City of Stuart
Martin County Latest News From The February 28, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 16, 2021
There are only a few items worth mentioning.
There was a thorough presentation regarding discharges and coral reefs. The presentation was a joint effort by the Florida DEP, the county, NOAA, and Harbor Branch. It is amazing how everything is interconnected…the Lake and discharges, the reefs, and the lagoon. To see the presentation, go here
There is no secret that Commissioner Ciampi has been a champion of the Equine Rescue & Adoption Center (ERAF) located in Palm City. It is their mission to save horses whose owners are not caring or cannot care for them. They have received money from the county before. This is a more formal way of becoming a vendor like the Humane Society and the Wildlife Rescue.
It appears Ciampi worked closely with staff to move this RFQ along. It would be the place where animal control would drop off horses, cattle and other livestock including pigs to be cared for. The sheriff has used their services in the past but not in the past several years. It was intimated by ERAF’s director that the sheriff strongly recommends that the livestock owner contact the organization so enforcement proceeding wouldn’t be needed.
By state law, the county must have an agreement with someone for personal animals. In Martin County, it is the Humane Society. Martin County is a bit more unusual in that it helps fund the medical needs of wildlife when they are hurt by using the Wildlife Rescue organization. Ciampi’s argument is what about horses and livestock?
He was in the minority on this one. Chair Hetherington couldn’t buy it especially when it came to pigs. Commissioner Smith had always opposed the spending of tax money as has Commissioner Heard on this matter. Ciampi made a motion to fund to the tune of $100,000. It died for lack of a second.
It seems the commission’s action was justified given the fact that the county spends nothing on providing shelter to the homeless. Is a pig or horse more important than a man or woman? Why are tax dollars being used to mend the wing of a bird instead of having a dry place for a kid to sleep? The same can be said for a dog or a cat, I guess.
Priorities are important. In Martin County, dogs and cats are worth tax dollars along with egrets and hawks if they should be hurt. All other living things have no place to be cared for here. I am not so sure I agree but given our limited resources, it probably was the correct decision.
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Martin County Latest News From The February 14, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 2, 2022
There was not much in the way of substance at this meeting, but it gave me an opportunity to understand commissioners’ motives on what they deem important.
After one more round of public comment from the usuals such as Riverkeeper Mike Connor and Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom on how unfair the closing of the Jensen Beach bridges is to fishermen without boats, the commission sort of relented on the closings.
Smith reiterated his position that the place is a mess and has been for a long time. He said that people would never tolerate users leaving such a mess in any park. While Commissioner Heard felt they should have an agenda item to discuss this further, Ciampi and the rest felt that enough had been said. He wants these “volunteers” to speak with the sheriff, FDOT, and other government agencies to see if a program can be worked out with the fishing groups.
While county officials have said FDOT would only allow the bridge to be cleaned by county staff if the county took over all the maintenance, that is not correct. FDOT would sign an agreement to allow the county to clean the bridge and not take over maintaining the infrastructure. Why should local tax dollars be used for this cleaning so that at most a hundred or so people can be irresponsible.
A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Ciampi for the administrator to assign a staff person to be lead on this initiative with the other parties named above. It passed 5-0.
Duane De Freese, the Executive Director of the Indian River Lagoon Council, gave a presentation to the board. The NEP was just reauthorized with an increase in funding to $700,000 for 2022. He stated that Martin County is a leader in septic to sewer. It was a remarkably interesting and detailed report. For those that are interested they can go here
Almost at every meeting, a commissioner will announce (as they are required) that he/she will be using “my district funds” for a project or organization to pay for something not in the budget. This meeting, Smith announced that he was using his district fund to pay for an upgrade to the bar top being installed at Stuart Beach’s Sand Dune Café in the amount of $37,386.95.
In each commissioner’s district, there is a special MSTU that is collected from taxpayers that becomes those district funds. They are to be used at the district commissioner’s discretion in the locale where the funds were collected. That MSTU is not paid by those county residents that live within a municipality and none of those funds can be used for a project within the municipality.
Will the use of those district funds make that government-owned, operated, and built bar more beautiful? Without a doubt it will. I just wonder how many taxpayers within Smith’s district would think the bar at the new Sand Dune Café is worth their $37,386.95 in paid tax dollars. You can find the change order and specifics here
Maybe there needs to be better parameters around what and how these funds can be spent. I can understand a road issue or a drainage problem. Even an amenity like sidewalks or to pay for a pilot program at a park. It is always tough to decide when the expenditure is more a whim than a necessity. I doubt any commissioner will step on the toes of another in this regard. So, if there needs to be a more restrictive policy how would it be accomplished?
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Martin County Latest News From The January 24, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 12, 2021
The commission finished doing a switch of future land uses on a parcel of 500 acres bordered by SW 96th St and the St. Lucie Canal and Kanner Highway.
At first, it appears to be a good deal for those people living along 96th Street. It removes the possibility of industrial and commercial development along there by switching the zoning to agricultural. At the same time, an equal amount of acreage on the parcel’s Kanner Highway side will be zoned for industrial. The project is known as KL Waterside.
The Kanner rezone will have no warehouse building larger than 1,050,000 sq feet. More than one building can be placed on the parcel. The only limiting factor is there can’t be more than 950 vehicle trips per day. The applicant stated that they are working with someone to have a 500,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
While the land goes back to agricultural, everyone knows there is no agricultural use of any nearby property currently. My objection, like Commissioner Heard, is that it creates a free-standing USB outside the current limits. While the rezoned agricultural property has the designation of 20-acre ranchettes, I would suspect that soon the owners will be asking for either an extension of industrial using Kanner as the access point or new homes will go there.
I have no problem with development. We need more people and jobs to pay for the Martin County lifestyle. What we do not need is this continued piecemealing. That 500 acres is going to be developed. Agriculture is never going to reappear there. Let’s just stop pretending about what is going on.
The commission owes Martin County a coordinated plan on how we develop. What we are getting now is development that is not in our overall best interest. Leapfrogging the USB and then creating free standing ones is wrong. What we need is some structure and integration so that we can maintain open spaces. At the same time, the county should encourage development that has all the elements of good planning. What we have now is neither.
There were three separate hearings and votes on this. All three were 4-1 with Heard dissenting. The presentations can be found here
There were two presentations that should be briefly discussed.
The first one covered the county’s legislative priorities. Kloee Ciuperger, the legislative coordinator, gave a rundown of Martin County’s wish list for Tallahassee. It is much the same as every year. The monetary ask is $4 million to continue septic to sewer conversion. I doubt that any of these individual appropriations will be funded this year. You can find the presentation here
Utilities & Solid Waste Director Sam Amerson gave his presentation on the septic to sewer program. Martin County is making progress in converting. It is important that it continue but I don’t know how much Tallahassee will be funding those projects this year. At some point, I believe that the state is going to mandate hookups especially in urban areas. Martin County should be ready.
To see his presentation, go here
WASTE MANAGEMENT CONTRACT
After strenuous negotiations, the county was able keep the price that had been proposed in the original RFP for residential customers. As outlined in an earlier edition of Friends & Neighbors, Waste Management was the most expensive proposal but a favorite company of many. At times, commissioners seemed as if they were wooing Waste Management as a mate instead of picking a garbage collector.
Negotiation of pricing for business customers resulted in a negligible monthly price reduction over the contract price. All the trucks will be new and operate on natural gas as their fuel. There will be more routes added. The county will go to single stream waste and new 65-gallon carts will be distributed by next October.
Waste Management should give their government liaison employee, Jeff Sabin, a huge bonus for pulling this off. He would deserve every penny. In all fairness, he is an upstanding generous person for our community, as is Waste Management. Waste Management’s lobbyist, former State Senator Pruitt, should be given a bonus also for securing the higher fee.
The vote was 5-0 with every commissioner expressing undying affection. The staff presentation can be found here
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Martin County Latest News From The January 10, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 5, 2021
This was a meeting that was short and focused on Parks & Recreation.
During public comment Mike Connor, the executive director of Riverkeeper, spoke about how Florida Department of Transportation had placed signs forbidding fishing from the Jensen Beach Causeway bridges. He asked how could FDOT just do that without consulting the county?
The reason it was done was because for years, people who fish off the bridges leave their debris behind. Debris that includes dead fish and fish parts, bait, lines, hooks, beer bottles and more. Connor said his group would be more than willing to help clean the bridge and educate the users. He wanted a trial period.
Commissioner Smith said the area had been a pig style for 20 years. He has walked the bridge extensively and seen it firsthand day after day. This is a longstanding problem not of just a few fishermen but the many that use it. Smith went on to say that in the past, volunteers had cleaned up for a couple of months and then the bridge went back to the deplorable condition. Commissioner Ciampi said that these are adults not kids and by just going behind them to clean up their mess solves nothing.
Both Smith and Ciampi are correct here. This has been a long-standing problem that anyone can see with their own eyes and at times detect with their nostrils. FDOT is responsible for the maintenance of the bridge including the cleanup. They are tired of having to hear from countless residents about the mess and having to remind people to take personal responsibility for taking their trash and debris with them.
Connor stated that FDOT told him that if the county took over maintaining the bridge, they could then allow fishing. But that will cost Martin County taxpayers money because maintenance means more than cleaning up. It entails maintaining the bridge which is expensive. I suspect the commissioners knew that and that is why they will probably take a hands-off approach going forward.
I sit on the Martin County Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. This issue has come to our attention and we have quizzed the sheriff’s deputies about this. It isn’t only the bridge but there are fishing piers attached that do come under Parks & Recreation. We were concerned about enforcement.
The members of this board care about Parks & Recreation. They have come up with good suggestions and are knowledgeable. The staff we work with also tries to give us the information and take our suggestions seriously. However, there is a disconnect.
If the county is going to have this advisory board, it needs to have it perform like the LPA. There needs to be a presentation of plans, budgets and issues affecting the parks and then the board should make motions to either recommend those plans, budgets, or issues to the commission or not. The BOCC are the elected representatives and should have the final say. But a formal process should exist to make sure the commission has the recommendations of their advisory board.
The second Parks matter at the meeting was Kevin Abate, the department’s director, presenting the capital plan for replacement of boat ramps. The systematic plan is to replace the aging boat ramps at several launch areas throughout the county within the next few years. The first one will be at Sandsprit Park.
The commission wants to have all the planning and permitting done now. That way if funding is found the replacements can happen sooner. It makes sense and could ultimately save money by trying to use a similar plan modified for each ramp.
The presentation with which ramps will be replaced can be found here
COMMISSION MEETING DECEMBER 15, 2020
Newfield, the Kiplinger new town being built in Palm City, had three agenda items.
The first was the development agreement that, in essence, is outlining how impact fees are going to be used and what credits the developer is entitled to have to make the improvements. The second item was the first of many site plans and the two PAMPS to be built. Last was the Community Development District being formed to allow for the infrastructure improvements to be paid for by the development itself.
In my opinion, the comp plan, code of ordinances, and LDRs have never been as much in sync with a project as with Newfield. In fact, Kiplinger and his consultants sat with staff and wrote Chapter 11 of the LDRs specifically for this project. That was the hard work for it introduced something known as Form Based Code to Martin County.
According to Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America, a Washington non-profit that advocates for these type codes, the definition is:
“A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.”
That type of code is ideal when you want to have continuity of planning for a particular neighborhood or area. You know what you are going to get. It makes it impossible for a developer to build something completely out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. Form-based code is ideal for an urban setting where different uses are to be integrated.
In some instances, it is better to have a PUD to develop a piece of property. Not all development is the same. The county’s CRAs should have a code that identifies their unique characteristics. In shaping the so-called Creek Arts District, Stuart needs to institute a form-based code for that neighborhood. The city should also do it as they contemplate the future of the U.S. 1 corridor and the Gateway area.
The development agreement is attached here
The motion to accept was approved 4-1 with Heard dissenting
The site plan and PAMPS were the second item on the agenda. The Crossroads Neighborhood is comprised of 139 acres and can have up to 1257 units. It also has a mix of retail, office, and commercial space. It will be the densest of the over 3300 acres within the development.
