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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LATEST COVID NUMBERS FROM MARTIN AS OF SATURDAY JUNE 27TH : 25 DEAD…137 NEW CASES…11.6% POSITIVE TEST RATE
I am against government subsidies for business! I have written about how the supposedly Republican members of our government boards think nothing of giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to their friends in the form of tax money handouts. This is nothing new…it is business as usual.
The United States did not become an economic powerhouse by the government doling out subsidies. That is what they do in China and Russia. It does not matter what jargon or excuse is used. It comes down to a transfer of tax dollars to favored friends in the name of being business friendly. It is a perversion of the capitalist system.
On the ballot in this coming election, you are going to be asked to re-authorize the ability of the County to provide funds to new or existing businesses that promise jobs and investment. This is being done in the name of economic development. The Business Development Board (BDB) will use this carrot to lure business to the County. In effect it is a subsidy.
The taxpayer is being told that this is a tool in the toolbox that the BDB needs. Whether the government gives a favored business a tax break, a cash payment, or the ability to defer interest on a loan, the taxpayer is the one that is shelling out the dough. It is time that we change the tools we have in that subsidized business-friendly toolbox.
If you want to attract business, do not make them jump through bureaucratic hoops to open. All businesses need trained employees. The best thing local government can do is make sure that our school system is providing quality education. The Martin County School District should be striving to be the best in the world, not just in Florida. Businesses compete worldwide today. We need to encourage housing of all types and not discourage anything from being built as long as it is in the appropriate place.
Martin County subsidizes the so called private 501(c)3 Business Development Board with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. If its mission (whatever it is) is truly a function of government, then bring it in house where there is real accountability for taxpayer expenditures. This crony capitalism needs to end. If you do nothing else, vote no for the subsidy and tell your Commissioners that tax money should be used for the needs of all taxpayers.
To read more on this Subject
The unprecedented rains brought one more disaster scenario to Martin County. It is amply covered below under our Martin County section.
I just want to take a minute to tell you how important it is for our state legislative delegation to work together. Senator Harrell, Representatives Overdorf and Magar were on top of this event from the beginning. Will there be a good solution for those that lost their homes? I do not know. But these elected officials were there on the ground. That is important.
Most of life is nothing more than showing up. You may not be able to do anything concrete immediately, but your presence brings a level of comfort to those who have suffered a loss. At some point, that will not be enough because homes will need to be rebuilt and life’s necessities provided. The first step has been accomplished by appearing. Now, we all need to pitch in and see what we can do going forward.
The County has asked for specific things to be done to correct the flooding situation. They have sent a letter to the delegation, and the delegation in turn has written the state agencies that will need to respond. You can read those letters here
INFRASTRUCTURE FALLING DOWN
By the time you read this, a portion of the Roosevelt Bridge could be open to traffic. For almost everyone in the County, this will come with a sigh of relief. Many of us have horror stories about how we needed to drive miles out of our way to cross the river.
I had a dental appointment north of the bridge. I live on the south side of the bridge, and to drive about 2 miles, I had to go through Sewall’s Point, Jensen, and Rio. A half hour in the chair and an hour and half in the car.
We all know that U.S. infrastructure is in terrible shape. A trillion dollars would be needed just for the essentials. Bridges that were built decades ago are crumbling, as are tunnels, roads, water systems and airports. It is a mess. Yet this bridge is not even 25 years old. Why did it fail?
That question is something that screams for accountability. We do not have enough money to fix old and worn out infrastructure. We should not have to repair a bridge that we just built. I am hoping there is some recourse for the state against the designer or contractor. A thorough investigation should be made.
To read more
TIME FOR A REST
It is time for me to take a summer break. This will be the last full edition until August 9th. I will be sending a smaller version on July 8th and July 26th.
There are two reasons for this. One is that I need to recharge my batteries. The typical newsletter takes the full two weeks to report, write and edit. I need some downtime.
The second reason for the summer break is that I need to have corrective surgery on my foot that will prevent me from driving for a while. That will put a crimp in my ability to attend meetings and get around the County.
So, during what is supposed to be the slow season in government I will recharge and recuperate. Happy July 4th.
From Treasure Coast Knowhere: a great chart and explanation on COVID in our area. It shows that 1 in 96 Martin residents now have the disease. here
The Visual Capitalist a chart that shows the racial wealth gap. here
Neiman Labs has a chart stating that people are paying for online news: here
And these last two from the Visual Capitalist when do epidemiologist believe life will return to normal: here
We all have cognitive biases that lead us to mistakes: here
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.
I asked Tom Pine, a Jensen Beach concerned citizen, to send me the comments he made at the last Commission meeting.
At the special commission meeting of June 12, 2020 the COO of Cleveland Clinic gave us the number of patients in the hospital battling Covid —19. On May 29, 2020 there were 21 patients battling Covid — 19, two weeks later June 12, 2020 the number of patients battling Covid — 19 had more than doubled to 47. These are the numbers to fallow because they can’t be manipulated.
The other alarming trend was the age of people getting infected. The MEDIUM age of those in the hospital now is 39. Medium age in this case means that half of the patients are above 39 and half are below 39.
Social distancing is another option we should be enforcing in places like downtown Jensen beach where two restaurants and a trinket shop presently make that impossible because they take 70% to 80% of the useable public sidewalk for their own personal gain. These are public sidewalks, give them back to the public and then social distancing would be possible, but that’s not going to happen because the Good Old Boys Club want our sidewalks for their own use and profit and what the Good Old Boys Club wants in Martin County they get. Can you say MOORING FIELD?
It appears the Stuart News won’t allow letters to editor either if it shows downtown Jensen Beach not following social distancing guidelines. It’s more important to keep advertisers happy than public safety.
The Good Old Boys Club is also a reason more people don’t run for public office. You just don’t run against your opponent if he or she carries water for the Good Old Boys, you run against a very well organized and financially strong group of businesses that will do whatever it takes to keep their person in office.
