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!
IS THIS US?
For as long as I can remember, we have had a homeless population.
When I lived in New York City in the early 1970s, I would leave my apartment at 5:30 a.m. to go to work. As I walked to the subway in the dead of winter, I would see a homeless man sleeping in front of the Junior High School that was located on my block. He would be huddled against the building. Why he chose that spot, I don’t know.
Fast forward 30 years to another apartment I had in New York City, the homeless were still present. You would see them huddling on subway and building grates. One homeless person lived in a van on our block. He became famous when the New York Times wrote a story on his life.
It is the same in Martin County only without the snow. But it seems more and more people are falling into the homeless category. They are not able to find apartments that they can afford. Entire families are without roofs over their heads with no prospect for one.
Some people believe that charity will be able to solve this problem. I believe the problem has gone way beyond the capacity of organizations such as the Salvation Army. The first apartment I had cost $125.00 per month which was entirely affordable based on my income at the time. What happened to affordability? The market changed and jobs changed.
Others think that we can require portions of the private sector to subsidize people that can’t afford apartments through either rent control regulations or by requiring affordable housing to be built. These schemes don’t work. It is unfair and unjust for the government to even try to force this problem on owners and developers of housing.
What the federal government must do is have a public/private partnership to build affordable housing. I don’t mean to go back to the massive public housing projects of the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. They clearly did not work. The largest landlord in New York City is the New York City Housing Authority. The City itself named that organization the worst New York City landlord for 2019.
Allow the private sector, using federal vouchers and financing, the funds to build new buildings for people unable to pay market rents. As a society, I believe we owe every American the ability to have decent housing. Children are not feral cats and can’t live in the wild. If they are brought up without a home, then how will they be productive adults?
I urge you to click on the link below to see two homeless camps. One located in the United States and the other in Mexico. I defy anyone to tell me how the two camps are different. How much farther can the standard of living fall in America?
THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
This first newsletter of 2020 has a common theme…. what should the role of government be in our lives, especially on the local level? What should our tax dollars be used to accomplish? Many of our elected officials believe that almost anything that an individual and interest group asks should be addressed.
The pandering that is going on at the County and municipal level is staggering. Is it that our politicians believe what they are doing in our name is appropriate? Should they be helping a favored friend or charity through government largess? And forget about party labels in trying to explain this noblesse oblige using your money. Democrat or Republican, they can’t wait to spend tax money.
From Air Shows to Golf Courses to other extravaganzas, nothing is too big to fund, and no project can’t be funded to the tune of more tax dollars. From the County Commission, you hear things like the money is coming from the Airport Enterprise Fund and not real estate taxes. True enough, but the mission of that fund is not for pork such as favored projects and charities but to improve and expand businesses use at the airport.
For example, take the $150,000 given to the Air Show at the December 17th Commission Meeting. Will there be an economic benefit? Yes, a slight one according to the numbers provided. But it is a fleeting one. Once the cars are turned back into the rental company and the night in the hotels are gone, then what? It is a transfer of funds and not a lasting economic benefit.
The taxpayers of Martin County must decide if they want their tax dollars spent to support a Commissioner’s vision or charity or do the work of local government such as roads and septic to sewer. If we conclude that helping the homeless or providing rental assistance to the working poor is desirable, then that $150,000 given to the Air Show could have bought 300 vouchers of $500 each to go toward rent.
Politicians usually mouth things like support for affordable housing but give your tax dollars to their friends and even some worthy causes but nevertheless, far from essential to the operation of government. The decision should be yours and not theirs to make. Hold those that vote to give tax dollars to the private sector accountable. And the private sector includes not-for-profit businesses such as the Air Show. If an elected official or citizen believes in a charity or a cause, he/she should donate personal money not the taxpayer’s dollars.
Almost a decade ago, Stuart started an initiative to have more public art. Public art is a good thing. It inspires people to take art out of the museum and into everyday life. Individuals feel better about their environment.
Those sentiments gave birth to the Geoffrey Smith Water Birds sculptures so prominently displayed on Colorado Avenue in Stuart. Those statues contributed to the remaking of that street. However, the statues were not paid for by the taxpayers but rather donated by individuals and businesses. The sculpture in the center of the roundabout was donated by the sculptor, Mr. Smith. My wife and I donated a sculpture. Several other individuals and businesses felt the same way as we did. Those donations to our City were looked upon as a civic endeavor.
On a fence that went around the now closed Ground Floor Farm on Martin Luther King Blvd., individuals and businesses donated to the costs of murals that were painted by local artists. This, too, is public art and it makes our environment richer. We encourage our local artists to remain in the City and County. At the same time, these enhancements cost Stuart very little.
Somehow, the City has gone away from soliciting private donations for public art and now gives public dollars for private art. Murals painted on private buildings have become a way to siphon tax dollars. Any private landowner within a CRA area can now apply for a City grant to have a mural painted on the side of his/her building. The maximum grant is for $2500.00 with contemplation to go to $3000. That is $3000 of taxpayer dollars to be used on private properties.