Commissioner Heard kept saying over and over that there would be no transparency because the commission would not get to approve every home etc. She either doesn’t still understand what the commission approved with Chapter 11 or she is using it as an excuse to never approve new projects.
As of right, Kiplinger could have just sold off his property to developers and then we would have had more of the Martin County magic of either single family home developments or 5-acre ranchettes. In both cases, that type of development is nothing but sprawl. Knight Kiplinger, or his inheritors, will make more money eventually by building his town. By Kiplinger being able to do so, the people of Martin County will have planned growth and much less south Florida sprawl. It is a win for all of us now and far into the future.
That passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
You can find the documentation and presentation here
Finally, the BOCC approved Newfield’s own CDD (Community Development District). What that does is make the new “town” pay for its own development. They will be permitted to tax themselves. Every parcel owner will be assessed an amount. This will give Newfield the opportunity to bond projects to build sewers and roads and for the owners to pay the costs instead of all Martin County taxpayers.
I am a proponent of this type of development. 70% of the land will be kept open. People will be able to walk to stores, schools, and restaurants. Stuart with all its supposed density is still a city where people get into their cars to do all of that. When I first met with Kiplinger years ago, I recognized that it would be beneficial for every resident not just those that eventually end up living there.
I hope that at some point Newfield will incorporate and become its own municipality. It is off to a good start and I would love to remove the quote marks from around “town”.
The vote to allow the CDD was 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
You can find the CDD presentation here
More than two years ago, the BOCC wanted a better way to forecast growth and to see how much and what type of land is available for that growth. Staff has been working on this since and I believe they have come up with a great product.
David Farmer of Metro Forecasting Models, which only has local governments for clients, demonstrated what they have put together so far. If the county goes through with procuring their services, it will be a great planning tool.
The county will have to commit to using them on an ongoing basis. The information in the program must be updated periodically for it to be of use. If the county is going to spend money on a consultant, this will be money well spent if the BOCC and staff use the information the program will deliver.
Included in the package is not only unincorporated Martin County but also the municipalities. It is important that they be included especially Indiantown and Stuart. If a buyer were looking for available industrial properties or where new ones should be located, the entire county should be considered.
I was a little perplexed when the commissioners were speaking as if the municipalities should pay to be included. This is wrong especially if the payment to the company is coming from the general fund to which all taxpayers contribute tax dollars. If the municipalities want to purchase additional services not being provided to the county, then that is a different matter.
The BOCC gave staff the go ahead to proceed. That is a good outcome. The presentations can be found here
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Martin County Latest News From The December 13, 2020 Edition
A MESSAGE FROM NEWLY ELECTED CHAIR STACEY HETHERINGTON
By BOCC Chair Stacey Hetherington
As the season changes, my resolve to keep our community safe and informed does not. We’ve weathered spring and summer with COVID-19 and extreme rainfall. Now, as we move toward the upcoming holiday season, one certainty is that Martin County remains strong and resilient. I’m thankful for the commitment of our citizens in continuing to wear facial coverings and following health guidelines that slow the spread of COVID-19.
During the BOCC’s reorganization meeting I received the honor of being elected unanimously to represent the board as its chairwoman. I’m extremely grateful for the confidence my colleagues have entrusted it me.
This year I will focus on the uncertainty of how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the county budget and the local economy in the coming year. My priorities will continue to focus on communications and transparency with residents, restoring the health of the Indian River Lagoon, public safety, employee retention, parks boat ramp renovation program, and road and other infrastructure improvements.
This holiday season many of us will spend time with family and friends and count our blessings. While 2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year, we still have much to be thankful for. This year has served to remind us to be thankful for what we often take for granted. I hope everyone stays safe and enjoys the holiday season.
I am thankful for all the residents of Martin County who have faced these challenging times with perseverance and kindness during hard times. Happy Holidays!
Below is a full list of Commissioner Hetherington’s 2021 goals:
Commissioner Hetherington, District 2
- Improve effectiveness, efficiency, transparency, and responsiveness of government through communications and community outreach. DEVELOP a communications plan and establish guidelines for departments to use in measuring community outreach and customer feedback. Incorporate technology and develop a Martin County specific app where residents can obtain information.
- Review procurement procedures and implement a buy local, buy America policy.
- Collaborate with workforce development partners such as MCSD, IRSC, CareerSource and others to develop and implement training programs to increase employee retention and local recruitment of personnel across all County department.
- Support programming that builds a workforce so our companies can expand.
- Strengthen collaboration between local, state, and federal programs to enhance resiliency opportunities to rebuild old and inadequate infrastructure, build new infrastructure to support sustainable 21st century economic growth, and protect vulnerable coastal communities. Enhancing coastal resilience in the IRL watershed will require science-based planning, innovative thinking, challenging policy decisions, adequate resources and a long-term stewardship commitment. We will continue to need to address the effects of harmful algal blooms, sea level rise, intensifying hurricanes, and erosion.
- Review Parks Boat Ramp Renovation Program and identify funding sources and adequately fund capital projects to renovate and rehabilitate boat ramp assets. Goals of boat ramp renovation program should include:
- Increase Accessibility & Improve Safety
- Decrease Maintenance costs by looking at materials and engineering designs that increase design life and reduce maintenance.
- Reduce Congestion
- Improve Aesthetics
COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING DEC 8, 2020
During commissioner comments, Commissioner Heard once again wanted to enact a mask ordinance. She gave some compelling reasons for it. Heard cited statistics and comparisons. She convinced me. But I was convinced before she spoke. She made a motion to immediately reinstate the mask mandate.
Commissioner Ciampi also is a believer. He has consistently voted in favor of requiring masks. The science is overwhelming. Medical professionals are 99% in favor of having a mandate. Ciampi would absolutely vote yes.
Sarah Woods, the county attorney, said that no action could be taken until the January 5th meeting to allow for proper public notice. Heard took the position that this was an emergency and could be done at next week’s meeting. Woods stated that under the statute it is not an emergency, and no other commissioner was willing to second her motion.
Heard then made a subsequent motion to do what is necessary to bring back an ordinance. Ciampi seconded because he believed then the public could come and weigh in once more. As if we didn’t know what to expect.
Harold Jenkins asked whether the governor had now allowed for penalties to be levied. Woods responded that there could be no enforcement penalties for not wearing a mask. Commissioner Jenkins then suggested that there was no point in passing the mask ordinance. Indeed, to pass an ordinance or a law just as political theater leads to people not respecting laws.
At that point, Chair Hetherington called for a vote. The motion failed 3-2 with Hetherington, Smith, and Jenkins voting no. Given Governor DeSantis’ order that no penalties could be imposed, a mandate would be useless.
It had grown quiet for the last year regarding Newfield. The wheels of government and development turn slowly. Yet, when it is a project backed by the Kiplinger family, you know it will go on. And in my opinion, it should definitely do so.
This week’s task was a proposed developer’s agreement. If the commission agrees to the business terms, then the final one would be approved after the lawyers tweak it. What is a developer’s agreement?
What a developer’s agreement is not is a site plan review. This agreement calls for how infrastructure will be paid for and if the developer will use impact fee credits to pay for improvements within the development. The purpose of impact fees is to offset the cost of new development on the existing infrastructure. For the library that will be in Newfield, the developer will receive 75% of the library impact fees to help fund the construction of that library building.
Commissioner Heard kept trying to make it seem as though Newfield will be developed without input. If one were to look at Chapter 11 of the Land Development Code, which is entitled Planned Mix Use Village, it expressly states how Newfield will be developed. This was the part of the code that was written specifically for that purpose for what was then known as Pineland Prairie (now Newfield).
There were extensive community meetings and then hearings before the BOCC passed this new section about two years ago. It has provisions for what needs board approval and what staff can decide. It is what is considered a form-based code. You can find it here
As a planned community, most of the heavy lifting has already been done. That was the purpose for Kiplinger spending all that time and money up front. Most of the decision-making regarding units has already been made. Unless Kiplinger changes how Newfield develops, Chapter 11 spells out how it will be ultimately built out.
Knight Kiplinger is not a utopian idealist who is developing 3400 acres out of some benevolent impulse. Neither is he some cold calculating home builder trying to pave over every inch of land and maximize every cent of profit. He is a thoughtful man who said at the meeting that as of right he could divide the property into 5-acre ranchettes that would be on well and septic. He called that a retro land use.
He went on to say that most of America has moved on from this outdated model. If he divided the property in that fashion, there wouldn’t be a store, a park, a school, or restaurant within the 3400 acres for thousands of people who would live there. This would result in as many cars as people. There would be no congregant center or place to gather and socialize…the classic definition of sprawl.
Kiplinger and his consultants have done a huge favor to the county by introducing a concept that has been around for decades. It requires a little more thought and, for the landowner, a little less profit to initiate. Yet it is sustainable as opposed to a sea of rooftops.
A motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Smith to have the final agreement brought to the commission for a second reading. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
You can find the staff presentation here
The applicant’s presentation is here
Under Florida law, if an elected official is required to defend themselves in court or before an administrative board, the government must pay the legal fees if exonerated.
Last year, an ethics complaint was filed against Commissioner Hetherington.
After consulting with the county attorney, she hired a lawyer to represent her before the Florida Commission on Ethics. The commission is in Tallahassee where the hearing was held. In September of this year the complaint was dismissed in its entirety. The amount to defend Hetherington was $35,583.00. The principal attorney she hired bills at a rate of $500 per hour.
The County has a policy of paying no more than $275 per hour. That was adopted last year after Commissioner Heard’s legal fees of over $400,000 were reimbursed after she was acquitted at her criminal trial. Heard was not in favor of reimbursing over the $275 per hour limit.
Heard read a carefully crafted statement that outlined her position and went into the fact that an outside attorney was hired to audit her legal bills. Her attorneys did reduce their bill after negotiation, and they were subsequently paid.
Former Commissioners Scott and Fielding were also indicted but those charges were dropped. Fielding’s legal bills are under audit and Scott has sued for reimbursement. County Attorney Woods stated that she wasn’t given time to look at Scott’s bills. TRICO, the insurance carrier, is defending the county in that matter.
It is true that there is a policy regarding $275 per hour, and $500 is much higher than that. Yet staff believes that because the ethics commission is in Tallahassee and it is a legal specialty, the increase fee is warranted.
Chair Hetherington passed the gavel to Vice-Chair Smith and recused herself from the deliberations and vote. That was a smart thing to do so that no one could say she influenced the item.
After Heard made her statement, Ciampi spoke and said he agreed with 90% of what Heard said. He was in favor of having all bills audited if they exceeded a threshold amount. Woods said she was comfortable given her years of experience to determine if bills were justified under $50,000.
Jenkins made a motion to have legal bills under $50,000 looked at by the county attorney and over that amount to be audited. Ciampi seconded and the motion passed 3-1 with Heard dissenting and Hetherington recusing herself.
Jenkins made a second motion to reimburse Hetherington the legal fees of $35,583.00. It was seconded by Ciampi. It passed 3-1 with Heard dissenting and Hetherington abstaining.
Since the county will pay the legal fees if charges are dropped or dismissed, perhaps people should stop bringing frivolous complaints which ultimately can cost the taxpayers. In some respects, these types of complaints are analogous to SLAPP suits. While those suits can silence an individual from expressing a point of view, these complaints can cause good people not to go into government.
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Martin County Latest News From The November 22, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 10, 2020
Is it the job of the Parks Department to facilitate the economic wellbeing of private businesses?
I don’t believe that Sailfish Splash Water Park should enjoy a taxpayer subsidy to have the state’s high school swim teams hold their annual meets there. This year’s meet had 400 participants and 1000 attendees. Some portion of these must have eaten in restaurants and some stayed in hotel rooms in the county.
Commissioner Smith stated that there wasn’t a room to be had. But that is anecdotal not definitive. Did the Tourism Council do a study or look for an increase in bed tax revenue? Not to my knowledge. Let us agree that there was an economic impact.
Should taxpayer dollars go to fund the hospitality industries’ windfall? This commission has never met a project it will not fund and then paint it as some big economic victory.