While this is an extreme comparison the result is the same. Jeffery Epstein got away with sexually assaulting girls and young women because he belonged to the right clubs. Just like the Good Old Boys Club. There are at least two sets of rules in government, one for the average person another for the Good Old Boys and the Pay to Play crowd, money talks loud and clear.
The next letter is from my neighbor and friend Joan Moore:
Thank you for your informative weekly email blast. As someone that has been in food and beverage for most of the last 45 years, I am appalled and disappointed by the behavior and policies of many of our local restaurants. The local establishments that require social distancing and facemasks are far and few between. The national chains get it. However, I am someone that prefers to shop local as much as possible. I am having a difficult time finding places that adhere to the CDC and Restaurant Association guidelines. I care about my local businesses, but they do not care enough about me to require their staff to be masked or maintain the social distancing in the dining room. That behavior is unprofessional. I call before going. No masks. I had 1 establishment (that is within walking distance to 3 – 55+ communities and caters largely to them) tell me they would on request. That is ridiculous. I have found a few places and will happily patronize them. Unfortunately, the others do not care and are busy enough to not change their policy.
And our last letter this week from Joe Maher
I just wanted to thank you for all the work you do in disseminating all the information to the residents in your Friends & Neighbors newsletter. We LOVE it !!!!
I thought I would share with you my rather cynical view of how people perceive the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Since the majority of the deaths are “old folks” of which my spouse and myself are in this group being 70+. I feel that the younger people believe that this is just a passing fad like a cold or worse case a flu and if it kills off the “old folks” look at all the potential savings. No more Social Security payouts. No more retirement check payouts and a lot lower demand and associated costs on our medical system.
Just my prospective.
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 16, 2020
Chair Jenkins joined the meeting via Zoom from his garage. He was self-quarantining after having possibly been exposed to the virus. Commissioner Hetherington as Vice-Chair would have conducted the meeting, but she was away. Commissioner Ciampi was tapped to chair.
HOBE HEIGHTS FLOODING
The area received approximately 34 inches of rain in 10 days. This is half the average yearly rainfall for the County. What is tragic is that apparently none of the damaged homes are within a flood plain. None of the homes had or would be eligible for flood insurance. Did this occur because of a freak of nature? Or did we bring this on ourselves?
These are not new homes in a new neighborhood. They have been there for decades. During public comment, one speaker stated that what was new was the golf courses that had been constructed nearby in the past several years. This prevented the rainwater from being carried away through natural flow ways.
A recent project in Jonathan Dickerson State Park could have disrupted the drainage from these neighborhoods which could also have increased the flooding of these homes. The real culprit could be a lack of maintenance of our drainage infrastructure. If you do not clean the outflows and drainage ditches and continue to tell residents there is no money to do so, the fault is the County’s.
And what is the Commission’s response? The County will buy out the homeowners! While much was made of the 11 homes that the 25 United Organization assisted, there are more than 50 homes currently that suffered damage. They are receiving assistance by many nonprofits in our area and beyond. Do the taxpayers buy every home flooded to ease the conscience of Commissioners for shirking their responsibilities not to mention politics?
Perhaps the 11 homes were the ones most greatly affected but are these the only ones eligible for the County’s largess. What of the other 40 plus homes? Are they ignored until the next flood? Even if you assign a value of $200,000 per home, the cost of 50 homes would be $10,000,000. Where in the budget does that money come from? And Martin County loses 50 moderately prices housing units along with a good many of these families as residents.
These were torrential rains! This type of flooding had not happened to this extent before. Would the millions spent for buyouts be better used to maintain the existing drainage systems and perhaps bring sewer to this and other communities? Commissioner Smith’s motion, seconded by Jenkins, to buy out those homeowners that were flooded passed 4-0.
This is just bad policy and solves none of the underlying problems. It is magical and an unrealistic fix to a serious problem. At all levels of government, politicians would much rather tug at heart strings that delve into concrete solutions. The next time there is a flood in a neighborhood, does the County again rush to the rescue with other people’s tax dollars. Or does it do what government is supposed to do and have proper infrastructure in place.
MANY NON-PROFITS ARE GIVING A HAND
While the 25 United Organization should be congratulated for its efforts for 11 homeowners, there were more than 50 homeowners needing help. The United Way of Martin County coordinated help from many organizations rendering assistance. I asked that the CEO of the United Way, Carol Houwaart-Diez, write a brief statement of what was accomplished:
United Ways have a history of coordinating community responses to help those affected by natural disasters— Whether by raising funds to aid in relief efforts, engaging first-responders or mobilizing partners to help with on-the-ground recovery. As the organization identified in the Martin County Disaster Plan to assist with volunteers and financial contributions, United Way of Martin County helped coordinate volunteer efforts during the recent flooding in the Hope Heights community. Our role was to assist impacted families by helping them register for home repair and connect volunteers who were able to help. Staff registered families into a database on a Saturday and supported the major initial volunteer effort coordinated by 25 United by registering volunteers so that the County will be able to claim these hours for FEMA reimbursement. Since then, United Way has been working with American Red Cross who has provided disaster kits along with lodging for those who have had to evacuate their homes. In addition, the Baptist Disaster Relief team has been assessing all homes that are still in need of repair. To date, we have more than 50 homes that need help and the United Way will continue to assist with these homes along with other partners to make them whole again. Many thanks to MC Emergency Operations Team, the many local nonprofits and for the Baptist Disaster Relief Team led locally by Bert Holden for helping us to care for all those who have been impacted by the floods.
FAIR ASSOCIATION HAS AN EXTENSION
The Commission had asked the County Attorney to see about extending the time that the Fair Association had to raise funds and sign a lease for the new fairgrounds in Indiantown. Originally, the extension was for only one year, but like so many things in County government, time is never of the essence.
The agreement presented would extend their time to 2024 from 2020. They also would be able to stay at the present site in Stuart until after the fair in 2021. The Commission voted 4-0 to approve this extension of time to procure the necessary funding for 1st stage construction and sign a lease. During the extension period the association could do work on the new site and would hold the County harmless for any liability as a result.