Does the painting of art enhance our City? Of course, it does! But should finite government resources be used in this way? What happened to civic engagement? Where are the private-public partnerships?
A building owner that will be making a profit on his investment can afford to give something back to the community that made this possible. The City should encourage private donations of public art not the other way around. Valuable CRA funds should not be used in this way. What happened to a good idea in such a short period of time?
It is easy for staff and the Commission to give away taxpayer dollars. When a mural is painted, everyone can pat themselves on the back. Staff doesn’t have to do much work to find projects and the dollars to make them happen. Commissioners can make comments about how they were responsible for beauty. All they did was give a subsidy to a business using tax dollars from other businesses and individuals.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT & HOUSING
I wrote this for Martin County Moment.
The Stuart City Commission will have a workshop devoted to the topic of housing next week.
I hope the Commission does not meander down a predictable path. Will that old chestnut of what to do about affordable housing be brought up? If it is then the entire workshop will be for naught.
For some very basic reasons, the City has little it can do to provide more of that type of housing. The physical size of the City is limited. The amount of property available to erect new buildings is minuscule. Florida’s building code, which is a very good one, results in a more expensive product than 20 years ago. The City itself does not have the funds to subsidize rents. While the City’s impact fees can be lessened a bit, those of the County and School Board can add thousands of dollars to the cost of new development.
What the City can do is change its zoning and LDRs especially in the urban downtown area and, more broadly, within most of the CRA. One change could be to eliminate new individual townhouses and single-family homes in those areas. That may seem radical to some, but more and more municipalities and states are taking that approach. In the rest of Stuart, all new construction (including for single-family homes) would be required to have an ancillary apartment. There would be no requirement that it be rented. Over time, small units would be available even if only for resident’s children to occupy while starting out.
Another change could be to stop basing decisions on the outmoded concept of density. Stuart has setback and height restrictions which guide the overall building measurement within the parcel’s envelope. Counting the number of units that a project can have is senseless. If the code allows a property owner to build 15 units per acre, it currently does not dictate whether those units are studios, one bedroom, or three bedrooms. The density calculation, then, is meaningless. Common sense dictates there will be more people occupying a three-bedroom unit than a one bedroom.
Within the downtown area, and the CRA in general, we should stop requiring so many parking spaces per unit. This artificially limits the number of housing units than can be built. The market will determine what amenities are needed to sell or rent a unit. Parking is an amenity. If a buyer or tenant considers it important, then the developer will have that cost and use in his determination of price just as he does granite counter tops or a powder room.
There is a misconception in Stuart that there is no affordable housing. If that were true, then why do more than 60% of dwellings within the City pay no real estate tax and only a small fire fee? If an owner pays no tax, then the cost of his property is quite low.
Presently, much of the City’s housing stock is considered obsolete. It is old and has lived its useful life. You can buy units for $100,000. This is about as affordable as it gets. It is true those units need work. But mortgages and carrying charges can be $1000.00 a month.
Stuart needs to encourage housing period. Supply will quell demand. New units make older units cheaper.
There will still be people who will never find units they can afford. This is an American societal problem rather than a Martin County or Stuart problem. The national and state governments need to address this. Localities will never have the funds to build enough units to satisfy this demand.
And lastly, the Commission should not be influenced by people who do not live within Stuart’s boundaries. They may have the best intentions, but their input is secondary to that of the people paying taxes, and I do mean paying taxes to the City. There will always be those who will say I can’t find anything to buy or rent within the City. What they really mean to say is that they can’t find a single-family home or apartment with four bedrooms, a pool, new baths, and new kitchen appliances on an acre of property for $275,000 or $1000 per month rent.
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.
First Letter from Tami O’Connor:
Hello Tom- Just want to thank you for such an informative email. I don’t follow the issues too much in our area but feel I need to be informed. I’m a bit worried about all the green space being sold in my town of Jensen Beach. I know it’s a matter of time before little quiet Jensen Beach won’t be so quiet! Look forward to your next update and Merry Christmas to you and your family!
And this from Caryn Lee Hall-Rudge:
Hey Tom…the new format looks great!
These newsletters are amazing, and we residents are so fortunate to receive them.
Thank you for all the time and energy you expend to educate us and inspire us to be involved.
You are such a blessing to our community.
Happiest of holidays! Caryn
John Blanchard wrote regarding solicitation in the City of Stuart:
Dear Mr. Campenni,
Thoughts about door to door soliciting in the City of Stuart???
I had emailed all city commissioners, the City manager and City attorney regarding why Stuart allows door to door soliciting? I do not understand why soliciting is allowed??? This is a very annoying and intrusive problem in the City of Stuart!! Upon sending my emails out to all city commissioners I only received responses from 3 commissioners, ( Matheson Clarke and Bruner) My understanding is that soliciting is allowed in the City of Stuart for the sole purpose of allowing politicians to go door to door prior to elections!! Crazy!! All year long I get religious groups, landscapers, salespeople, and the list goes on!! I was informed by the City attorney that basically soliciting is a “free for all ” in the City of Stuart!! If you or anyone else has any commonsense ideas why we allow soliciting in the City I would love to hear them!!!