When the commissioners use tax dollars to fund economic incentives for certain businesses, the BOCC is picking winners and losers. They can put wrapping paper on their decisions, but it still is taking from most taxpayers to give to a few friends.
COMMISSIONER COMMENTS AND A GOOD PROJECT
Commissioner Heard brought up that our wet season appears to be extending into November. No doubt she came to that conclusion because rain combined with “King Tides” have resulted in flooding and discharges. I agree with her that this is a result of climate change.
This is the second year in a row that the Air Show was affected by inclement weather. Bathtub Beach will be getting more sand…a million dollars’ worth. And Hobe Sound, which was never the best for drainage, is getting worse. My mother’s dad, who was a native Floridian, would often say that Florida was not for people. And that was when there were only 5 million residents.
It was a short meeting. Harold Jenkins presided over his last one as chair. He was immensely proud that it came in at 55 minutes long. Jenkins does not have the back-slapping character of Commissioner Ciampi, but he was a good chair.
The only project of note was the request by Gaza Marine (located on Jack James up against the turnpike) to have a 40-foot building height limit instead of the 30-foot allowed within that zoning district. The 10-foot increase will allow for boats to be built that would not be able to happen there otherwise.
If you are going to help business, this is the way to do so. Not by subsidy but by removing obstacles to businesses opening. The marine industry is one that brings high paying jobs. This is what government is supposed to be doing not building empires with the people’s money.
AND A BAD PROJECT
The golf course received its $3 million in funding to finish up on the 9-hole course and clubhouse plus $1,214,000 additional for the parking lot.
You heard that right…to date there will have been close to $10 million allocated with more to go. This is a perfect example of government overreach. This is a commission boondoggle that they all wanted.
You think you need your road paved or to bring sewers to your street or an existing park is missing lights…too bad. This is not where the money goes. It is tragic but true. Commissioners would much rather have shiny new objects than take care of existing infrastructure.
They will have their pictures taken with shovels or cutting a ribbon and you will re-elect them for spending your taxes on it. Some of us may complain but we will mark our ballots for the same commissioners. Commissioners know that it is not easy to defeat incumbents. Martin County residents are mostly all talk and little action. The elected officials have little fear that you will turn them out. History has proven this to be true.
Commissioner Heatherington voted with the other four this week to approve the $3 million appropriation. At the last meeting, she voted against spending that money. Yet when it came time for appropriations, she gave her seal of approval. She abstained from the parking lot because her outside employer had bid on the project.
Heard is consistent. When she is against a project, she votes against allowing it to proceed and then if there is any appropriation necessary, she again votes no. This is what Hetherington should have done here. You can’t say no and then vote yes.
During public comment, Frank McCrystal warned Tom Pine and me to stop speaking against the golf course improvements and we should “watch out.” Does that mean that Frank is giving us a warning? McCrystal who is a Stuart resident is an ardent foe of airport expansion and is a dedicated recreation proponent.
Just as he can speak for or against anything he wants (and I respect his right to do so), I will continue to do the same and I hope that Pine will speak his mind also. That is the kind of attitude that is dividing us on a national level. We don’t need it in Martin County.
I am not impugning anyone’s motives as to why he is for or against a project. I would imagine that McCrystal fears airport expansion and I have said that the airport should buy the surplus golf course property. But I do not want them to expand the runway. In a perfect world, the entire airport would be allowed to move out west where it isn’t over a populated community.
I think the surplus golf course property could become part of the airport enterprise fund and be used for light industrial as so much of the non-flight space is now. Those factories within that zone have good paying jobs and provide a profit to that enterprise fund. The land could be used as an STA and be a buffer to the runways.
Frank, you keep on advocating for what you believe should be there, and Pine and I will do the same. I suspect you have a distinct edge because several commissioners think it is better to build that boondoggle of a golf course. But I will just keep plodding along and fight not to create the Taj Mahal of golf courses with taxpayer dollars.
COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 17, 2020
This was the reorganizational meeting. After Commissioners Smith, Jenkins, and Ciampi were sworn in for another term, there were speeches and well wishing.
When the meeting re-convened a motion was made by Ciampi to elect Commissioner Hetherington as chair. It was seconded by Smith. That was followed by another motion by Ciampi to elect Smith as vice-chair. It was seconded by Jenkins. Both motions passed unanimously.
Congratulations Chair Hetherington and Vice-Chair Smith. The position of chair and vice-chair are largely ceremonial.
It is a Martin County tradition that the positions be rotated. By all rights, Commissioner Heard should be included in this rotation. She has not been in the rotation since the old majority was voted out and replaced by Jenkins and Ciampi four years ago and then Hetherington two years later.
When Heard, Ed Fielding and Anne Scott were in the majority, they froze out Smith. So, in some respects it is payback. How long does payback last? Is it time to call it quits and go back to the Martin County way? Heard was elected like everyone else. She deserves her turn.
The age to purchase tobacco products was raised on the federal level last year to 21. Florida’s legislature followed suit, but it was vetoed by Governor DeSantis. Even though the federal law takes precedence, there is a quirk when it comes to vaping. The state has pre-empted local government from regulating tobacco but not vaping.
Hetherington, the mother of two teenagers, knows the epidemic going on with these products. She has made it a mission to make sure that no one under 21 can purchase them. In her last attempt several weeks ago, other commissioners were hesitant about overreach. Staff has come up with an acceptable compromise.
The first objection was to add on another fee for selling these products. The state already charges a fee of $50. This is in addition to the business registration fee charged by the county. The ordinance now will read that the Martin County fee is $50 but if you pay the state a fee (which you must to legally sell the products), then the fee is waived except for the processing fee at the Tax Collector of $2-$4.
Another objection was to make sure the Sheriff’s Department would enforce the ordinance. They have said they would, so that is another problem solved.
Lastly, some thought the penalties for noncompliance were too harsh. After discussion, the following are the penalties within a 24-month period:
- The first offense is a 7-day suspension plus $500 fine
- The second offense is a 30-day suspension plus $500 fine
- The third offense is a 90-day suspension plus $500 fine
- The fourth offense is a revocation of the license
It was a good compromise by the public and commissioners to give Hetherington her win.
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Martin County Latest News From The November 8, 2020 Edition
JOINT MEETING OCTOBER 21, 2020
A joint meeting of the four boards, Indiantown, Stuart, Martin County School Board, and Martin County Commission had not happened since the pandemic. It was not sorely missed.
Mayor Meier of Stuart was the chair this time. He did an admirable job for a meeting that didn’t seem to concern the city very much. Indiantown had even less relevance.
Part of the interlocal agreement has the county and cities briefing each other on approved projects. The briefing also includes the school district that must plan regarding new students. In some respects, it is déjà vu since most of what was presented is easily known by just looking at the minutes of the boards.
The county has been busy approving many new projects and 292 new single-family-home permits. They also approved Pulte at Christ Fellowship’s land for, perhaps, hundreds of new single-family homes and that does not count what happens at Newfield formerly known as Pineland Prairie. The city has approved 930 apartment units, nine townhomes and 2 single-family homes.
I would suspect that many of these projects will not be built in both jurisdictions. That is the nature of development. Developers rush to get approvals when markets are good and then as the economy begins to turn, nothing is built.
Interestingly, County Commissioner Smith never lets an opportunity go by to chastise Stuart for approving new developments. In a county that refuses to tackle anything but single-family sprawl which prices out many Martin residents, Stuart should not be Smith’s whipping boy for providing a variety of housing. What is especially galling is that he represents part of Stuart.
I wish Commissioner Hetherington had spoken up for Stuart since she represents most of the city about providing more affordable housing for her constituents. Stuart’s action takes the pressure off the BOCC for doing practically nothing in this regard. Only Commissioner Ciampi applauded the city’s efforts to do that. It is far better environmentally to have that type of residential housing than the sprawl that has occurred in much of the rest of the county.
Stuart’s development director mysteriously brought up Costco and 450 residential units being developed. At present, there is no approved site plan. There is no formal application. Nothing has gone to the LPA or to the Commission. It could never go further or at best it is months away. Unfortunately, that became the story with other news outlets. It made no sense and had nothing to do with the interlocal agreement that governs these meetings which is to report on approved projects.
If I were City Manager Dyess, I would want to know what will be presented at meetings like these and make sure it conforms to the standards.
WHEN CAN TAXPAYERS USE THE FACILITIES?
The Martin County School Board and the BOCC once again tried to tackle an interlocal agreement to use outdoor facilities. The parties have been trying to reach an agreement for over a decade. What gives?
It is quite apparent that both elected boards want this to occur. Ciampi brought up the fact that the county currently contributes $650,000 for the SRO program and pays for all the crossing guards. They are not averse to picking up more costs. School Board Chair Powers, who sits on the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Committee, stated that it was never the intention of the committee or any legislation to deprive the community of using school facilities.
The boards have now removed two large obstacles to this occurring on the record. In my estimation, Martin County staff want this to happen. It is time that the school district staff stop feeling that it is “their” facilities and not the public’s. I hope the next superintendent will shake up this administrative quagmire and insist that they work for the taxpayers and residents of Martin County or hire people that will.
PLAYGROUNDS & PROGRESS
Once again, school district staff is tone deaf to the community they serve. You would think in planning for two new schools they would reach out to the people that live in the area, the parents, and other stakeholders before merrily proceeding with their plans. Apparently, making presentations to the chambers of commerce was one of their main ways of reaching out.
Both the school board and BOCC spoke at length about moving playgrounds that were built, in large part, by the community. The district has pledged that if moved, they would use as much of the equipment as possible and replace that which needs to be. People do not trust this to occur.
The school board was supposed to make a final decision as to a site plan so that construction drawings can be done. It appears now that the deadline of doing so in November will be extended which means the schools may not be opened until 2023. Another astonishing example of “Ready, Fire, Aim” on the Martin County School District’s part.
If this happened in the private sector, the people responsible would be gone. This is the public sector where the only money being wasted is our tax dollars…. which makes it even more egregious!
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 27, 2020
I do not know of anyone who believes that kids smoking, vaping, chewing or sniffing nicotine products is a good idea. In fact, as a one-time smoker, I am going to go so far as to say no one should think using these things is a good idea at any age.
Commissioner Hetherington wants to ban merchants from selling those products to anyone under the age of 21. This mirrors a federal law that passed last year. Florida has not raised the age to 21. The federal standards are the ones that all must follow. Then why does Hetherington want to have a specific Martin County ordinance?
While Florida law prohibits local government from regulating smoking, it allows for them to regulate vaping. Confusing? You bet it is.
When I was a kid everyone smoked including the kids. At my high school, seniors could smoke in the senior part of the cafeteria. Teachers smoked in class. In college, students could smoke in class. Offices and workplaces always had a cloudy blue haze. Now times have changed.
With vaping, we are once again seeing kids develop a bad habit. It has become epidemic in our middle schools. There is a need to do something to stop it. Yet is this the way to go?
If it were just an ordinance, there would not be any opposition. The real opposition is because there would be a need for a new $300-a-year license for retailers selling tobacco products. For retailers, the federal government has rules, but no license is needed. Florida requires having a license and paying a fee of $50. The county requires all businesses to file an application and pay a fee of $180.
For a supposedly friendly place to do business, is this additional registration and fee an unnecessary burden? The sheriff now does checks (and from time to time undercover operations) to make sure that the laws are being followed. Is this just big brother trying to ineffectively stop a vice?
I personally do not believe that the age of 21 is reasonable for any prohibition including tobacco or alcohol. If you are old enough to vote, join the service and get married, you should be old enough to decide to have a beer and a smoke. But that is me, and if society wants to be a little hypocritical, so be it.
Like so many elected officials, especially Republican ones who forget the mantra of personal responsibility at times, Hetherington believes she knows best at least on this. I think it is misguided and places an undue burden on a large section of our businesses. Commissioner Heard came closest to my way of thinking when she said this is government overreach and wondered if law enforcement needs to be burdened with making more spot checks.
There was some mention of School Resource Officers being able to help in this regard. But this would simply be another thing that we are asking law enforcement to do in our schools instead of staff, making it another place for kids to have a confrontation with officers.
