Our first article is from Route 50 regarding Puerto Rico’s affirmative vote to become a state:
From The Startup Milton Freedman still knows more about markets than The NY Times:
The History of Yesterday has an article regarding Adam Smith’s two revolutionary ideas:
From The New York Times a piece remembering the time that Martin Luther King was stabbed in Harlem and saved by the NYPD:
Another from Route 50 regarding New York City sending EMTs with cops to answer some calls:
And finally another from The History of Yesterday regarding a scientist that gave the world cheap fertilizer and a gas used to kill millions of people:
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