I myself went door to door and found it the best way to discuss things with residents one on one.
If I saw a sign on the door or in the window I didn’t knock. I think that is a good way of preventing unwanted knocking.
Have a good Holiday!
And his back:
Thanks for the reply! Yes I understand that some people enjoy speaking to commission candidates in person! I believe that some type of permitting and a fee should be required for soliciting! This requirement would stop most unwanted soliciting! I was also interested in knowing of a homeowner is liable if a solicitor is injured on someone’s property? Or would the city of Stuart be liable for that? I do have a no soliciting sign at my front gate, and I still have folks wander into my garage and bang on my utility room door!! Haha! Crazy! I guess only the “wealthy ” municipalities such as sewalls point, and Jupiter Island have banned door to door soliciting!! Thanks again for you hard work!
Kallie Jurgens writes:
You have provided a wonderful service to the community by writing these newsletters. Your new site is terrific—easy to read and find items of interest. Thanks for your continued dedication to Martin County. As a former journalist in NYC, I know the time and effort it takes to write the volumes that you do and the amount of meetings you attend to make sure you provide the correct information. I have asked many in my community to sign up for your newsletter. I wish your family a Merry Christmas and only the best in 2020.
Nadeshda Utto sent:
Thank you very much for all your efforts in support of an engaged and knowledgeable community!
How great it is to have such a resource all in one place!
From Patricia Siegel regarding the School Board:
I am outraged at the intent to pay an exorbitant salary for a superintendent! That is about three times what teachers with 15+years tenure receive! For positions like that to receive a”hire on” pay, plus severance pay should be scandalous! Our school district is losing quality teachers at an alarming rate, due to lack of respect and low salaries. Teachers from different areas tell me the same thing: “my principal treats with no respect; they have the power and wield it the way they choose.” The school board should be ashamed of themselves to allow this to continue. They get paid for attending meetings and disregard any input from the teachers. SHAME on them for tolerating this treatment of the teachers, who are changing lives of our children!
I remember when board members served on a voluntary basis and really cared about the quality of the teachers and their concern for the future of the children. Now, it’s get a cushy sideline job, take the money, and do whatever your cronies want you to do.
They should all hang their heads in shame!
Jim regarding the Jensen Beach Causeway:
When JB bridge was built it was beautiful with the under lighting. It has fallen into disrepair and the county commissioners have told me it is a DOT problem. Any ideas how to pursue the matter to get it fixed?
I wrote Beth Beltran of the MPO and these are the series of emails that followed:
Someone wrote to me regarding the under lighting at Jensen Beach Bridge which he claims has fallen in disrepair. The County told him that it was a DOT problem. He would like to know how to pursue the matter. Can you give him any suggestions.
His name is Jim, he is copied in this email and his phone number is ———-.
Thanks and have a great Holiday!
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) does maintain the Jensen Beach Causeway —- I think that is what you mean by “Jensen Beach Bridge”. Dan Hiden oversees the FDOT Operations Center in Fort Pierce and he addresses issues related to the maintenance of the Jensen Beach Causeway. Below please see Dan’s contact information:
Daniel N. Hiden, P.E.
Treasure Coast Operations Engineer
3601 Oleander Ave., Ft. Pierce, FL 34982
I have copied both Jim and Dan on this email, so hopefully they will be in contact to address this lighting issue.
Then Jim & I replied:
Thank you very much for your attention. The Jensen Beach Causeway Bridge is so beautiful when the “under lights” are functioning. I will talk to Dan about the project. Thanks again.
Beth…You are amazing…thank you.
And Finally, from Daniel Deighan:
nice job as always! you don’t have the virgin train thing figured out, but that will come- it is complicated
MEETING DECEMBER 17, 2019
At a recent past meeting, I agreed that then-Chair Ciampi and the rest of the Commission showed restraint in not rushing to decide the fate of the Salerno Seafood Festival for 2021. It was a prudent decision. There was no such restraint at this meeting regarding the Air Show ask.
During public comment as part of an orchestrated campaign, a parade of Air Show board members and their supporters had no problem asking for $150,000 from County Government. This money was to book acts for the November 2020 show. For almost every speaker, the tag line was that the show must go on! My question is why does it have to go on and secondarily is it the government’s responsibility to make sure that it does?
Missi Campbell, director of the Palm City Chamber, stated it had a positive effect on children based on her previous career as an educator. Skylar Gorman, the executive director of the Air Show, exclaimed that the Air Show must go on because it was going to celebrate its 30th birthday…just like her. Gorman went on to say that it takes an entire year to plan. She referred to the show as a business, and of course the show must go on!
There is a voucher exchange program so that those who bought tickets to last year’s cancelled shows could redeem them for 2020. That is nice, but even if only 30% of the ticket holders do so, how is that income going to be made up in the future? Will there be another ask of the County?