A motion was made by Hetherington to move ahead. It was seconded by Ciampi who then withdrew his second. Both Jenkins and Heard wanted staff to come back with a more reasoned approach. Smith then seconded the motion. It failed 3-2 with Jenkins, Heard and Ciampi voting no.
It will come back on November 17th or as soon thereafter as staff can do some more research. The ordinance and fines can be found here here
SCHOOLS AND PLAYGROUNDS
I believe school district staff has done a terrible job in outreach to the Jensen Beach and Palm City communities. They have been planning these new schools for years. Yet the only outreach they have done is a zoom meeting and a presentation to the chambers of commerce.
Is there any reason that parents and people who live in those areas are upset regarding the playgrounds? The most recent plans have them being moved to make way for the new school buildings. Smith stated that, over the past two decades, the County has invested $600,000 at the Jensen Beach Elementary location. Ciampi stated that he gave $75,000 in his district funds for the playground at Palm City Elementary.
If the playgrounds need to be moved and rebuilt to accommodate the best design for the school, then so be it. Yet it would seem to me that to do so without the community’s buy-in is foolish. This is causing problems and perhaps delays.
Right now, the school board needs to decide on a design for the schools to be ready by August of 2022. Smith is planning to bring in the Treasure Coast Planning Council to do a charrette in Jensen. This will occur whether the school district participates or not. That is nice but under what authority and to what purpose without the district’s participation?
In Palm City, Ciampi has also had citizens reach out to him. His is a much more measured approach and one that can have results without slowing down construction. He is proposing that the school district have a meeting with those that were instrumental in the building of the playground. He wants to use the same company that originally designed the playground to be involved in the relocation. In this way, the Palm City community has input, and a new playground is designed while construction goes on. That seems to be a more sensible plan.
A motion was made that they send a letter to the Martin County School Board requesting a delay in construction to sort this out. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. Heard believes that the BOCC is overstepping when they ask for things like this. I tend to agree.
Martin County needs more business. I believe that in my heart and soul. Yet is what happened at a proposed development of Waterside the best way to accomplish this?
What at first looks like a swap of like property for what already is classified as commercial waterfront and industrial for the same amount of agricultural land doesn’t seem to affect anything. There is also the added benefit of removing any possible commercial traffic from 96th Street which is a residential roadway to Kanner Highway, a six-lane road with easy access to both I-95 and eventually the turnpike.
This change receiving commission approval is just the first in a series of votes that must be taken. Some feel that the ultimate goal is to be able to place a million square feet e-commerce site on the property. While that may be the plan of KL Waterside, the developer still has a long way to go.
Waterside has already withdrawn its request to raise the height limit to 47 feet which not doing was supposed to be a deal killer for any distribution center. It also has limited itself to 1,050,000 square feet of warehouse space from the original proposal of 1,600,000 feet. Further by changing the location of the use to Kanner Highway and by placing the same exact amount of land into agricultural use, it is saying that nothing has really changed but that is not really true.
Originally this was supposed to be a marine industry facility. That is why it was located on the St. Lucie Canal in its original location. Unfortunately, no one bothered to dig deep enough to discover that the Army Corps of Engineers has an easement that precludes any development on the land abutting the waterway.
Most jobs in the marine industries are good paying jobs for a myriad of trades. Working for Amazon is not at all in the same vein. This would also be the third free standing Urban Services Boundary exception in the county. Our comp plan which envisions Martin County’s development is not supposed to work that way. Once this is developed, how long do you think it will be before the switched agricultural land designation will be requesting another FLUM change.
Some of the commissioners may believe that this is a gem for economic development. I do not and think Heard has a point when she says we are throwing out the comp plan exception by exception. This ad hoc approach to economic development will get us nowhere. A distribution center with hundreds of trucks and vehicles will impact the quality of life of many Martin residents. The jobs it might create will not make up for the problems brought.
If we are going to do anything, we should be encouraging the marine and aero industries to locate here. Those jobs do pay well. Has there been an economic impact analysis done to show what placing a million square feet Amazon warehouse will produce? If there has, I haven’t seen it. Where is my old friend the Business Development Board in all of this? Apparently, they may not even be a bit player.
Ciampi made a motion to approve and Smith seconded. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. You can see both the county’s and applicant’s presentation here
THE BUSINESS OF GOLF
Remember a couple of year ago when the rebirth of Martin County Golf Course into what is now known as Sailfish Sands began? There were estimates of many millions of dollars, but the commission allocated about $5 million at the time.
To do what was contemplated, such as a new clubhouse in the style preferred by Commissioner Smith, could not possibly be done for the estimated price. You cannot compete with Willoughby and Mariner Sands (which he mentioned several times) on the cheap. The other commissioners guffawed and said let’s keep it simple. Smith was the one telling the truth. Smith did not get all that he wanted, but he has come close.
Kevin Abate, the head of Parks & Recreation, is very good at his job. He delivers what is expected of him. He can count to three as well as any staff member. He knew he had three commissioner votes in this instance. The extravaganza continues.
I have already written extensively about the glamorization of what we do to simple things in Martin County. I am not going to write in detail more about the new driving range, “Top Golf” experience, glow in the dark balls and GPS golf carts. I am only going to make passing mention about what a great job that has been done on turning the Red & White 9-hole Courses to a single reversible 9-holes with about 80 acres being returned to nature. These and other things such as new rest rooms etc. have already been written about in previous newsletters.
Of course, all of this could not possibly be done with the approved amount. Abate and staff needed more money. In fact, another $3 million dollars is needed to finish all the above. The commissioners knew this was coming. This was not a secret to them. They applauded the bells and whistles that were added to a county golf course.
The commissioners were told that if all these bells and whistles were not included, who would go there? It would lose about a million dollars per year. Golf, as we know it, is a dead sport fit only for retirees. The Generations X, Y, and Z cohorts need a faster more exciting experience.
The only reason it would lose that much money is because the county only contemplated operating it with 36-holes in the same way as before. As tennis courts have now evolved into pickle ball courts, perhaps the government-owned golf course should evolve into an 18-hole course or even a 9-hole one. The excess property could have been sold to the airport for more industry or turned into a different recreational use.
When I was a kid, every park had handball courts. We would play on those courts for hours. Our fathers would play on those courts and, in some instances, our grandfathers. Handball is no longer played by so many and those courts are now devoted to other uses. Recreation changes.
It should be the responsibility of government not to create the only mobile driving range south of Jacksonville or a Top Golf style facility in Martin County. This is the type of thinking that has given us Sailfish Splash Water Park where Mr. Abate recently told the BOCC that the county must spend more money on improvements, so it doesn’t lose so much.
None of these additional funds touch the Blue & Gold courses, remove the evasive exotics or several other planned improvements. When all is said and done, in my estimation another $2 to $3 million will be needed. This is another example of spending more in order not to lose as much.
Commissioners Smith, Ciampi, Jenkins, and unfortunately Heard own this boondoggle. They are the ones in love with the idea of using tax money to chase a dream. They are using tax money to compete with the private sector. Make no mistake…if there is one thing, we have in Martin County, it is golf courses. If any of those “improvements” that are being installed could possibly make the money projected, then why haven’t those improvements been done at private businesses?
Commissioner Hetherington was the only one to raise fiscal concerns. She saw this for what it is…governmental overreach. Heard likes to say she is the most fiscally conservative commissioner. I am beginning to think that is no longer true. Hetherington has now voted no on this project and on the new trash contract which adds $45 million dollars over the lowest bidder.
Thank you, Commissioner Hetherington.
You can see the entire presentation here
Martin County Latest News From The October 18, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 13, 2020
“What we got here is a failure to communicate.” Those words were uttered by the Cap’n of the chain gang to Paul Newman’s character, Luke, in the movie Cool Hand Luke. I often used those words when my children were children. It is just a great saying for expressing miscommunication. In the movie, that miscommunication ended tragically.
In the Sunshine State Carnation FLUM Amendment in Hobe Sound, there was a failure to communicate between the applicant and the neighbors. The failure to communicate had more dire consequences between the applicant and the Commission.
This is the last farmland in the area even though it hasn’t been farmed in a decade. The nearly 20-acre plot was a flower farm. Overseas competition and the price of land has killed that use which was once so prevalent in Martin County.
The plot has 2-units-per-acre zoning, and the landowners are asking for a zoning change which would allow a maximum of 5 units per acre. The neighbors and Commissioners did not want to see 100 homes there for the reasons of drainage, traffic, and density. I agree that 100 homes being placed on 20 acres in that spot would be too many.
Staff and the applicant explained that this hearing is not for site plan approval. The designation wasn’t being asked because they wanted to build 100 homes. The designation was the one that staff felt was most applicable. Once the FLUM was changed, the property would have to come back to the Commission for site plan approval. Once setbacks, roads, wetlands, and other criteria were met, they probably would be lucky to get 30 homes.
Yet no one trusts a developer or landowner. If you give them 5 units an acre, then they would come back and build those hundred homes somehow. It was obvious that this was not going to pass. There was a failure to communicate.
Later in this meeting, another agenda item had what was known as a “text amendment.” By attaching one which has limiting restrictions to an application, it would not have been necessary to ask for a continuance. Commissioner Smith asked staff all the right questions to make sure people understood that nothing was being approved. There would be more public hearings. This was a future zoning change that needed it approval from the state. It was apparent no one was communicating.
The applicant was not listening to the neighbors and Commissioners ahead of time. This all resulted because of a failure to communicate their intentions. A simple self-limiting text amendment could have avoided this outcome.
There was a motion to continue indefinitely that passed 5-0. You can find the presentation here
MARTIN COUNTY’S SOCIALISM CONTINUES
Martin County continues to be anti-business in its quest to be in the amusement and restaurant business. The march continues with an additional $48,000 being allocated to the construction of the Seaside Café at Stuart Beach.
The initial operating budget that was passed for this beachside restaurant at this meeting was $246,000. The toll just keeps going up as we hire more and more people to do what the private sector should be doing. It appears that Commissioners are building empires within governmental departments by fostering the hiring of more and more employees.
Another item on the agenda was the Commission giving its approval to what alcoholic beverages will be served. The County has obtained a full liquor license so which beverages will be allowed is up to them. Recommendations were made by Martin County’s “Food & Beverage” department which included slushy drinks, different hard liquor drinks, cocktails, beer, wine, hard seltzer, or for those more discerning beach patrons, champagne.
After deliberation and discussion, Commissioner Ciampi made a motion to include beer, wine, slushy type drinks, hard seltzers, and, of course, the afore mentioned champagne. Nothing can be in glass bottles. It was seconded by Heard and the politburo passed it 5-0.
From the water park to the beach cafes to the soon-to-open golf course, Martin County refuses to allow the private sector to operate even the food concessions. While I expect some of the 5 Republican Commissioners not to see the irony in their actions, a few of them should.
These actions should convince the taxpayer that they will see more and more such boondoggles being created with this Commission. This will result in further subsidies for things that government should not do. We have already heard the director of the Parks & Recreation department utter the words that more money needs to be spent so the County loses less. This is unconscionable.
The County cocktail menu and café budget can be found here
THE END OF THE MASK
Commissioner Smith left before the initial mask discussion happened.
Heard led it off with the statement that the science speaks for itself. Masks decrease the spread of the virus. And she claimed the business community wants the ordinance to remain. She then motioned to keep the ordinance in place. Ciampi seconded the motion.
Both Hetherington and Jenkins opposed the motion. Jenkins made some sense when he stated that since the governor had removed any enforcement mechanism in the form of penalties there was no reason in having a mandatory requirement. Jenkins and Hetherington asked that the motion be tabled until Smith returned in the afternoon. Heard and Ciampi said no. The vote was 2-2 which meant the motion failed but it also meant that the current mandatory mask ordinance stays in effect.
When Smith did return around 3 pm, he asked for a reconsideration of the issue. The Commission voted 5-0 to allow it.
There was discussion that really was the same as earlier. Smith added that he thought the people should decide. He made a motion to repeal the mandatory mask ordinance. It was seconded by Hetherington and it passed 3-2.