At another point in this meeting, Ms. Woods asked that there be a motion to reconsider which would include allowing them to remain at the present site until 2024. The existing lease allows the Fair Association to remain at the Stuart site for another 7 years, but with the signing of the new lease the existing one would terminate.
Commissioner Smith made a motion to do that but Commissioner Ciampi wanted the extension for signing the new lease and moving to run only until 2022. That was the compromise that was accepted by the Commission. As they say on TV, stay tuned as this show will continue for several more seasons.
COUNTY TERMINATES INDIANTOWN LEASE
When the County originally allowed the new Village to occupy County space, it was never anticipated that the Indiantown government would have very many employees. Currently, according to the County Administrator, there are 22 Village employees. That building is also occupied by satellite offices of the Clerk of the Court and Tax Collector.
With the new realities of social distancing, things are tight. Further, there is only one rest room for employees and the public alike. This is no longer a workable solution. Kryzda is asking that the interlocal be rescinded.
After checking to make sure that Howard Brown, the Village Manager, was aware of this development, the Commission voted 4-0 to do so by September 30th.
There were two items that were carried over to the June 19th meeting.
There was a lively discussion of masks. Even at this late date, Jenkins and Smith were not ready to require masks of food service workers. Heard thought the proposed resolution was not tough enough since she wanted everyone in public to wear masks. After a losing vote, it was decided that this would once again be discussed at the Covid meeting on Friday.
Also put over was the annual grant allocation process. This is where the Commission gives your tax dollars to their favorite charities. It was decided to wait until Hetherington could be there.
COVID PANDEMIC MEETING JUNE 19, 2020
Rob Lord from Cleveland Clinic gave some sobering statistics. Our positive test rate is up to 9.7% (it has increased since to 11.0%) St, Lucie has 5.6% and Indian River 2.7%. The virus is surging among our younger population.
Hospitalizations are up. The numbers for those under 18 are a bit less firm since they are transferred to hospitals outside the County that have pediatric Covid units. This disease is now showing that some of those that are infected will have lasting medical conditions, quite possibly for life.
The two most effective ways to stop the spread is to wear a mask and to social distance. Lord said that was the view of almost every doctor at the hospital. It was with near unanimity. Our health officer, Carol Vitani, stated that cases over the past week have increased by 30%.
Speaker after speaker that were health professionals urged the Commission to make mask wearing in public mandatory. There were some non-medical professional speaking about rights and how this is no worse than the flu. But at what point does the doctrines of rugged individualism makes society unsafe.
I heard the same arguments about seatbelts being mandatory as an infringement of an individual’s rights. The same was true for smoking in public places…from airplanes to theaters to restaurants. We heard that bars would go out of business if cigarettes were not part of having a drink. Yet none of that happened. Both those mandatory government controls have reduced fatalities and disease.
We are nowhere near through with COVID-19. It will continue to affect us both economically and medically. This idea that our rights are being trampled on by wearing a mask is ludicrous. We sometimes think that there is a universal belief that government cannot impose any restrictions. That is not correct. Along with rights are responsibilities, and we need to take both equally into account.
Commissioner Heard stated the statistics are unequivocal that universal mask wearing is needed to stop the surge. Ciampi does not see the use of masks as anti-business but rather pro-business if it stops them from being closed again. Jenkins said he was now in a different place having gone through self-quarantine and that there are 80 more cases today. Smith, while conceding that businesses were trying to follow the rules, the public is not. Hetherington is looking at how the greatest increase in cases was between 25-54 cohort.
After discussion it was decided that masks would be required to be worn by all food service workers and other retail employees where social distancing was not able to be accomplished. For all others (including the public), masks are strongly recommended. The motion passed 5-0.
A copy of the ordinance can be found here
HOW TO BE A PHILANTHROPIST
Every year the BOCC decides to give away more than $2 million dollars to non-profit agencies.
How do you land on the list? You know someone, of course!
Several of the agencies receive their funding in accordance with Florida statute. Unlike other states, Florida has almost no social welfare agencies. To provide any social services, non-profits need to pick up the slack. In this year’s budget, those mandated amounts come to $566,600.00.
Then we have agencies such as the Humane Society that the County has decided to contract with because the County believes these services could be better provided that way. That amount comes to $766,000.00. And there are contracts with other non-profits to provide funding such as the Arts Council that total $146,600.00 additional dollars.
The other approximately $725,000.00 goes to the same non-profits that have been receiving taxpayer contributions forever. Even when one is supposed to fall off the list, it does not happen. Last year Tykes & Teens was told they should apply to the Children’s Services Council for the $50,000.00 that Martin County gave them. Guess what? They are still going to receive $50,000.00 from the BOCC this year.
A motion was made to give Tykes & Teens the $50,000.00 by Ciampi and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
A few new ones applied to be on the dole, but they did not make it. The current agencies have landed the sweet spot for life it seems. The question is whether tax dollars be used for contributions to favored non-profits? In candor, I am on the Board of United Way that was turned down for a grant to provide student school supplies. Why is the United Way program any less valuable to the County than the Boys and Girls Clubs which received $50,000?
A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Ciampi to provide the funding in staff recommendation. It passed 5-0. And that is how you become a philanthropist. You donate taxpayer money.
The grant list is here
COVID COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 26, 2020
The grim statistics continue!
Some highlights from the presentations by Cleveland Clinic’s Rob Lord and the Health Department’s Carol Ann Vitani. There have been 1713 people with positive test results. That translates to an 11% positivity rate which is now higher than Miami’s. The median age is 38 of those who test positive. Martin County is an epicenter. The County was mentioned by DeSantis at his press conference.
There are younger people now in the hospital and there have been 23 deaths. It is important for us to realize that there is no cure. The hospital can only manage your symptoms until your body fights off the disease…or you perish. COVID is a disease that may have long term effects on your vital organs. Just because you go home from the hospital does not mean the effects will not be with you for the rest of your life.
The federal government has finally gotten around to the smaller counties receiving aid. George Stokus, Assistant County Administrator, was tasked with producing a plan to distribute the moneys allocated under this reimbursable emergency aid program.
He explained that there were several eligible constituencies. The funds could only be used for COVID-19 expenses. And if you already received money from another federal program such as PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) you were ineligible.