Amy Bottigel, the president of the Air Show Board, stated that there were fundraising events planned but nothing definite yet. She and a few others had just come back from the air show convention in Vegas and had spent 3 days commiserating with their fellow air show national members. She admits that if they can’t promise that there will be a show, their sponsors will go on to support other nonprofits.
Chuck Cleaver, the treasurer, stated the show has a $2.5 million-dollar economic impact on the County. The Air Show costs $1,050,000 to produce. It contributed $33,000 to charity from the proceeds in 2018. The links below are the presentations that I received from the County with those facts and figures.
Nick Blount, a board member, stated that cancelling due to an accident and then torrential rain was a first. Blount is right that the tragic air accident and death of a pilot the day before the show was a first. The rains that cancelled the other two days were also a first.
Some may ask why there was no “rain insurance?” Cleaver explained that the cost would have been $30,000 to $60,000. He went on to say that because you typically need to pick an exact time to measure the rain, the insurance company wouldn’t have paid in this instance anyway. Other supporters spoke and it all came down to the show must go on!
Ciampi was excited to support the show. It is a community event and a community responsibility. Perhaps it is a community responsibility, but is it a governmental one? Smith was just as enthusiastic to spend taxpayer dollars to support this business. It adds to the community’s quality of life and has that $2.5 million economic impact. To put that amount into perspective, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Gross Domestic Product of Martin County was $6,946,903,000 in 2018.
The ask from the Air Show was $150,000. This public comment period was not a surprise. For at least the last few weeks, there were discussions held by the Air Show with all the Commissioners individually. There were not 3 Commissioner votes to take the amount from the ad valorem. Pressure was placed on staff to find the money elsewhere. That led to once again raiding the Commissioners’ new slush fund, the Airport Enterprise Fund. Remember that was also tapped a few weeks back to pay the customs’ fees for the Bahama rebuilding.
Is it legal? The answer is yes. But that wasn’t the intention when the fund was established. I would contend that the enterprise funds be used to enhance the airport and businesses located at the airport or that could be located there in the future. If the Commission wants funds to have a lasting impact, then spending money that pays for a few rental cars and gives a couple thousand to favored charities is not the way to proceed.
Commissioners Jenkins and Hetherington supported the expenditure but not as enthusiastically as Ciampi and Smith. Heard asked Cleaver if there were any firm commitments from sponsors. He responded that nothing was concrete yet. She explored the idea of the County giving matching dollars. But there were no dollars to match.
The words were echoed by the speakers that the Air Show was a business and that the show must go on! But why? Businesses and shows close all the time. Should the government keep the Air Show in business? $2.5 million is a pittance in Martin County’s economy and nothing when compared with the entire Treasure Coast’s GDP. And as far as charitable donations are concerned, if you spend a $1 million to give away $30,000, that can only be described charitably as ill-advised.
A motion was made by Ciampi seconded by Smith to give the Air Show $150,000. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. I agree with Commissioner Heard in this case. The business should close, and the show need not go on.
A Memorandum of Understanding to sign a lease with the Martin County Fair for the 107 acres close to the Village of Indiantown was approved. The lease must be signed by November 2020. The plan will not only be for an agricultural fair but a venue for just about anyone’s wish.
We often hear about the Martin County difference. I wonder if the difference is that we in Martin County can’t just have a municipal golf course or a community swimming pool. We need to build these vast entertainment centers with large club houses, rides, and computer-enhanced driving ranges. We claim to want the simple life and then clutter it up with every bell and whistle imaginable. Martin County’s Fair will have a soap box car track, an amphitheater and so much more.
A motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 7
It was a short meeting with an important discussion.
Several months ago, the City of Stuart passed a resolution in support of a new railroad bridge over the St. Lucie using federal funds. The current one was built in 1926. Many things around here have changed since then. Nearly a century later, the bridge is obsolete for one.
Since the funds would be federal grants, Congressman Mast would have to support the request. Naturally, he wants to make sure that there is local support for this. If you live west of that bridge and own a boat, you certainly are in favor. If you are a resident of Stuart and have seen the chaos on the roads when that bridge is malfunctioning and trains are blocking crossings, you would be in favor.
Then why was it so difficult for the County to follow the City’s lead?
Commissioner Ciampi understood that his Palm City constituents want a reliable bridge. He understood that the marine industries want a reliable bridge. Commissioner Hetherington understood that her constituents in the City of Stuart want a new bridge to alleviate potential chaos. Even Commissioner Jenkins, though silent, understood the implications.
This does not involve any local taxpayer funds. These grant monies are in the federal budget every year and they will go somewhere. It is not as if the dollars are refunded to taxpayers if not used.
Commissioner Smith kept bringing up the fact that a local sponsor would be needed. All that means is that a local government would need to sign the application. The design and engineering and management would be paid for by the railroad.
If there were matching funds, the railroad would be responsible for providing them…not the County or City. There are no guarantees, only the willingness of our local governments to want this to happen. The passenger train is going forward. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. A new bridge mitigates the effects. Even if the passenger train goes out of business, the freight component will continue chugging along. There is no downside.