Smith then made another motion to direct Administrator Kryzda to issue an emergency order to strongly recommend the wearing of masks. It was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 3-2 with Ciampi and Heard voting no.
The shame is not in what happened at the Commission level. It falls on the governor to take responsibility one way or the other. He can’t say it is up to local government to decide and then take away their ability to enforce their decisions. It is hypocritical on his part.
Like Jenkins, I don’t believe we should pass laws or ordinances that do not have a mechanism for enforcement. DeSantis cannot have it both ways. He is the one with the ultimate authority. He should use it and take responsibility for his actions. The governor is far from showing leadership in this regard.
Martin County Latest News From The October 4, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING SEPTEMBER 29, 2020
Martin County does not lack governmental entities. They seem to exist in silos never thinking that they may be levying taxes on the same set of taxpayers to provide duplicative services.
One of my big peeves (and apparently the County Commissioners agree) is how the School District refuses to allow citizens access to their facilities. Both Commissioners Smith and Ciampi brought up that subject during Commissioner comments. Why is it that outdoor and frankly indoor facilities can only be used by students during the school day? In the evenings, weekends, and during the summer, they are locked up tighter than an arsenal.
Not only kids should be able to use them but so should adults. Schools are community facilities. The County and the municipalities should not have to spend their capital budgets on duplicating basketball, baseball or football facilities that are closed once school is no longer in session. It is taxpayers that are being duped.
The staff of the School District needs to realize that those gyms, auditoriums, and fields do not belong to them. I want to applaud the Commission for being persistent in this matter. It will probably be the new Superintendent that will need to accomplish this goal. Commissioners keep it up.
I remember when Christ Fellowship first proposed buying its 321-acre campus near South Fork High School in 2012. Some thought it would ruin the County. I also remember reading that they would build a center for the life of their large community which was why so much acreage was needed. They did build a 50,000 square foot campus but used only a small portion of the land. We were told that they had no intention of selling any of the property.
As Ciampi commented, things change especially after expanding and buying the Digital Domain Campus in Port St. Lucie. They find that site more suited to their ever-increasing number of congregants. Martin County, who approved this mega church, is now being asked by the church to continue in its current location but also to allow the sale of 293 acres to Pulte whose proposed development would add 284 homes.
In essence, at this meeting, the County was being asked for a change in the residential density from one residential unit per two acres to allow less than ½ acre lots for the final product. It is in the Secondary Urban Service District (SUSD). The plot already has county water and sewer lines. It is next to the Florida Club and Foxwood. According to staff, the reason for the larger lot size requirement in the SUSD generally is that there are only wells and septic and therefore more room is necessary.
Pulte will be donating 20 acres of the property to Operation 300, a local charity for military families. There website can be found here
On the roughly 270 acres remaining, Pulte anticipates building a community of 284 homes. What the Commission had to consider was not a site plan but a comp plan amendment and future land use map change. This will then go to Tallahassee for approval, which is likely, and then come back to the BOCC for a 2nd reading.
Most people who spoke were against it. The people who usually speak at these hearings are nearly universal in their opposition to a change. Commissioner Heard believes that this will set a precedent for the agricultural land around the site. She thought it would be an urban enclave.
Ciampi, who is not afraid to use as many words as possible, reiterated the history of the church and how things change. Once completed, the homes, will pay $1.7 million in taxes annually (the church currently is exempt from taxes) and more than $3 million in impact fees. The County Attorney stated several times that allowing this to go forward does not create a precedent since each comp plan amendment stands on its own.
Smith, Hetherington, and Jenkins reiterated what Ciampi had said for the most part. Jenkins mentioned NIMBY. A motion was made by Smith that was seconded by Ciampi to transmit the comp plan amendment to Tallahassee. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. Another motion was made for the FLUM change by Smith and seconded by Ciampi that also passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
Remember they are not voting to approve 284 new homes, only the ability for that to be able to come before them later. They need to change the playing field before allowing the increased density.
Will this create a precedent? Maybe not legally, but just like the developer, County staff and the Commission majority are using Foxwood and Florida Club as examples of neighboring communities, the owner of that farmland next door to this development will do so in the future. Is it an urban enclave? I am more apt to call it an extension of suburbia.
It appears to me that development is inevitable. The Commission has a responsibility to preserve open land within any project. If Pulte is only going to have a curvilinear design and ram as many homes as possible on their small lots of even less than a half-acre with its site plan, then it will indeed be the worst possible footprint. A sea of roof tops whether in a grid pattern or curvilinear design leaves the same carbon footprint.
The County should be looking at solar panels on each house, a charging station located in every garage and native plantings only instead of grass and other types of ornamentals. There should be as much open land as developed acreage. Otherwise the County Commission and its staff will demonstrate how myopic its thinking is.
Staff & Developer’s Presentations can be found here
There is not much to say about it. This was not a workshop but a presentation. Why was it done? Mostly, it appeared that it was a step that was required to obtain grants. While interesting, there is nothing new in the 48-item recommendation list.
Hetherington asked for a workshop and Smith wanted a comp plan amendment to memorialize the need. It was an abbreviated version of the power point below and it did not seem anyone really cared.
I do recommend that you read the attached. It can be found here
MASKS AND GOVERNOR’S ORDER
When it comes to COVID, Ron DeSantis is a passive/aggressive leader. It appears he doesn’t want to have any rules or regulations. Yet he feels he needs to do something. Throughout the pandemic, he has left the hard decisions to local governments. I usually think that is a good thing, but not this time.
With his latest order, he has said that everything is open. But, if local government wants to put restrictions on business, it needs to get his permission. If local government wants to mandate masks, he will not allow an enforcement mechanism. In most other states, whether there are more stringent regulations or less or none, it is the governor’s call not hundreds of local authorities.
Which brings us to the latest on the bi-weekly mask situation. I am not going to reiterate all the pro and con arguments of either our Commissioners or the public. A motion was made by Hetherington and seconded by Smith to draft a new ordinance to strongly suggest the use of masks. It passed 3-2 with Ciampi and Heard dissenting.
The October 13th meeting will probably be another one where both sides will speak for hours. If the ordinance they had now been left in place, there is virtually no practical difference. People who didn’t wear a mask were not penalized in any way. Stores such as Home Depot can still require you to wear a mask as can smaller stores, but they will have a harder time with customers who oppose them.
Martin County Latest News From The September 20, 2020 Edition
BUDGET MEETING SEPTEMBER 8, 2020
This was the final millage and budget meeting for the 20/21 year.
Tallahassee sets a required millage rate. That rate has been steadily reduced for the past decade. For 20/21, it has been reduced from 3.9 mils to 3.6990. The local rates will remain the same at 2.748 or a decrease in the overall rate by .2010 or 3.2%. Though the rate has gone down, do not expect the amount you pay to be less. Property values have increased so any savings will be absorbed by the that increase.
Overall, the budget has increased by about $18,235,986 for a total amount of $404,224,540. While the 2019/20 General Operating Budget was $221,229,425, budget amendments throughout the year brought the total to $235,833,901 which is a bit more than this year’s same budget. Given the uncertainties of COVID-19, the budget overall is about as good as could be expected.
The presentation can be found here
The entire detailed budget can be found here
SCHOOL BOARD MEETING SEPTEMBER 17, 2020
During School Board Attorney Tony George’s report, he read into the record an email and a letter.
The first was an email from Tyson Waters who represents the Board negotiating an impact fee and concurrency agreement with Pineland Prairie. In May, a series of bullet points were sent to the District addressing concerns of Waters. Staff will be scheduling a meeting to go over the items. This has not come up at the Board since May.
Pineland Prairie has decided to resubmit its Master Site Plan Application to the County in the next few weeks. They plan on submitting a final site plan next year. I guess no rush there.
The Arts Foundation has submitted its proposal to Tallahassee for a $50,000 grant for design and planning of the old high school building. They were ranked 16 out of 58. If the stars, the moon, and the sun line up, maybe something will happen.
Jennifer DeShazo, the information officer, gave a presentation on attendance at the District. There are 16,628 students in K-12. 1049 students have left the District and 15,449 have enrolled. There are 10,756 students attending in person (65%) and 5872 doing do remotely (35%).
There is an opportunity for parents to request changes in status going forward. 209 students will go from remote to in person and 45 will go from in person to remote. Attendance for those registered is 95.2% for in person and 92.7% remotely.
Since schools opened, 537 students have transitioned to quarantine/remote learning. Here is the breakdown: 113 elementary school students, 80 middle school students, and 344 high school students. 40 employees have transitioned to essential employee quarantine in the same period.
Ms. Roberts stated that parents looking for answers should call the District. She was surprised that parents would resort to Facebook groups to find out what is happening at the District. Sometimes it may be hard to get an answer, but parents can always write one of the School Board members or all of them with a question if need be. Get the right information.
The presentation can be found: HERE
Martin County Latest News From The September 6, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 25, 2020
Most streets in the County have extraordinarily little traffic. They would be ideal for golf cart usage to get around neighborhoods. When it was last brought up in early May, it seemed Ciampi and Jenkins were extremely interested in having an ordinance to safely do just that. Something must have happened in the intervening months to kill that idea.
Stuart has had legal golf carts for the past five years without incident. In many Florida communities, golf carts are used extensively. So why the hesitancy?
All the Commissioners jumped on the part of the staff presentation concerning “unintended consequences.” You know that is the phrase used when people really do not want to do something and need to come up with an excuse. There were plenty of unintended consequences that were enumerated in the presentation.
In fairness, there is something called a Low Speed Vehicle which is essentially a golf cart with features such as a windshield, VIN number, license plates, etc. They do not exceed 25 miles per hour. They cost anywhere from $12,000 up to the mid-$20,000 range. While they might be fun to drive, those vehicles are not an inexpensive substitute for that second car in the driveway.
I guess, once again, Martin County shows how different it is. Something as innocuous as a golf cart being used on secondary streets becomes forbidden because of unintended consequences. In a 5-0 vote, unincorporated Martin County will not have those unintended consequences.
The presentation can be found here
At the last meeting, the Commission asked that staff bring back an ordinance regarding mandating masks. They were to do so with a clause to have some metric as to when it should be in effect and when it should be lifted. According to staff, there were no benchmarks they could use. It will stay until the emergency order is lifted or the Commission decides to suspend the ordinance.
There will be a civil penalty of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, and $250 thereafter. It is meant, once again, to educate.
Public comment was varied. If you were in the medical community, you wanted to have mandatory masks. If you were a civilian, your reason for being against masks was everything from infringement on your rights to hypoxia to some emotional trauma. Every court has ruled there is no constitutional right being violated by a mandatory mask ordinance. As to hypoxia, there is no credible medical evidence that wearing a mask, especially a cloth mask leads, to the condition. As to a mask causing emotional trauma, some people have that as a phobia.
Heard believes that, absent a vaccine, a mask is the next best thing. She made the motion with Ciampi seconding. Jenkins does not feel the current situation warrants the mandate. Hetherington is not ready to support the mandate.
Smith said little, but I think a reason he gave supporting masks a few weeks earlier is the reason to vote yes. It relieves the business owners from making masks a rule in their establishments. Now, everyone is to wear masks in public unless you have one of the thousand and one exceptions.
The ordinance passed 3-2 with Jenkins and Hetherington voting no. The entire ordinance can be found here
A new International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Contract was presented to the Board. This is always a contentious subject. I do not mean between the Commissioners and the rank and file but rather between some of the public and the Commission. From a taxpayer’s point of view, how is it justifiable that these guys work 2 twenty-four hour shifts per week with forty- eight hours off between shifts plus a paid Kelley Day (mandatory day off) per 7 shifts.
Such a work schedule leaves plenty of time for a second job or owning a business. Not too many other people in Martin County get that type of deal. These men and women are well trained and expert in what they do. With the step program, the top pay for a paramedic is $85,370.00. The new contract will bring that to $90,595.00.
As a comparison the highest paid private occupation in Martin County is engineering/architecture at a median wage of $90,625.00. Followed by law $73,056 and computer and science at $69,792. The median family income is $55,588.