There would be a total of $28 million with the first phase being $7 million. There are no formal documents. Stokus equated it to FEMA money which has claw back provisions if the feds do not like the way spend the money.
Briefly the five parts are:
Small business: will have a $25,000.00 cap per business. The program will be administered by the BDB and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. It would be similar to Palm Beach’s program.
Rent & Mortgage Assistance: administered by United Way and Martin County Human Services
Utilities and Personal: administered through United Way and Martin County Human Services. The personal component deals with issues such as burial expenses for COVID victims.
Municipalities and Constitutional Offices: administered by an accounting firm. There will be a Memorandum of Understanding that will govern the grants including a claw back provision. The Sheriff will probably be the largest Constitutional Office involved. It would cover expenses from March 30th-December 30th.
Private Hospital Reimbursement: this needs to be fleshed out because it covers expenses that another federal program does not. This would be in our County for Cleveland Clinic.
There will also be an independent auditor involved to make sure that all the needed documentation is provided. Part of the funds will go to County COVID expenses including covering the costs of all administration. Stokus will use primarily Palm Beach County’s plan as a guidepost. It seems to be a very good beginning.
Ciampi moved approval of the outline plan which was seconded by Smith. The motion passed 4-0. The meeting was chaired by Hetherington since Jenkins was absent.
Once again, this week the discussion turned to masks. Heard was adamant that everyone while in public needs to wear a mask. She stated that the statistics were going in the wrong direction. It is the Commission’s responsibility to keep people safe.
By the time of the discussion there were only three Commissioners present. Smith had to be legitimately somewhere else for most of this discussion. He returned toward the end. It looks to me like they all want to have that prohibition but how to do so is the problem.
Ciampi wants to make sure the emergency order is buttoned up and did not want to do it on the fly or tweak the order they crafted regarding mandatory masks for food service. Hetherington wanted an education and information component. The County Attorney stated that the Health Department had made many exceptions to a mask requirement. Smith when he returned re-iterated almost all of what his colleagues had said.
The way the County crafts this is important to whether the Commission accomplishes their goal. If they make mandatory mask wearing as an emergency order, then automatically the penalty if convicted is as a 2nd degree misdemeanor. However, if the Commission passes an ordinance then it is a civil infraction with a fine that is set by the Commission. That is usually enforceable by Code Enforcement, but I believe law enforcement can do so also.
If you place a $50 fine for a first offense and a ticket is given, then it is not a criminal violation. Much of the potential conflict would be taken away and it would serve as an educational component. The Commission wants to make it the norm for the public to wear face masks. Yet making not wearing one a crime may be overkill. There is also the problem of escalation between a member of the public and the officer or deputy.
You could add social distancing to the ordinance also.
Most people comply when they understand. They comply because they do not want a ticket. Civil penalties work for parking enforcement and in an entire range of areas. I believe it would work here.
Is it perfect and will it stop every possible citizen confrontation? The answer is no but given the alternatives I think an ordinance would be the best solution. An ordinance would need to have two readings and would take longer. It also could be challenged since so far only emergency orders have been upheld in the courts.
Heard amended her motion for the County Attorney to come back with a draft emergency order for mandatory face coverings at their next meeting, July 2nd. It was seconded by Ciampi. The vote was 4-0.
I hope the Attorney presents the Commission both alternatives of an emergency order and an ordinance.
Someone sent me a presentation regarding this that I found enlightening. It can be found here
In the last newsletter I wrote about a project that was approved by the Commission that would use the AMI to determine rent levels. Li Roberts, a member of the City’s Local Planning Agency, thought that my explanation was unclear. She offered this further explanation:
I read your thoughts from June 14, 2020 regarding the First Reading for Harbor Grove Apartments (corner of Commerce and Indian Street). The information about the Rental Rates seemed a wee bit confusing so I thought I might be able to help you out and offer some clarity.
The federal government and state government use the same terminology when talking about housing, income, and affordability. The most important of these are:
AMI – Area Median Income, the midpoint of a region’s income distribution (half the households earn more than the AMI, half the households earn less than the AMI. In our area that number from HUD is $59,500 Annual Income.
AFFORDABLE – Spending no more than 30% of household income on housing
They both then agree on the following household income labels:
EXTREMELY LOW INCOME: Up to 30% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME up to $17,850 and AFFORDABLE up to $466/mth
VERY LOW INCOME: 31% to 50% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $18,445 to $29,750 and AFFORDABLE $461/mth to $744/mth
LOW INCOME: 51% to 80% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $30,345 to $47,600 and AFFORDABLE $759/mth to $1,190/mth
MODERATE INCOME: 81% to 120% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $48,195 to $71,400 and AFFORDABLE $1,205/mth to $1,785/mth
Florida defines WORKFORCE HOUSING as being in close proximity of the workplace and AFFORDABLE (that’s spending no more than 30% of household income on housing) for families within 60% to 140% of the AMI (for a family of four); meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $35,700 to $83,300 and AFFORDABLE $892/mth to $2,082/mth.
Both HUD and Florida scale all these numbers for number of people in a household and number of bedrooms.
The City of Stuart will have their First Reading of the EAR (Evaluation and Appraisal Report) on Monday, June 22nd where they are using the following definitions:
ATTAINABLE: Very Low to Low Income spending no more than 30% of household income on housing
VERY LOW INCOME: Below 50% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME below $29,750 and ATTAINABLE below $744/mth
LOW INCOME: Greater than 50% and less than 80% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME greater than $29,750 and less than $47,600 and ATTAINABLE $744/mth to $1,190/mth
WORKFORCE INCOME: 80% to 100% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $47,600 to $59,500 and ATTAINABLE $1,190/mth to $1,487/mth
Regarding the Harbor Grove Apartments, the recommendation from the Local Planning Agency was a maximum rent of $1,785 – which would be Affordable (at 30% maximum) of 120% of the AMI (with 120% of $59,500 being $71,400 Annual Household Income). The City Commission’s discussion of a percentage of rents at 80% to 100% would mean $1,190/mth to $1,487/mth. The true devil is in the details and wordsmithing the language to arrive at this 30% of Household Income as being Affordable or Attainable; then applying the desired percentage to the AMI. Matters become further complicated if the number was to be scaled for household size or number of bedrooms.