So, Commissioner Heard’s ultimate no vote because she doesn’t like spending taxpayer dollars on private businesses doesn’t pass muster. The grant money is there for that purpose, and the federal government has decided that they are going to spend public dollars on private railroads. Those dollars will either help the citizens of Stuart and Martin County or another locale. Where should we want to see them being spent?
Commissioner Smith was determined that the County is not the sponsor even though the resolution does not address that issue. There is no responsibility in being the sponsor. The County has a much better technical staff than the City. The citizens of all Martin County would be better served. Though, I am sure that if push came to shove, the City would step up to the plate. Sometimes I think Smith forgets he represents part of the City.
Though Ciampi stated something about how funding would be split, it will be entirely federal and railroad money with no local funding involved. Ciampi finally came through and made a motion to support Congressman Mast asking for the funds. It was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
The next meeting will be on January 13, 2020. A special meeting will be held on housing at 3:30 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m.
MEETING DECEMBER 17, 2019
A work order was approved to repair the roof at Jensen Beach High School. I don’t know whether this will solve the mold problem I reported on in an earlier newsletter. I hope it will. If so, thank you School Board. I am sure that Lee Guinta, a parent that spoke at several meetings, is a happier mother.
If you follow the links, you will see the monthly updates for the millage increase and the sales tax:
Is it the responsibility of the School District to pay for college courses for high school students? Dual enrollment is fine, but should school tax dollars be used? I think there needs to be a discussion about whether this is the best use of District money.
Isn’t high school distinct from college? Perhaps it is time to end high school after junior year. That way students can either go to work, be enrolled full time in learning a trade or go to college. Is that a more practical approach than the current system of dual enrollment and the taking of college courses in high school?
For the fall semester, the District paid Indian River State College almost $350,000.
Earlier in the meeting, the Board approved the architects to build the new elementary schools. They could have been ready to approve the contractor for those schools. Instead, the School District had an “OOPS” moment.
The selection committee, primarily made up of staff members, was having an open meeting to decide who would get the $64 million contract. For some reason, they closed the public meeting and continued behind closed doors. That is not allowed.
Tony George, the School Board Attorney, believes the entire process should be tossed and two new committees formed. Good idea!
The Board further decided to have two separate RFQs (Request for Qualifications) so that each school is now a separate project instead of only having one contractor for two schools. In that way, it opens bidding to more contractors that perhaps felt a $64 million project was too large for their capacity.
How about opening the selection committees to more than just school staff? What about taxpayers and others that could lend a less bureaucratic approach to selection? It would not be the end of the world to have more than bureaucrats on these panels.
WORKSHOP DECEMBER 18, 2019
Pineland Prairie was the focus of this workshop.
I don’t think anyone believes that this future home to 4200 units should not pay for the new classrooms that will be needed. It just seems there is not a meeting of the minds on how to do so and how much to pay.
Chair Powers was more than perplexed as to why there has been no resolution. The Board has this very item on their agenda each month. And each month, a report is submitted by staff that doesn’t contain much. The entire reason that it was placed on the agenda every month was so that the Board could take an active role in the resolution.
Are the requested fees and how they are determined by the District reasonable? An attorney could make a good argument that the answer is no. In fact, the developer’s expert explained that you do not need to have concurrency but if you do, certain rules must be followed. He claimed that the District was not doing so.
With all the emphasis by Florida on having more charter schools, the developer should build one on a fraction of the 125 acres he proposes to give to the School Board. For about $20 million, a K-12 school could be constructed for 1000 students. At some point in the process, they could secure state bonding guarantees for that cost. There are several reputable non-profit charter schools that would love to take a crack at locating a first or another school in Martin County. Kiplinger would provide the seats necessary at a fraction of the $32 million in school impact fees (the figure constantly changes.)
One of the “team” for Pineland stated that Kiplinger is devoted to public education and does not want to go down the charter route. If he is that gung-ho on public education, which non-profit charters are, then pay the money and get on with it.
It is not about charters or public education but about money. Kiplinger has sold a vision that Pineland Prairie will be “New Urbanism” at its finest. I think the vision is great. But Kiplinger isn’t going to be the developer. Over time, the vision may morph into something quite different. Making a deal now for a build-out that will occur over the next 20 or 30 years will be a major factor in getting the builders to buy in and produce a product.
The Board has now brought in Tyson Waters, a development attorney from their law firm, to work with staff and Pineland’s team to come to a deal. The Board should have done this from the beginning. Staff does not report to the Board but rather to the Superintendent. While I have not been a proponent of an appointed Superintendent, in this instance, the will of the Board would have been able to prevail much sooner.
Presentations can be found at:
RECRUITING THE NEXT SUPERINTENDENT
Staff made a presentation on hiring a consultant to create flyers and a website for the Superintendent search. Brochures would be created to give to the public, and the website would keep citizens informed regarding the search. Both would also be a way for candidates to learn about the District. The one local firm that applied capped their costs at $10,000.
Powers was again skeptical of the need for the outside firm. She thought staff could do this. Defenthaler believed that staff did not have the expertise or time. It will again be discussed at the January meeting.