Management uses the word parity to explain why they need to have that level of pay. In the presentation, Boca, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade were given as examples of those departments with higher pay. That could be a false analogy because the call volume in those three places is much higher than Martin County. Yet, along with the counties to our north that would be where these employees could go for a job in this field.
The Sheriff has a “me too” clause which means his deputies get the same as fire. That is not good news for the taxpayers. When does being protected get to be too much too afford? I do believe Sarah Heard is correct when she says this is unsustainable.
Are the Commissioners making sure that the staff is negotiating the best contract for the residents? It is true that Smith received his reelection funding from this union. And most of his campaign workers are from the rank and file. If Ciampi had been challenged, the IAFF would have done almost the same and to a lesser extent Jenkins would have received their support.
That old rule of following the money is true. And that is too bad for the taxpayers of Martin County. Do the rank and file deserve what they get paid or not? We will never know for sure because huge campaign contributions coming from one source taints the process.
The Commission voted 4-1 with Heard dissenting to approve the new contract. The presentation can be found here
Martin County Latest News From The August 23, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 11, 2020
Commissioner Heard dove into the mask controversy during Commissioner comments. There were several anti-mask speakers during public comment. She made a motion to revise the ordinance that expired on August 8th. Sara Woods, the County Attorney, said you need to advertise to have an ordinance. There currently is an emergency order in place that strongly recommends the wearing of masks. There are no penalties for non-compliance.
Heard suggested mandating masks as an emergency order. However, an emergency order provides for the possibility of criminal arrest and conviction of a 2nd degree misdemeanor. No other Commissioner wanted that to happen.
In an exceptionally long statement, Ed Ciampi said that it would be a disservice to the public not to have this discussion as an agenda item after proper advertisement. Of course, it is painfully obvious that nothing more could be done without the grueling hours of public debate. He made a substitute motion to bring back a proposed ordinance on the 25th which was seconded by Heard.
Smith wanted to have some sort of standards in the language so that the mandate could be lifted or applied depending on the listed circumstances. Then, they would not have to rescind and then have a new ordinance if it became necessary to reimpose the mask mandate. Smith wanted to know what the County should determine as a standard of success. Ciampi agreed as did Hetherington. Jenkins was not interested in a mandate.
Smith went on to state that many businesses were glad that the mandate was in place because it relieved them of having to impose requirements for their individual businesses. According to him, business improved because more people felt safe with being out and about.
The Commission kept throwing around the terms “ordinance” and “order” as if they were interchangeable. They are not. An ordinance is a law. To be deemed adopted in Florida, an ordinance must be duly advertised and passed at two Commission meetings. They can pass an emergency ordinance which requires no advertising and only one vote. That is what the Commission did with the original mandate. An emergency order is promulgated under the County’s police powers. It is most often exercised during hurricanes when there is need to have curfews for short term events. Violation carries criminal penalties.
The motion passed 4-1 with Hetherington dissenting.
CAN I GET A DRINK HERE?
Parks Director Kevin Abate is asking the Commission for permission to apply for a full liquor license for the Café at Stuart Beach. It will be a new dining establishment with an outside Tiki Bar. It will not be open at night.
Heard had a concern about having a full bar. Ciampi would not have a problem with Daiquiri machines and drinks in a can but thought “Jack and Coke” a bit too much. Abate and the Commissioners kept speaking about the customer experience as if they were running Disney World instead of a public beach.
I thought the customer experience was just going to the beach, foolish though that seems. If shooting clays over the water would enhance the customer experience, would they institute that? I always thought that if you have a hot dog and a beer, that was the food experience most people were looking for at the beach.
Ciampi said more discussion was in order when they bring it back after getting the license. Motion passed 5-0.
CHANGE ORDER 17
The golf course construction needs another $127,000 for new lawn reseeding in fringe areas.
Ciampi said he took a tour, and the new course was amazing. It is being constructed to have a more Florida feel. It is a hundred-year-old golf course, and things were found that were not anticipated. Heard stated that she was the most fiscally conservative member of the Commission and she was sold. She also called Abate the best salesman in Martin County.
Yet there is still design work to be done on the parking lot and clubhouse. And here we are with Change Order 17. The only Commissioner that did not seem to be falling in line was Hetherington. She wanted to have a comprehensive plan and budget. Though there was a budget that Jenkins and Heard fought for initially. That $5.5 million is now a mere suggestion. And both have acquiesced.
I think like the Beach Café the Commission forgets that they are not a board of a private business but a government. There should absolutely be a golf course. It is not and should not be using tax dollars to create Augusta National. Yet it seems the 95% of Martin County taxpayers that will never set foot on that golf course are being charged to build much more than what is needed. When does it stop?
The agenda item can be found here
Attorney Woods stated that she called the Fair Association’s attorney, and he was unaware of any problems regarding the lease. At the last meeting, Jay Spicer, the Fair Manager said that not having a signed lease was preventing the association from raising the $3 million needed to sign a lease. This is despite an irrevocable option by the County to enter a lease whose terms have been agreed and attached to the option. The lease can be signed upon the fair raising that sum which is the same sum they, themselves, insisted be in the option.
Woods also stated that Spicer did not respond to her. The ball is in the Fair’s court.
Martin County Latest News From The August 9, 2020 Edition
COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING JULY 28, 2020
Joan Goodrich, from the Business Development Board (BDB), gave the Commissioners an update on its education campaign to pass the ad valorem tax break. It is called “Jobs On The Ballot.” But it is not about jobs. It is about granting a tax break for an existing or new company that moves to our area and provides rather well-paying jobs by constructing a building or new machinery.
Moving to the area and providing well-paying jobs are good things. Using tax dollars to do so is not. We have seen over and over that these subsidies do not pay for themselves in the long run. This would be especially true in Martin County. We abhor development. Our government dislikes doing the little things to encourage business such as having attainable priced housing.
The best thing Martin County can do is keep taxes low and have a good quality of life. We are never going to have great big manufacturing plants. Even something as mundane as adding a Costco becomes a pitched battle. It is only because the City of Stuart has begun to approve multifamily development that there is a chance, we will have enough housing.
If this BDB subsidy program is such a winner, then why in the ten years of its existence it has not once been used? Do not be fooled by the argument that it is necessary to have this tool in the toolbox. Or the second proposed reason is that St. Lucie County has one. Perhaps the BDB has not grasped that we are not St. Lucie County.
This requires voter re-authorization by statute. The legislature should have a time limit on more things. Let us sunset this chestnut and demand that County government be generally more friendly toward business. Business should be able to open without waiting months (and sometimes years) for necessary approvals.
FAIR…HERE AND THERE
There is no end to moving the Martin County Fair. It is one of those things that is perpetual. Over the years, there have been discussion, deals, starts and way too many stops.
The current “problem” is that because there is no lease signed for the site outside of the Village of Indiantown, the Association cannot find donors. There is a lease option that obligates the County to sign the negotiated lease if the Fair Association meets certain obligations. One of those obligations is to raise commitments of $3 million. That is not having $3 million in the bank…only the commitment by legitimate donors. This is a stumbling block apparently.
The Fair Association has many millions to go to fully implement their Shangri-La. $3 million is a drop in the bucket. Yet even though they have an option that in the private sector could be used to obtain financing, the Fair Association cannot move forward. Commissioner Jenkins is especially perturbed and is asking what can the County do to help?
The County has done much already. It has agreed to bring to the site water, sewer, and road improvements. It has given the Fair Association permission to do some preliminary land clearing work. Also of importance to remember is the $3 million figure that they need to raise was not one that the County pulled out of the air but one that the Fair Association wanted to have inserted before a lease could be signed.
What can be done? The Commission can vote to sign the lease without any conditions. What the Commission should do is finish all the water, sewer, and road improvements necessary and perhaps even put up a barn-type building to be able to have an agricultural fair. Then in exchange for that, a lease is signed, and the Fair Association would terminate the lease it currently has in Stuart.
If the Association wants to create a Shangri-La with motocross tracks, RV parks, show rings and museums, then they should go ahead. Though why is it so hard for Martin County to just have an agricultural fair? From the County golf course to Splash Water Park everything must be so grandiose. We have about 160,000 residents. Martin County is not St. Lucie or Palm Beach Counties. We say we do not want to be that and it is fine. Then stop trying to be!
The other part of the equation is what to do with the existing fairgrounds. There is a solution for that…and to find out is expensive. The County has a proposal from the Treasure Coast Planning Council for $195,800 to do a charette. Usually a charette is to hold presentations for all the stakeholders to find out what should be done.
We have many people with many opinions. The outcome of a charette would be a plan that will then sit on a shelf. It is not that the Treasure Coast Planning Council does not do a good job. It is a problem with the process. It is flawed and I have seen nothing being done at the end of that expensive process. Anybody remember the Duany Plan that was done for Stuart? A copy is sitting on a shelf in City Hall.
For a fraction of the cost, the County’s own planners and CRA Department can have different stakeholders come in and discuss the future. Better yet, Ciampi hit the nail on the head…get an appraisal and do an RFQ. Let the market determine highest and best use.
Once again, we are all capitalists until capitalism intrudes on our own belief about what is best. Jenkins wants to study the problem as does Hetherington and Smith. Heard believes it is too expensive (agree there). Smith still believes Virgin Trains will build their station at the location.
They will bring it back at the beginning of next year. A motion to do that was made by Heard and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Ciampi dissenting.
The Treasure Coast Planning Council proposal can be found here
The mandatory mask ordinance is set to expire on August 8th. The County Attorney has told the Commission that in order to extend the time period, another ordinance would have to be passed. That would mean the hours of public comment and vitriol would have to be endured again. The Commissioners and their families have been threatened and harassed for voting unanimously to institute it.
While I believe Commissioner Smith will be re-elected, he probably lost support because of his affirmative vote for the ordinance. He should be congratulated for taking that stand. The other four who voted yes lost friendships because of their stands. I believe that even if you disagree with their decisions, you should respect their integrity.
It is too bad that they and the County were placed in the position of making this decision. I find it ironic that the state believes in home rule in this instance. Tallahassee does not allow local government to pass an ordinance regarding regulation of home rentals r what to plant in front yards. Local governments are not allowed to interfere with where to place 5G equipment in the public right of way. Yet when it comes to this pandemic, local government gets to call the shots. We are in effect on our own with a global pandemic.
A motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Heard to strongly encourage the use of masks. It is the same wording as the expired ordinance only strongly encouraged is substituted for mandatory. It passed 5-0
Martin County Latest News From The July 26, 2020 Edition
COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING JULY 14, 2020
Several residents of Hobe Heights spoke regarding their homes and the flooding that occurred over Memorial Day. There were complaints that before the new drainage project was completed, flooding was not a problem. Could an inadequate project have caused all of this?
What is the responsibility of the County? Are the millions of dollars for buyouts something that taxpayer dollars should be used for? Is it justified to use state tax dollars to buy these selective people out? Questions, it seems, that the Commission is ready to answer in the affirmative.
Staff stated that the ground water table is very high in parts of the neighborhood. There is now literally nowhere for rainwater to go. There is no storage capacity. How did it get this way? Was it a fault of over development? Some of these homes are decades old. Yet newer surrounding development has perhaps stopped the natural flow ways.
The County is applying for a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grant with the help of our state delegation. They want a more robust pumping system, property acquisition of low-lying homes, increase retention pond capacity, and to raise the level of the roads.
The County staff recommends that 13 homes out of the 54 “at risk” be acquired. They also will have a new pumping station with generator so that even in a hurricane, it would continue working. The elevation of homes onto stilts is a 25/75 match. To do so, you would need to have sewer. It is estimated to cost $100,000 per home. This may be OK for Sewall’s Point, but at the price point of these homes, it would not be economical.
The Commission kept speaking about the CARES Act money, but this flooding problem is no more relative to COVID that to Christmas. A motion was made for staff to continue working toward their recommendations including perhaps a STA. It was 5-0 vote.
Hetherington asked about sewers and whether SMRU was willing to move ahead. They would if the County obtains the funds. Ciampi is ready to do all the proposed remedies whether the money comes from the state and grants or not. More than $8 million dollars is what he is proposing. I do not think our tax dollars should go to purchase properties that flood.