Hope this helps. If for no other purpose than to understand how the definitions work and boil down to actual monthly numbers.
Christia Li Roberts
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 22, 2020
There were two meetings prior to this one. The first was the initial budget workshop (see presentation here)
The second was a CRA meeting where the Board voted to buy two lots contiguous to the Wells Fargo Building on Ocean.
The regular meeting began with the Mayor warning that people will be making comments by Zoom so that there was a chance that the incident that happened a few weeks ago could happen again even with the added precautions.
Most governments do not worry about perceptions. For good and bad reasons, Stuart does. You seldom see the County or other municipalities discuss racism or bias in any form. Stuart takes it to heart. Perhaps it is because Stuart Commissioners wear their hearts on their sleeves.
This week, there were two proclamations that showed their caring. One was for Juneteenth and the other for celebrating Pride Month. They can be found here
During Commissioner comments Clarke spoke about a Facebook post on her personal page she recently shared. The post was in poor taste. However, some wanted to make it much more than it was. She took it down, but the damage was done. It was a self-inflicted wound. It could have been construed in several ways. I am going to believe that she did not post it in a mean-spirited way. In this exceedingly difficult time, there are more serious matters to worry about than a Facebook post.
And besides, if she did not represent the people of Stuart well enough, someone would have taken the time to run against her. No one bothered to do that two weeks ago during the qualifying period.
COMMUNITY RELATIONS COMMITTEE
The order of the meeting was changed to bring the discussion to form a Community Relations Committee to deal with racism. After Commission approval of the agenda change, Meier stated that he was going to be more diligent during public comment and keep to the time limit and to subject matter. Last meeting, it was not as orderly as it could have been. Without following the rules for civility and the time limit, meetings can devolve far from the original discussion points.
Dyess took charge and explained that this committee will not be an official advisory board. This would eliminate the need for Sunshine and Public Records. That could promote freer discussion. It will allow members to speak to each other without having a legal issue. Members can have frank discussions without City staff being involved or having an advertised meeting.
Dyess will be the City point person. The board will be comprised of a Commission member, NAACP member, ACES, Concerned Citizens of East Stuart, a Hispanic Organization, Ministerial Alliance and perhaps others.
It was thought that Clarke would be the Commissioner on this committee. For a moment during discussion, I thought no Commissioner would be on the board. In my opinion, that probably would have been best if you wanted to have frank discussions without a political slant. Clarke thought better of being on the board. Bruner volunteered and was chosen.
It passed 4-0.
Another week another acronym. EAR stands for Evaluation and Appraisal Report for the Comprehensive Plan. This is the method for changing the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Every 10 years this should be done, and it goes to Tallahassee for approval.
The goal is to make sure that the LDRs and ordinances are not in contradiction with the comp plan. Over time, conflicts happen. This is one way to bring everything back in line. It also provides an opportunity for the entire City community to have a chance to express their opinions on how they want to see the City develop.
There were several meetings of the public that occurred. The meeting I attended had two City residents and several non-City residents. Without participation from those that live within the municipal boundaries, staff and ultimately the Commission does what it perceives as best.
I think the staff and Commission have done a good job with the EAR. I am attaching staff presentation and the plan itself. If you are a Stuart resident or a business owner, you should look. You will find it interesting.
The plan is here
And the presentation is here
I think we should all be wearing masks in public. This is not a political statement, but as every public health person stated to the County Commission, this is what stops COVID-19 from spreading. It was not an either/or statement. It was absolute.
Under their emergency powers, the County Commission issued an order that includes the entire County both incorporated and unincorporated. The order states that all food service workers must be masked as well as the employees of those establishments where social distancing is not possible. All others are strongly encouraged to wear masks.
While Stuart maybe the spiritual home of many, it has relatively few residents…about 11% of Martin County’s population. Our City Commissioners sometimes forget that Stuart, while important to those that live there, is not really the political presence that Palm City is. Palm City has a population that dwarfs the City.
With those three paragraphs above, Mayor Meier wanted to institute mandatory mask wearing. The argument goes that the police would make sure that people complied. This would be just the kind of emergency order that we are asking our cops to enforce that could lead to a problem.
Every cop knows that he is going to be challenged at some point by a citizen. What we need to do is make sure that the laws that he is asked to enforce are not trivial in nature. Because at some point a citizen is going to say, “I am not going to wear the mask and you cannot make me.” This is setting up a confrontation which can lead to all the things that set off the problems seen in Atlanta or Minneapolis.
Both Dyes and Tumminelli were against passing the ordinance. And for now, so too were the rest of the Commissioners. If our numbers continue to climb, I can see the County stepping in and passing universal masking. Better yet, the governor should do so. It would be the right call. Until that occurs, the Commissioners need to remember their position in the grand scheme and have the restraint to do nothing.
In the last newsletter I reported that the Board voted 4-1 to allow Boys and Girls Club to use school facilities for summer camp without charge. I reported that Li Roberts was the only no vote. I tried to contact her, but she did not respond. She subsequently did and here is our rationale:
I read your thoughts from June 14, 2020 regarding the Special School Board Meeting on June 9, 2020. This was a Special Meeting called with two days’ notice. I arrived late to the meeting as I had other obligations that could not be cancelled. At the end of your summary, you report that “the vote was 4-1 with Roberts dissenting.” I apologize that I did not receive your text or phone call. I’ve since spoken with you and said I would send my thoughts. So here you go.
First. Statutorily, the School Superintendent is charged with the day-to-day operations of the School District and the Board is charged with Policy and Budget. It should be noted that this is true regardless of whether the Superintendent is elected or appointed. This harkens back to the day when all Florida School Superintendents were elected and there needed to be a clear roadmap of duties so elected politicians would not be stepping on each other’s toes. I agree that it is the obligation of a School Board Member to keep track of the pulse of the community and share those perspectives and thoughts with the Superintendent so that he/she has a more comprehensive idea of community expectations. Yet, at the end of the day, I believe strongly that it is the duty of the Superintendent, who understands how all the pieces fit together, to handle these matters.