Pegg Stover-Nott spoke regarding how the teachers’ bonuses are calculated because of the tax increase. She differs with the School Board’s interpretation of the law. I don’t know if she is correct or not, but she is persistent. This is her statement that she made to the Board:
TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION IS ALIVE AND WELL IN MARTIN COUNTY FLORIDA.
$560,000.00. OR MORE WAS TAKEN BY THE SCHOOL BOARD FOR THEIR “Reserve Fund”.
We the people voted to increase property taxes and not for just this year but the next three years. Citizens, businesses, new construction are paying more this year in property tax to retain our good teachers in Martin County. The irony of this situation: The teachers who live in Martin County are also paying higher property tax. So you get it from them in property tax, and short change them in their bonus?
It was clearly stated on the Ballad and on the Referendum our tax dollars were designated to specific departments and our teachers. The 5% reserve fund, never mentioned.
When the tax paying citizens voted they believed the money,
77% of approximately $11 million dollars, approximately
8.47 million dollars, would be distributed to the teachers in accordance with what was stated on the ballad.
At one of the meetings it was decided the first distribution would be in September the second in December.
The school board took 5% off the top for their reserve fund which was not stated on the referendum or the ballad, therefore the teachers received less than expected.
I have in my possession a letter from the district pointing out that it was on a worksheet (small letters) a month before the vote and it is board policy to take reserve funds.
In a letter from the Attorney General’s office it states.
“In summary, it is my opinion that, pending legislative or judicial clarification, a district school board acting pursuant to s. 230.03(2), F.S., as amended by s. 7 of Ch. 83-324, Laws of Florida, unless expressly prohibited by the State Constitution or general law, may exercise any power for school purposes in the operation, control, and supervision of the free public schools in its district; however, in the case of a direct conflict between a state statute and a rule, policy or other form of legislative action taken by a district school board, the state statute would prevail. While the district school boards have been granted greater local control, such boards have a continuing responsibility to act consistently and in harmony with applicable rules and minimum standards of the state board, and further, to required that all laws relating to the school system and rules and regulations of the state board are properly enforced. A state statute which distinctly specifies the method, manner, or procedure in which a district school board is required to act prevails over a conflicting method or procedure adopted by a district school board. Finally, Ch. 83-324,”
CLEARLY BOARD POLICY DOES NOT SUPERSEED THE STATE STATUTES.
I now refer to Florida Statue 1011.71(9) and Florida Statue 1011.73. These statues require declaration of all expenditures on the vote to be in the referendum and on the ballad. On both.
The 5% for reserve fund was not in the referendum or on the ballad.
I called the state elections board and other
State Departments and was told that this is not an election issue per se. Their sage advice, get an attorney. This is what the State of Florida departments are telling me what to do? That speaks volumes.
There you sit, 5 Republican School Board members are you not adhering to State Statues and placing YOUR Board Policy above the State Statues?
Don’t tell me there is no money or very little money left for the December distribution as you sit with $560,000.00 dollars in your “reserve fund”. Even if you say we are distributing it now it does not negate the fact that you did not adhere to State Statutes.
If all my research is wrong, the state is wrong, the voters are wrong then mea culpa, and I step back.
If I am right, you need to step back, do the right thing immediately and distribute those funds to the teachers now no matter how large or small the amount it belongs to them. Either way this has been a loss for the School Board & the teachers. Damage has been done. We the people watch while our good teachers either are retiring early, or quitting. This leaves you to try to find and hire quality teachers from an ever shrinking teacher employment pool here in the State of Florida.
As for the $560,000. you put in your reserve fund, time to make things right and distribute the teacher’s portion now whether for them it is $1.00 or $1000. it is money we voted to give to them not your reserve fund. It is theirs not yours! I have shown you man’s law, now listen to God’s law. Leviticus 19:13 “’Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.” So it is written so shall it be done! But you did.
GOD Bless America Make American Great again today starting with our education system here in Florida as the education of our children is the foundation for the future.
Next meeting will be January 14 at 5:30 pm
COUNCIL MEETING DECEMBER 12
I did not attend the meeting, but Staff member Daniel Eick sent me the recording. I want to thank him. I further want to thank Bonnie Landry for sending the up-to-date comp plan. Both did so expeditiously.
Being a member of the Council is not easy. We forget that even if we disagree with their decisions, that is no reason to personalize policy disagreements with the individual Council Members or staff. Policy disagreements are not a license to impugn their integrity. I will debate all day about whether I think a particular action they are taking is right or wrong, but the disagreement need not be about individuals but rather only actions.
If you believe you or someone else can do a better job, then run for office and campaign on your ideas. I think the voters want to know your policies not what you think about your opponents. If you win and are on the Council and there are three votes, you can change things. Just don’t make it personal.
To take a line from the Godfather film, “It’s not personal it’s strictly business.”
There was a brief presentation by the Village’s consultant, Thomas J. Wieczorek of CPSM.