I have no problem with paying for sewers. I have no problem with figuring out a pumping system to move water away. I have a big problem spending tax dollars as if Martin County is an insurance company. We are supposedly a bastion of Republican Conservatives. Show me where an action like that is part of the dogma.
ST LUCIE AND WATER UPDATE
John Maehl gave an update on the St. Lucie and waterways including the Indian River Lagoon South. It was interesting and shows the progress we are making. As Commissioner Heard stated, we need to keep up the pressure.
The presentation can be found here
Martin County Latest News From The July 9, 2020 Edition
SPECIAL MEETING JULY 2, 2020
As with all special COVID meetings this one started with an update from Cleveland Clinic. The positivity rate for Martin County on July 8th is 13.3% that is one of the highest in Florida. When people say that the number of cases is rising because of more testing this number debunks that statement. The positivity rate is a constant number regardless of the number of tests.
If you test 100 people if the number of positives come back at 12 then the positivity rate is 12. The positivity rate will remain the same if you test a 1000 people, 120 of them will come back as positive. That is a good number to keep in mind when judging the severity of the outbreak. The number of people that have had it in the past is not that important to tracking the future.
Total cases from the beginning is not an indicator of the future. The trend lines are important. If the number of cases is increasing from week to week then the virus is far from contained. Lastly how many hospital beds does our system have to deal with the patients who need care.
In each instance those trends are not good. Martin County cases are increasing exponentially. If the number of cases continue rising, we will not be able to contain the spread no matter what we do. Those are the facts.
The specific item of the day was if the Commission was going to mandate the wearing of masks in public. It was a day with perhaps 50 public speakers in person and 250 email comments that were read into the record. Smith would later say that he counted the pro and con being equal with all public comment. The people in person were not in favor of mandating masks. While those that sent an email were.
Mike Meier, the current Mayor of Stuart, was the first to speak. He was given that courtesy because he was the Mayor. He announced his title, but he was not speaking in an official capacity. The Commission did not authorize him to speak on the City’s behalf. Meier was in favor of masks. At the last City Commission meeting he tried to have a similar mandatory order passed. The Commission was not interested.
There were some ludicrous comments made. Nothing was more so than when the owner of Kyle G’s equated wearing a mask to Jews wearing the Star of David under the Nazis. That was just an ignorant repugnant remark. Others cited fabled Facebook studies as their sources of not wanting to wear a mask. The U.S. Constitution was a favored source of those that equated freedom with a mask requirement.
I do not think I heard one medical professional speak or write that did not believe that wearing a mask would not help to prevent the spread of the disease. As to whether something as trivial as requiring a mask is constitutional, the answer is yes. Florida through its police power has the authority to quarantine an infected person to protect the public health. A mask does not even come close to stretching that authority.
One other concern by people is if they were wearing a mask, they would be in violation of the concealed carry law. The answer according to the Sheriff is no. If you were in the process of committing a crime using a firearm and wearing a mask, then the answer is yes. But that would be true whether you had a concealed carry permit or not. Anytime you are using a mask, a bandanna, or other object to conceal your identity during the commission of any crime it is illegal under Section 876.12-15. Section 876-155 gives the applicability of the law and the exceptions under 876.16. All can be found here
In other words, you can carry your piece and be masked during the emergency.
Currently the governor has decided not to use a statewide order but rather leave it up to individual counties. Counties are political subdivisions of the state. Therefore, since Martin is a non-chartered county its government must conform to statute when creating ordinances and orders.
After 10 hours of public comment it was time for staff and the Commission to discuss. Sarah Woods explained the constitutionality of being able to require a mask. It has been upheld in both Florida and federal courts in the last several weeks. The emergency order was both thorough and completely legal.
For the past, several months most of the County’s COVID-19 response has been governed by state statute and its Emergency Management Ordinance. State statute gives the County the ability to issue emergency orders pursuant to the provisions of their Emergency Management Ordinance. For example, the Commission passed an ordinance to require food service employees to wear a mask. The enforcement rests with the Sheriff. It is a 2nd degree misdemeanor if found guilty with a $500 fine and has a possible sentence of 60 days.
Local governments cannot pass criminal ordinances. They can pass civil ordinances that would require adjudication before a local civil magistrate. The fine can carry a maximum of $500. The ability of the County to use the authority of an emergency leaves the County no choice but a criminal violation.
This is what was objected to by Hetherington, Smith, and Jenkins. If they had passed an emergency order, then they do not have the ability to impose a non-criminal violation. That is why by a vote of 2-3 the motion to pass such an order failed. The motion was made by Commissioner Heard and seconded by Ciampi.
Woods kept saying she would write in a provision stating that no jail time was being asked and that at most the $500 penalty would be imposed. I am very dubious and could not find anywhere in Florida statute that a judge would have to abide by that when sentencing. Even if the judge found the person guilty and imposed no fine or jail time that person would still be convicted of a 2nd degree misdemeanor. I think masks should be mandatory, but I could not vote in favor of the possibility of someone being convicted of a crime.
Smith made a motion for staff to come back next Tuesday with a plan to amend the Emergency Ordinance that was seconded by Jenkins after he passed the gavel. It passed 3-2 with Heard and Ciampi dissenting.
But there is another alternative that they could have tried. They have the ability with a super majority vote of 4 agreeing to have an emergency ordinance that would have required face masks. There would have been no need for advertising or for two readings. It would be enforced by Code Enforcement. If the Commission so desired, they could also give the authority for enforcement to the Sheriff.
There may be two reasons why at this point an emergency ordinance will not stand up to a legal challenge. One the County has been debating this for several weeks now. Can it clearly be an emergency subject to Florida Statute 125.66. The second reason is that there are many cases that allows the County to proceed under the emergency order. I could not find any court decisions under an emergency ordinance.
The statute can be found here
The beaches were closed by an emergency order for the July 4th weekend. Hetherington made a motion seconded by Smith to allow them to remain open for Martin County residents. It failed 2-3 with Ciampi, Heard and Jenkins dissenting. Once again, I believe we are incapable of even sacrificing a few days at the beach without turning it into a great tragedy. Can we have a small amount of perspective.
Lastly the Commission after sitting through 4 hours of having staff read email comments today decided unanimously to have them become part of the record but not read them into the record going forward.
COUNTY WORKSHOP JULY 7, 2020
For some very odd reason the County did not carry this meeting on MCTV. Why is a mystery. People who believe in conspiracy theories may think it was an attempt to keep secret all that was being discussed regarding Hobe Sound. It was unusual.
I do not quite understand why they are so averse to using their TV station to have as many people as possible watch the meetings. It is true that it was on Zoom and that is where I finally found it 45 minutes after the meeting started.
On all levels, it is if governments are trying to arouse suspicion by ordinary citizens on what they are doing. If you are going to have all these meetings, then make them available to the broadest number of people.
The workshop was to discuss what to do with the homes that were flooded by the torrential rains on Memorial Day in Hobe Sound. It appeared that a dose of reality crept into Commission thinking after they left last time promising to buy out the affected homeowners.
It was brought to their attention by staff that the Commission would have to use an independent appraiser’s post storm value for the home. If a kitchen, bath, and walls have been torn out then the home is probably not worth as much as before.
There is also the possibility of eminent domain, but I think ultimately that would be difficult to have a judge rule that there were adequate grounds. I think statute does not say that a reason for the state to take property is to help a homeowner buying in the wrong location. Besides an appraisal is necessary with the same limitations as above.
Ciampi mentioned maybe the homes can be elevated. That would seem like a good idea, but a homeowner said what about the septic system once the home is elevated. It really is a tragedy what happened in that community. Perhaps there is a state responsibility to those property owners or even a federal one. I do not understand local government’s responsibility.
Ciampi was touting this as perhaps a pilot project for the entire County. Again, if you lead with your heart every resident’s problem becomes a government problem. Are we going to do this in Jensen and Palm City? How many homes do we buy or elevate? And what has really been accomplished? Would you buy one of these homes that need to be raised? Someone said that her home was built in 1951. 70 years is a long time standing in this area if it is so prone to flooding.
The only possible government program is the building of sewers for storm water and sanitary in this area and eventually every area in eastern Martin County. There needs to be better drainage with retention ponds and outflows. Going forward before new development it should be mandatory that the County obtains independent engineering study done at the applicant’s expense.
Here is the rub about sewers. This area is in SMRU’s district. It is the utility owned by Jupiter Island. What happens if the Town does not want to bring a line, then what? Smith and Ciampi want the right to have it transferred to the County’s service area. Martin County especially in the eastern half of the County needs to move to sewers and to require everyone to hook up within a couple of years once the line is in front of the property regardless of how good your septic system is. Now you only must hook up after your septic fails. I confirmed the County’s current policy this week with the head of the department.
The best thing the County can do for these homeowners and every homeowner is make sure water, sanitary and storm sewers are available to every property owner. Then they need to bring the cost of hook up to a more reasonable amount so that someone that has a $150,000 home does not spend thousands.
Commissioners stop dreaming and get practical…please.
To see staff’s presentation
SPECIAL MEETING JULY 7, 2020
Once again, the great mask debate resumed at 1:30 pm.
The first 45 minutes of the meeting was devoted to procedural votes on why an emergency ordinance was necessary. A super majority vote was needed to have (4 out of 5 Commissioners) open the public hearing to vote on an emergency ordinance. Smith made that motion which was seconded by Ciampi. The Commission voted unanimously.
Next the Commission voted 5-0 to change their emergency management ordinance to name the County Administrator as the person to sign emergency orders and to provide for civil penalties.
The Commission then had a few other administrative votes before moving on the mask ordinance. The reason for the ordinance instead of the order was because the order carries the possibility of someone being charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor if found guilty of a violation. Jenkins, Smith, and Hetherington would not vote to pass a mandatory mask requirement if that were the case.
Then followed several hours of public comment. It was like what transpired from their meeting last week. Only it became even more virulent on both sides of the argument. Some speakers presented their arguments in a reasonable manner. Many did not. I was especially taken aback by medical doctors shouting at people to be quiet.
The lack of civility was palatable in the room. This uncivil attitude is not only in Martin County but throughout the United States. As the economic, societal, and medical conditions worsen in the coming months the way we handle our predicament will determine how fast our problems are solved. So far it has not been encouraging.
After several hours of speakers, the Commission then discussed the ordinance. Heard made a motion to approve the ordinance which was seconded by Ciampi. Hetherington asked several questions about different sections. Smith spoke of his family’s discussions regarding his mother. Jenkins said that he did not trust the experts nor the statistics he was being given. Yet he trusted what his own doctors were telling him and that was to wear a mask.
There were several changes to language including the exemption adding religious organizations in their houses of worship. The vote was 5-0.
The ordinance has plenty of holes and exemptions. Those people who strenuously object will either blatantly not comply or claim one of the many reasons why compliance is not necessary. The ordinance covers the entire county including the municipalities.
The enforcement piece will be like Stuart’s plastic straw ban or much of the state orders concerning COVID that are currently being ignored by businesses and the public. I am all for local control but that is when the problem is local. COVID-19 is not just something facing Martin County. It is facing the entire country. The failure of the national and state governments to institute a policy has resulted in this masquerade of a solution.
The ordinance sunsets on August 9th. The Commission did not give their plan enough time to prove whether masks work or not. In about three weeks, a shorter time span than the amount time they have been contemplating masks, they will get to do it all over again.
The entire ordinance which includes the exceptions can be found here
Martin County Latest News From The June 28, 2020 Edition
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
Martin County Latest News From The June 14, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 2, 2020
During Commissioner comments, Ciampi was ready to go. Apparently, he had heard from his interest groups, and he was not going to wait until later to move things along.
The first motion was to allow 2 people to share a golf cart whether they were from the same household or not. Currently, only those who live in the same home can do so. The County Attorney, Sarah Woods, stated that it would be easier just to rescind the emergency order covering that. Ciampi changed his motion it was seconded by Hetherington after she wanted to make sure there was social distancing. Riding in a golf cart with someone precludes the social distancing.