Second. The School District operates with law (federal and state) coming first, then our adopted policies. Policy adoption is a procedure that includes appropriate public advertising and public hearings to hear community input. Deviating from policy is something I do not feel comfortable with. My fellow board members obviously disagreed. Of course, that is their right and their prerogative. Prior to the vote, I asked our School Board Attorney Mr. George if we were going beyond our published policy and he indicated that we were.
Third. The Board is charged with acting upon items that have a recommendation from the Superintendent. It does not mean that the Board must follow the recommendation from the Superintendent. It does mean that there is to be a recommendation. The published materials for the Special Meeting did not go into the detail that the Board was delving into and so I did not know of any recommendation from the Superintendent. I repeatedly asked to hear from the Superintendent, but my questions were being answered by Staff and not the Superintendent.
My vote was NOT a vote against programming by the Boys & Girls Club for our students. Quite the contrary is true. As you may know, I serve on the Children’s Services Council and as the Council Appointed Liaison to the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) so am charged with reviewing funding requests. Children’s Services Council has since March been diligently providing Covid-19 related funding to benefit our children. In late May when the social distancing and 9-to-1 ratios looked like they would severely impact availability of summer programming, funding requests for summer program capacity expansion were solicited. Each of these requests are given a comprehensive review in a very short timeframe with a goal to move as quickly as possible, to verify that appropriate Covid-19 procedures are in place and to be certain that there would be no funding gaps that would make program delivery unattainable. Boys & Girls Club was approved for summer program capacity expansion in Hobe Sound, Port Salerno and Indiantown on May 28th and then $202,531 to serve up-to-180 downtown Stuart children on June 1st. (So far, the YMCA, Banner Lake and the City of Stuart have also been approved for capacity expansion funding.) Each of these are robust programs that include academic components, safety protocols, and performance measurements.
Hope this helps.
Christia Li Roberts
SCHOOL BOARD MEETING JUNE 16, 2020
It was a long meeting at nearly 5 hours. Maybe the length is because so many meetings are virtual. During virtual meetings, it is harder to judge how what you are saying is being received by your colleagues, never mind the public. And the school board meetings are especially challenging.
This meeting, like others, had no visual. I do not understand why it is so difficult for the District to hold a better virtual meeting. Other governments are doing an exceptionally good job in this respect. When you have a Board Member, Mr. Anderson, claiming people are messing with his ability to speak, it is serious. Is it ineptitude by staff or is it deliberate? I am going to assume the former and not the latter.
Dr. Miller gave a detailed lengthy presentation regarding a summer session. Should it be virtual, blended, or in person? Given what the Health Department stated during the meeting, it probably should be virtual. Most of this rush was to capture grant funding. It seems like the District is trying to set a summer program with a grant that is due immediately.
Tony Anderson said not to bother with the summer and concentrate on the new school year. He said parents are all over the place with what they want. In my opinion, the same goes for teachers and everyone else. Anderson may have gotten off to a slow start, but during the pandemic, he has grown into the seat and offers a good common-sense perspective.
We are ranked 6th in the state for the number of children with Covid within the District. This does not bode well for the fall. Dr. Miller was looking for guidance from the Board, yet the Board was looking for guidance from Dr. Miller and her task force. Defenthaler asked if it is feasible to have all three models of instruction…in person, virtual and hybrid.
That is difficult from a staffing perspective. Miller said that she could not open school to all students at the same time and follow CDC guidelines. Finally, the Board asked that she come back to us with a plan.
During her remarks, Ms. Gaylord spoke on racism and what the District is doing to combat the problem. They need to confront it head on. She has been actively seeking minority staff. Roberts spoke about hidden biases and the need to confront racism and root it out.
WHO HAS THE POWER?
This was the time when the District was offering re-employment contracts to employees. It usually is a consent agenda vote. Defenthaler pulled the contract for labor attorney, Joe Rodowicz. She did not want to retain him.
Ms. Defenthaler stated that he places roadblocks in carrying out Board policy, that he did not take direction, and tried to in effect sabotage the Boys & Girls Club deal for erecting a building on School Board property. She claims that he was actively working against Tony George, the School Board Attorney. This also spilled over into the negotiation with the Arts Council for the High School Building.
She made a motion that his contract is not renewed. DiTerlizzi said they cannot get involved because Rodowicz fell under the Superintendent. Yet if they cannot be involved in this aspect, why do they approve individual contracts for employees? George stated that they have the power to not renew the contract and provided a memo.
Anderson stated that he was not too happy by Rodowicz’s performance either. Yet Anderson went on to say that Rodowicz was attentive to him when he wanted to know something. Rodowicz was not a team player. Yet Anderson did not want to terminate him without another chance.
Powers passed the gavel to Anderson and seconded Defenthaler’s motion. Gaylord said that she had never seen anything like this before. She believed that Rodowicz was acting in the best interest of the District. Defenthaler mentioned that perhaps a shorter contract was appropriate. Powers stated that she had spoken to Gaylord about this. It was brought up that he does work on the Board’s behest even if he reports to the Superintendent.
The motion failed 3-2 with Anderson, Roberts and DiTerlizzi voting no. Who is in charge?
SPECIAL BOARD MEETING JUNE 23, 2020
The Board finalized their appointments to the Superintendent Advisory Committee. Ms. Gaylord ends her term in November. While it is not likely that the first appointed Superintendent will be in place by then, this is a good start.
The Board Members can be found at: here
HOBE SOUND ELEMENTARY
For the past two meetings, parents have been speaking to the School Board regarding Hobe Sound principal, Dr. Dianne Memmer-Novak. Most complaints have settled around her demeanor and non-attentiveness to parents’ concerns. Parents claim that since she took the helm of the school a few years ago, the school has gone from an “A” to a “C” in ranking.