The Power Point he brought was not given. It should have been because it presents choices. Should the proposed department be composed of volunteers? What about the Jupiter Island model of cross training so that police and rescue personnel are the same?
Would either work for Indiantown? The Village is no Jupiter Island. If it decided to have its own police force, the type and amount of calls would be much different than the Island. I would imagine the same would be true for Fire/Rescue. Today, the Fire portion takes a back seat to the medical piece. Because of the distance from a hospital, is the mix of EMTs and paramedics different than in other jurisdictions?
A large proportion of the Fire MSTU in the Indiantown service area is paid by FPL. If FPL downsizes or leaves except for the solar farm, how do you make up that difference in tax revenue? Has anyone bothered to speak to the fire union? How will Martin County react? What about the physical assets such as buildings, trucks, and equipment?
Except for Gibbs-Thomas and to a lesser extent Dowling, this Council does not ask questions during the meetings. One of the reasons for open meetings and sunshine is so that the public can understand what is going on. Perhaps behind the scenes the Council Members, individually, are asking questions of staff and consultants. The public is not in that position. So, when there is no Council discussion, the public is left to draw its own inferences.
If a meeting has too many items, then continue a few. There shouldn’t be a rush.
The entire presentation can be found at:
An appraisal has been done to set a price to buy the utility. A Memorandum of Understanding has been authorized by the Council to be signed. An in-depth study has decided what upgrades need to be done to the infrastructure. When everything is said and done, it will cost about $20 million to buy and repair the utility.
Why should the Village commit to doing so? The foremost reason is that the service they have now is inadequate. Should the Village residents and businesses have to have a service that is all but failing?
An equally important reason is that if the Village does not control their water supply and wastewater, then how are they able to make sure that their growth is controlled and adequate. Without their ability to green light projects and to service annexed land, then Indiantown will never be what is envisioned. This, along with their comp plan and LDRs, will determine whether the Village can be viable.
The Village can only purchase if all the stars are aligned. Much depends on getting the loans from the state. These loans are very low interest and without them, this plan is not feasible. There also are bonds and grants in the mix along with those loans.
There needs to be a complete rate study as to whether the Village can afford the $20 million price they envision or the higher price that County engineers think the cost will be. If the Council is contemplating this move because of the overwhelming need to provide adequate water and sewer to their constituents, then can their constituents and other rate payers afford to pay the rates necessary?
Along with others in the community, I have urged caution when proceeding. There are things that must be done, and there are other services that are fine the way they are currently being provided. To me Fire/Rescue, is something that can be provided or not. The current service is fine. On the other hand, the utility is something that is critical to Indiantown’s future.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing to set up an advisory board of citizens and business owners to discuss the acquisition. While the decision is ultimately the Council’s, more citizen and taxpayer involvement are a good idea. The greater number of stakeholders that buy into the decision the better.
To read the appraisal and see the service area:
The state had 5 objections to the comp plan that was submitted. That was to be expected. Bonny Landry, whose firm wrote the plan, has incorporated the state’s fixes into the plan and asked the Council to adopt those changes. They did and the plan will go back to Tallahassee for their approval.
To see the plan and changes
COUNCIL MEETING DECEMBER 19
This was a special meeting because of the holiday. There were only two items on the agenda. Both important but anticlimactic.
Indiantown government is evolving so quickly that it is difficult to keep things in perspective. The concept of “government lite” is gone and, in my opinion, cannot be resurrected. While I believed in that approach, the Council and Manager have decided to go full bore for a large municipal government. Going forward my emphasis will not be on what could have been but what their government is now and will be in the future.
So, what it comes down to now is to determine if there is enough tax revenue today and, in the future, to sustain a normal government bureaucracy and to build and buy the buildings and property necessary. In that vein, the Council was presented with its first audit. It covers the period of January 2018 to September 30, 2018.
This document is not produced by the Village but the independent firm of Mauldin & Jenkins who specialize in government audits. There was so little really done during that period that the findings don’t tell the story of where the Village is heading as much as it reminds people of its very humble beginnings.
The next audit for the period October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019 should begin to show the dramatic increase in expenditures. At some point, I would like to see projections on the revenue side. If there is a heavy reliance on FPL, then I would think that the Village’s economic model has problems.
The audit can be found at:
During public comment, Kevin Powers, an Indiantown business owner, expressed concern for the tight timeline for purchasing the utility. He also mentioned how the physical assets are fully depreciated and perhaps the money allocated for infrastructure improvements is low. He further stated that Senator Mayfield’s Bill 712 could lead to other expenses and requirements.
Powers concerns are valid. No speaker stated that the Village should not buy the utility. However, by February 1st a deal must be struck. To my knowledge there are no other buyers for this privately held business. What is the rush?
If it is because of the availability of state funding and loans, then that should be made clear to the residents. What may seem rushed to outsiders could have a perfectly reasonable explanation. During their comments, this Council tells us about what they do in the community. They almost never discuss items like buying the waterworks.
They are spending millions of dollars on this utility, and I think the people of Indiantown want to hear an in-depth discussion on why. Vigorous questioning of staff, consultants and each other is warranted by the Council. Gibbs-Thomas comes the closest to doing this. The rest need to do this more. I want to make sure that the Council understands the gravity of their decision.
Mayfield’s bill, while placing additional mandates and penalties, should not be considered a deal killer. Staff and the Council should be aware of its provisions so that they can plan accordingly. It can be found at:
COUNCIL MEETING JANUARY 9
This was the meeting of presentations. There were three of them from different companies. The first was from the National League of Cities outlining a program for residents that wish to protect their outside and inside water and sewer lines.
Lee Zall, from the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program, out lined how it would work. Homeowners may not realize that they are responsible for any leaks that occur in their water and sewer lines from the point where those lines enter their property. The utility does not repair those broken lines. Those repairs can cost the homeowner thousands of dollars. This program provides a way of paying for the repairs.
The presentation may be a little early since the Village has not bought the utility yet. If the Council gives its approval then letters will go out to all Village users of the utility explaining who is responsible for what.
It is also a way for the Village, once they own the utility, to say that they provided individuals the opportunity to buy a warranty against broken pipes. This is an insurance program where the homeowner would pay a premium of $5.75 per month for outside water lines, $7.75 per month for sewer lines and an additional $9.99 per month for inside plumbing.
Charles Parker representing a firm named Retail Coach was asked to make a presentation by Mayor Stone. This firm is not a real estate broker but advises governments after making studies on recruiting businesses that should locate within the municipality. At this point it is just a presentation no action was taken.
The third presentation was made by The Lincoln Walther Consulting Team for the Creation of an Emergency Management Plan. In case of an emergency the municipality needs to know what to do. You cannot wait until the emergency to figure it out. As the Village bureaucracy has grown in complexity this is a needed step.
Mr. Brown and the Council have substantially increased the scope of services that the Village provides. The County no longer covers many of the things that they once did. In the now larger Indiantown government, each employee must know their responsibilities during an emergency. Therefore, a plan is needed. The Walther Consulting Team was authorized to create one at a price of $14,250.
A draft plan can be found at:
WATER ONCE MORE
Mr. Hartman, the utility consultant, gave an “Approval of The Fairness Opinion” which states that the price being paid for the utility is correct.
The final price is $8.5 million which is a million less than the appraised value of $9.5 million. The sale is contingent on the Village receiving the necessary funding from grants and low-cost loans. The seller will also pay the title insurance which Hartman states is usually paid by the buyer.
Perhaps Hartman’s contract should have gone out to bid. Indiantown doesn’t appear to bid many contracts. Never-the-less Hartman seems to have worked in the best interest of the Village. With the artificial closing deadline out of the way, the Village can take its time and fine the best basket of financing options possible.
In a separate motion the Council unanimously approved the Manager to negotiate terms for grants and financing with different state agencies.
Next meeting will be held January 13 at 10:30 am
Next Meeting will be held January 15 at 9 am
It seems many people cannot tell the difference between a “nanny state” and one that provides a basic social safety net. I believe that setting artificial age limits for either buying tobacco or alcohol are examples of government meddling in individual liberty i.e. a “nanny state.”
We are not debating whether costs of social programs are justified and should be incurred. That is a discussion for another article. The “nanny state,” as I define it, is one where the government believes it knows what is best for us. Personal responsibility is not regarded in high esteem.
Anyone 21 or younger is incapable of drinking alcohol responsibly according to the state. If you want to use cherry soda flavored vape you shouldn’t be allowed to do so but if you are over 21 menthol vape is fine. Military recruiters are talking to kids before they graduate high school, and at 18 you can enlist.
In some states, you can marry at 14 if approved by the court and guardians. Of course, kids can be parents as soon as biology allows regardless of age. In the 19th century, children as young as ten were married off. As our longevity has increased, so too has our notion of adolescence and childhood.
I remember when I was a boy scout, one of the kids in my troop was smoking a pipe at age 12 in the open along with his father, an adult leader. That was in the days before there was an age restriction on the purchase of tobacco. They explained it as cultural since they were from Scotland. None of the other boys’ parents condoned it. But it was a family decision as it should be.
I do believe that it is important that society not allow adults to take advantage of children sexually. So, age restrictions are not always inappropriate. But the state prohibiting many personal actions strictly on age such as drinking and smoking is counterproductive to personal responsibility. It results in ridiculous things such as people being legally old enough to enlist but nor old enough to have a beer. A person can have a DWI at 18 as well as 81 if too much is consumed.
I authored an article for Medium regarding this:
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.
From The New York Times China’s hardliners win no matter what the trade deal looks like:
Since ancient times people have commuted for work. City Lab writes that with changing transportation modes Cities have become less dense:
The Washington Post has an article about how the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have hidden a hundred billion dollars from their members:
Another from City Lab asking if Uber has contributed to more drinking:
California’s new independent contractor law has devastating unintended consequences for freelancers according to New York Times:
And last from Florida Bulldog about how Virgin Train ignored warning signs about dangerous conditions:
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