Several parents thought she was a bully to students and teachers. Parent after parent cited that their children went from loving school to hating it. A petition was circulated, I heard, with over 300 signatures to have her removed. Something is not quite right.
When I reached out to obtain more information, no one at the District or Board would speak about it. That signals to me that there is probably some sort of investigation being conducted. Dr. Novak’s side to the story has not been told publicly. Therefore, we should not jump to any conclusions. There are always those who will not be happy regardless of who the principal is.
What often happens is the bureaucracy neglects the part about being public servants. Sure, they pay lip service to that fact. Yet we have all had our phone calls unreturned, a letter or email not acknowledged…never mind answered. Principals are the leaders of their schools. Leadership is different than dictatorship. Sometimes that is the piece that is forgotten.
I am sure there is more to come.
2020/21 SCHOOL YEAR
Never forget that money is tied to everything…including school attendance. That is why, even today, Martin County is no closer to knowing the plan for the fall than they were last week. Decisions are hard but at some point, they must be made.
Schools have become the all-around answers for our children’s needs. Parents use them as babysitters so they can go to work, to play sports, make sure the kids have meals, learn to play chess, and then complain when everything on the list cannot be accomplished. Most of the rest of the world separates all these functions from education. That leaves the education piece not always the most important part for parents and students.
Governor DeSantis cavalierly signed a bill giving an additional $500,000,000 for teacher salaries. The base salary will be $47,500 for those teaching K-12. $100,000,000 of the total will be dedicated for those teachers who make more than the base amount. The governor guarantees that funding for this year. Districts cannot cut teachers’ salaries below that amount.
While the state will pick up this largess for the first year, what about the second, fifth or 8th year. The next budget could eliminate the $500,000,000, but districts will still have to pay these base sums to their teachers. Once again, politics is getting in the way of what comes next. Do not be surprised to see that water projects or other lines in the budget are cut to fund this year’s pay increase. More interestingly, what will Martin County cut in subsequent years to fund another state mandate.
So as the Martin County School Board decides what happens next, another hurdle has been thrown at them. The staff must come back with programs outlining what a traditional day looks like, a virtual day, and a hybrid. The Board will never please every parent. It needs to decide and then implement a decision.
Everything comes down to money.
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 23, 2020
It was a very busy Commission meeting. It was their first in-person meeting in several months. When we walked in the door, Chief Ciechanowski took our temperatures. She did not, however, take the Commissioners temperatures as they entered. If you are going to do it for a public health reason, you need to do it to everyone, including the Commissioners.
There was some further discussion on their sign code in commercial areas. The current sign ordinance was passed just a couple of years ago. It needed to be updated because of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reed v. Gilbert. In a nutshell the court ruled that government cannot regulate the content of signs. They can regulate size, material, and lighting. The decision can be found here:
The ordinance, at present, meets those criteria. Even the sign size, etc., which was written with the commercial plaza’s input, are fine. The problem is the ordinance does not provide a method for someone to request a variance from the criteria. The proposal that the Manager wanted to pursue would be to have the Commission grant exceptions.
At the same time, the plaza is coming back and wants to change their signs. Three years ago, the commercial sign language incorporated the recommendations of the plaza owners. Once again, the Plaza is asking for a change to accommodate their needs as of today. The ordinance must be changed because of the prohibition of granting a variance.
Over time, styles and needs will change. It is a good thing that the Commission is sensitive to accommodating businesses as much as possible. But it is foolish to rewrite the law every time. The broader you make an ordinance, the easier it is to adjust without going to the expense of writing a brand new one.
There should be a two-prong approach to the issue. The first is to minimally change the ordinance by changing a few words from not allowing an administrative procedure or variance to having a variance heard by the Commission for the commercial part of the sign ordinance. Then after that minor change is passed, the plaza owners, working with staff, would present a variance request to show what their proposed signs would look like. It is up to the Commission whether to agree or not.
It is not complicated to do it the way the Manager proposes. And the added benefit is you do not codify today’s taste for tomorrow’s world. The Commission authorized staff to come back with choices…Sometimes you just must decide.
The ordinance and recommendations can be found here
STORM WATER HISTORY
If you are like me, you must find the endless stormwater, wastewater, all types of water in Sewall’s Point confusing.
The Town Manager has decided to have presentations that really explain what has happened in the past, what is happening today, and what will need to happen in the future. Joe Capra, the contracted Town Engineer, gave a great presentation explaining storm water and its affects. It was clear and precise. You can view the presentation here
Twenty-five years ago, the Town Commission rejected the idea of initiating a storm water fee to pay for things like the Town’s share of grant matches. It has been taking that money from the general fund. That results in not always having the money available when needed. You then must rely on one grant being the match for another. Not the best way to fund projects that are essential to keeping Sewall’s Point functioning.
Sea level rise by 2050 (you can see the table in the presentation) could make sections of the Town uninhabitable. The Town needs to get ahead of this now…which means dedicated funding sources for this work.
If anything, that fee should be instituted as soon as possible. Secondarily, the Commission needs to take advantage of inexpensive borrowing to complete as many projects as possible as quickly as possible. It appears to me the Commission, in its efforts to keep taxes low today, may be sacrificing the tax base tomorrow. Without projects being completed faster, there will come a time that some property will be underwater which will certainly remove those parcels from the tax rolls.
Perhaps the Manager is beginning to lay the groundwork for serious discussions revolving around the future viability of the Town. Kurzman and Mayfield are beginning to grasp the complexities that are involved in this subject. It is a boring subject, yet so critically important.
The Commission asked the Chief, given these uncertain times, to give a presentation regarding the Police Department. It was informative and insightful. Sewall’s Point is well served with its force.
To see the presentation, go here
COMMISSIONER KURZMAN’S EXPLANATION
Dave Kurzman wanted to clarify some of his remarks from last meeting on the tree ordinance. Any elected official who takes the time to write to the newsletter should be heard:
I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Sewall’s Point tree ordinances and on-site water retention. Regarding the tree ordinances, my concerns are the cutting down of trees, large limbs, and mangroves by residents and landscapers while ignoring the town’s strict tree ordinances. A situation reoccurred and a reduced penalty fine was offered provided the homeowner gave a long-term mitigation plan to care for the tree. Moving forward, I suggested that both homeowners and landscapers pay a small fee of $25 in order to keep track of trees and very large limbs cut and that these permits be visibly displayed on trees to be cut. The Town Manager now agreed to oversee these ordinances, noted discussions with contractors and landscapers about these requirements and ordinances, and suggested a six-month waiting period to note the progress. The enforcement of the tree ordinance is necessary to avoid potential flooding/erosion.
The other issue Sewall’s Point faces is on-site water retention which I constantly discuss during our meetings. Many residents on Sewall’s Point Road cope with their properties flooded for days, weeks, months after heavy rains, king tides, tropical storms, and even runoff from neighboring properties. This includes septic tanks underwater on some properties. Now is the time to adopt an on-site water retention code which I will work on with our Town Engineer and Building Inspector.
As the ocean rises each year so will our flooding problems. Sewall’s Point has had opportunities to obtain loans at very low interest rates of 0.53% to help remedy flooding problems. Specifically, this loan money would be used to raise and repave all of South Sewall’s Point Road, capture water as it heads west to east, and pump water into the Indian River Lagoon after it flows through a baffle box or retention pond. Our town has cracked and crumbling roads and each year quotes to repave roads increases 15%-35%. My suggestion is to secure that 0.53% low interest loan for 20 years, along with grants and funding. Our Town Engineer constantly gives suggestions on ways to capture water. Sewall’s Point needs to act. Sewall’s Point may need to match funds to qualify for some grants for stormwater overflow and flood control.
COUNCIL MEETING JUNE 25, 2020
During Commissioner comments Hernandez revealed that her father was in the hospital due to COVID-19. She was visibly upset. Her family situation was made known when she asked the Health Department’s Vitani why her father was not contacted by any one from the Health Department days after her father tested positive.
I do not know if the Health Department’s failure to contact Hernandez’s father was an isolated oversight or not. But if the Health Department’s main function during COVID is for contact tracing, waiting days to know who an infected person was in contact with is a problem. That means we will never get a handle on this disease.
I wish the best to Janet and her family.
It seemed Council sniping was once more in the open. Dowling gave the local news report to his audience of 18 people that were attending by Zoom. Anthony you are an engaging person but taking up so much time to toot your own horn is being immodest.
Perhaps with Dowling’s Facebook page he is being informative. Though at some point I would imagine that someone will make a public records request for his Facebook and other social media posts. They should be part of the Village’s public records as should every other member.
Then during Stone’s comments, he mentioned that everyone including Councilmembers should obey the rules and pull permits for events. Apparently, Dowling’s Juneteenth celebration was held on private property without permits. Manager Brown needs to get involved and make sure his Council is following the same rules as everyone else.
This goes back to what Brown was trying to standardize a few months ago regarding a communications policy. There seems to be too much free lancing by Council Members. When you are an elected official everything you post can be interpreted as a political statement. When you mix your duties as an elected and your personal pages then you can have political problems. There are instances of Sunshine and public records violations having occurred because of this.
Even one board member looking at the page of another board member to see what their position is on a government matter could be considered a Sunshine violation. This board will eventually have an investigation and then it may be too late for one or more of them.
The Village will by the end of the year own the water utility. This meeting with the myriad steps taken moves Indiantown that much closer to ownership. Approving the needed ordinances for the rate structure, financing, utility budgeting, connection fees, and permitting, all bring this closer to happening.
I would have liked to see this occur a bit later in the Village’s development, but this is when the opportunity has presented itself. There were questions raised earlier from some about the consultant but so far everything seems to be fine. It is a methodical progression.
The Village needs to own their own utility to have full control over their development. If the County or South Martin Regional Utility owned this it could set up obstacles to the Village as they develop. I am not a fan of the Village being in the Fire/Rescue business. If that occurs it will probably result in increased costs. The utility is something that needs to be done.
You can access the different agenda items including the utility studies and bonding information here.
The next meeting is scheduled for July 13, 2020
Next Meeting is scheduled for July 14, 2020
Our constitution has been our guiding document for more than 230 years. Our nation was born in 1776, but it was not until the Framers wrote the rules that we currently live by did we obtain our adulthood.
America is going through a spasm that has shown all of us how fragile our nation is. Our democracy is fragile because we are a nation of differences. Americans are not a nation with a common blood line, tribal affiliation, or religious belief. We were born under the terrible stain of slavery. And, more than 150 years since its legal end, it still rips us apart.
It is fairly simple to be an American. You pledge allegiance to the flag. You swear an oath to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution. That document is really the only thing this nation has that we all need to uphold. We need to uphold not only the words but the ideals it embraces.
It is not statues, flags or buildings that we should hold sacred but the words of a document that begins with, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.” You not only need to say those words, but live by them. That is what being an American is all about.
To read more
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.
Annual Medium Income (AMI)
Basin Action Management Plan (BMAP)
Board of County Commissioners (BOCC)
Business Development Board (BDB)
Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
Center For Disease Control (CDC)
Children’s Services Council (CSS)
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
Community Development District (CDD)
Community Redevelopment Board (CRB)
Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA)
Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Emergency Operation Center (EOC)
Equivalent Residential Connection (ERC)
Evaluation & Appraisal Report (EAR)
Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Full Time Equivalents (FTE)
Future Land Use Maps (FLUM)
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)
High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)
Hobe Sound Local (HSL)
Land Development Code (LDR)
Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS)
Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSUM)
Local Planning Agency (LPA)
Martin County Fire/Rescue (MCFR)
Martin County Taxpayers Association (MCTA)
Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU)
Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU)
Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)
Organization For Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD)
Planned Unit Development (PUD)
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)
Preserve Action Management Plan (PAMP)
Project Delivery Team (PDT)
Request for Proposal (RFP)
Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD)
Right of Way (ROW)
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)
South Martin Regional Utility (SMRU)
State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP)
Storm Water Treatment Areas (STA)
Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
Urban Planned Unit Development (UPUD)
Urban Services Boundary (USB)
World Health Organization (WHO)