Heard went on to provide all the evidence showing how numbers are rising. I agree with Commissioner Heard, but I am afraid she has lost that fight. As of June 12th, when I am writing this, the number of new Martin County cases is 62, the highest on the dashboard. There are also 16 deaths recorded. Of the 1020 confirmed cases, 109 have been hospitalized. That is 1 out of 10 Martin County residents that are confirmed will spend some time in the hospital.
There is no way that we are going back to any restrictions, and whatever is left will be gone by the end of the month. And by then America will have lost 135,000 people…the most of any nation.
The vote was 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
The moving of the fairgrounds to Indiantown was supposed to occur before the next fair. Lo and behold, that is not going to occur now. Because of the economy and Covid-19, the independent board that will sign the lease with the County could not raise the money (at least that was the official line) that the agreement stipulates.
Ciampi made a motion to push back the dates another year. That means the fair will be held in Stuart next year. However, the independent fair board will be able to take advantage of clearing the land etc., since much of that is donated. The motion passed 5-0.
Another Martin County extravaganza is planned for the new fairgrounds. Millions and millions will have to be raised to make it happen. Yet time and time again, it never materializes. I predict that the County will do most of what is needed in order to move the fair. Much of it they already committed to do, such as water and driveway improvements.
How long do you allow the Stuart location to be tied up? At some point, that land needs to be sold for other things to happen. I just hope I am alive to see it.
At the last meeting Commissioner Hetherington asked that representatives from the City of Stuart appear and present their development plans. It sounded like an imperial command. If I were still a Stuart official, I would have said no, no, NO! That is not the way to foster good intergovernmental relations.
Mayor Meier began by looking up to the stage where the County Commission reigned over the City. While not quite a supplicant, Meier did not appear their equal, which is what he is. After a few remarks about working together, Meier then said something that rang true.
The City is doing infill projects and small ones at that. Meier believes in the concept of new urbanism. What many do not quite understand is land and construction costs, especially within the City, demand that there be density. The alternative is what Heard would say is sprawl. Secondarily, many of our workers and young people cannot afford the down payment on a home. Apartment living gives them an opportunity.
Kev Freeman, Stuart Development Director, did a fairly good job though he brought along the wrong slides for one project. He is knowledgeable and well versed. I thought he could be more forceful when some Commissioners treated him as if he still worked at the County.
Freeman presented four projects in various stages of development which are on the border of unincorporated Martin County. If all are, built there will be 806 new apartments and 80 townhomes with a total density of 16.5 units per acre. That is not exactly big-city standards.
Heard kept saying that the roads are too congested for anything. My answer would be that is why there are impact fees collected by the County. How about they actually spend that money on the roads surrounding these projects? Unincorporated Martin County will receive millions in new tax revenue for these Stuart projects. And as everyone likes to say, City residents are also County residents, so how about a few dollars in road projects if traffic is impacted.
Both Heard and Smith were concerned where traffic lights are to be located in conjunction with the projects. That is a valid concern. It is for the Stuart Commissioners also. But neither the County nor the City control the placement of traffic lights. That is FDOT’s responsibility currently. It appears that FDOT will not approve a light in anticipation of greater volume and will consider one only after the congestion occurs…and then it is many years in the future before it is installed. If you wait for the traffic light to be approved, then you would never build anything else ever again.
Hetherington, whose summons started all this, was really interested in information. Unfortunately, she is not yet savvy enough to know that this was nothing more than a political opportunity for two Commissioners. Ciampi made it known that he was appreciative and more agreed with the City’s strategy of providing a variety of housing. Jenkins said only thank you.
Smith was especially galling when he insinuated that the townhouses being proposed on Ocean next to Kingswood were only two stories because of it being surrounded by City residents while other projects are three and four stories because they have unincorporated Martin County neighbors. That is ridiculous. The buildings are only two stories because the developer proposed that they be two stories. Projects are designed by individual developers not staff.
Dyess who said very little, unfortunately, stated that the City has a land mass of 6.5 sq. miles and has grown by 2.4 sq. miles in the past 30 years. He should have gone on to say that Martin County has grown by thousands of new residents in the same time frame while Stuart’s population has changed by a couple of hundred. But again, it was a summons and so Stuart’s representatives just stood there. City Commissioners Matheson and Bruner were in the audience and said nothing.
This could have been a valuable exercise if it had been done more in the spirit of collaboration. Having County Commissioners sitting on a stage and grilling Stuart staff is insulting. More could have been accomplished in a workshop setting around a table where Freeman would make his presentation and then the County would make a presentation of their projects that may affect the City.
And I do not mean a workshop like those completely useless meetings of the School Board, City, Indiantown, and the County. Those are too big and unwieldy. I know this cannot legally happen, but attendance should be the Stuart Commissioners Bruner, Matheson and Meier combined with County Commissioners Jenkins, Hetherington and Ciampi. Then, true cooperation would be possible in development projects. But that would require checking political grandstanding at the door. It is hard for the lifers to do that. Which results in extraordinarily little progress in cooperation being made.
SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT WAS ANGRY
Laurie Gaylord was angry. She felt that the BOCC was a little too imperial last Friday at their special meeting when they were goaded into sending a letter to the School District stating the BOCC wanted to know why schools weren’t being used this summer. Gaylord went on to state that she never said that she would not be opening the schools for hurricane shelters. Further, the portables that were mentioned were rentals and they would be going back to the rental company.
Gaylord wanted to know if the BOCC is going to rescind asking the School Board to operate under their policy 7510 which is an emergency declaration. Woods said they are not invoking anything under Florida Statute 252 which pertains to the opening of schools in hurricanes.
Commissioners hemmed and hawed and said maybe it would have been better if they had reached out to the School District instead of relying on the speakers for accuracy. That probably would have been a good idea. The County Commission, in this case as in the Stuart summons, acted with hubris. They demanded answers of two independent local authorities as if they reported to them.
They rescinded the letter about any takeover, and in Ms. Gaylord’s case, ate a little crow.
BIG MOUND PARK AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM
When the County turned over Big Mound Park to Indiantown, the County was going to run the program until Indiantown was credentialed. I believed the continuation of that program was necessary as a condition of receiving those parks. According to Commissioner Hetherington’s recollection, the Town Manager specifically said they would continue the program. That apparently was then and not now.
Kevin Abate, the County’s Parks and Recreation Director, wants to discontinue the County running it and return the unused grant money to the Children’s Service Council. It is disappointing that Indiantown, which was so anxious to assume the parks, does not want to continue with a long-standing program that has been around for decades. The County is doing the right thing since they no longer own the parks nor receive the MSTU from Indiantown taxpayers to maintain the parks and their programs.
Commissioners wanted to know whether the Village had been notified that the County would terminate their involvement. Kryzda answered yes. Jenkins believed that even though assurances were made by the Village, it was a Village issue. Heard said she had the same recollection as Hetherington’s. Hetherington said that she felt misled by the Village Manager.
A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Heard to terminate the program. It passed 5-0.
SAILFISH WATER PARK REOPENING
Abate proposed a detailed plan to open the park in the coming weekend. The plan was as good as it can be. There will be no more than 50% occupancy with 806 guests. It will employ 136 people. And it is in line with everything else that is being opened. This, of course, is even as our Covid cases are climbing every day.
Heard was skeptical and, in my opinion, right that this should not be reopened. Yet when the great majority of people are intent on believing that the virus will not be life-threatening if they catch it or completely disregard that it is even around, then you have lost the battle. You cannot protect people from themselves.
The motion to reopen passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
You can find the reopening protocols HERE
SPECIAL MEETING JUNE 12 2020
This COVID-19 special meeting had a somber tone. The medium age of virus victims is 39 in Martin County. Why our numbers are jumping is not because of increased testing. Our percentage of positives to negatives are higher than St. Lucie and Indian River Counties. We have more cases than the other counties combined.
Rob Lord of Cleveland Clinic stated that there are alarming trends and hospitalizations are rising exponentially. When we were shutdown, there were 9 people in the hospital. Once Phase 1 began the hospitalization rate was in the low 20s. This past two weeks, it went from 21 to 47. Hospital stays with the virus are 25 to 30 days.
It is simple. Our behavior needs to change, or the disease will continue to grow. We need to wash our hands, wear a face mask, and practice social distancing. If we do not do this, our economy will not get better and we will continue to see skyrocketing cases. Lord said this is not political but medical. We need to listen to the medical experts. Transmission is not happening in the hospitals.
Cleveland Clinic is using plasma therapy, Remdesivir, biologicals and other therapies to treat COVID patients in the hospital. If our population continues this same path, our numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths will grow exponentially.
Ciampi tried to motion for the wearing of masks in food service and when retail workers are near customers. Heard was listening but Jenkins and Smith were not. Hetherington was not at the meeting. The best he could accomplish was that staff would work on a policy to be brought back at the next meeting.
We are never going to close our economy again. Just because we are opening, it does not mean that we have a vaccine or a cure for the virus. Nothing has changed since February as far as the disease. Those that think it is over are sadly mistaken.
Martin County Latest News From The May 31, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 19, 2020
Commissioner Smith moved to open Hobe Sound Beach. Chair Jenkins wanted to remove the caveat that all beaches be open only to Martin County residents. Now that Palm Beach County has reopened their beaches, he felt no need to keep that restriction. County Attorney Sarah Woods stated it would be easier just to repeal the emergency order.
Commissioner Heard did not support opening the beaches to non-Martin County residents. She thinks that we need to be vigilant still. Administrator Kryzda stated that the control would be in strictly enforcing the parking rules. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
The Jupiter Island Commission had passed a new interlocal agreement with the County regarding using the Town Hall lot on weekends and holidays. It is explained more fully under the Jupiter Island section. Smith moved to accept with Ciampi as second. It passed 5-0.
Smith moved to open the skate parks. It was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
At the last meeting Commissioner Heard voted to allow organized sports to resume in the County’s parks. It appeared to me that position was contrary to her stance on reopening in general. After the meeting I sent her an email asking why she had in fact voted yes. Her reply did not reach me in time to be included in the last newsletter. Here it is below:
Sorry I’m too late, Tom. You’re right. I should have voted against league play. It’s a reckless proposal.
Unfortunately just published….I will add this in the next one.
She wrote back:
I’m going to ask to reconsider my vote at our BCC meeting tomorrow. Thanks.
And she did ask! Her fellow Commissioners extended the courtesy and the vote on league play is now 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
SHORT TERM RENTALS
Nerissa Okiye, the Tourism Director, has put together a plan to reopen short term rentals. The governor has issued a directive that counties may do so after submitting a plan to the state for approval. She has put together that plan, and it is like many others in the state. There would be no international rental or from domestic hot spots.
There is a weekly report that must be filed. There are other requirements. She spoke with the two largest short-term rental companies. For remember, this business is no longer grandma renting out a room for extra cash. This is big business. Smith was very skeptical about how it was to be policed.
The state has ended local control of whether these type rentals should be allowed or not in jurisdictions. In this case, the governor has given localities much greater latitude than during normal times. Smith did not seem to have concern about how hotels are policing people from other areas. It would seem to me Florida needs to decide whether tourism in all forms should reopen or not. If I can check into the Hampton Inn when I come from any place, I should be able to rent your house. I do not know how one is less safe than the other.
If your goal is to stop transmission of the virus, then nothing should be open. I think we should have a little consistency. In politics, that is not usual. Whether you agree with her or not, Sarah Heard is consistent when it comes to COVID-19. She believes you will not slow transmission if you open things.
A motion was made by Smith to send the policy to Tallahassee for approval. It was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
It has now been approved by Tallahassee. You can see the policy here
During her comments, Commissioner Hetherington wanted to know whether any progress had been made regarding Zoom or another interactive mode for the public to use during Commission meetings. Stuart, Indiantown, School District and Sewall’s Point have been using this technology to hold either hybrid or virtual meetings. This has allowed the public to participate in real time.
County Administrator Kryzda has said that they were exploring, and they would try by the next meeting to implement it. This technology should now become standard even after the pandemic leaves. It allows citizens to give public comment in real time from wherever they are. This is invaluable. Staff may want to let this slip. Elected officials, do not let this happen!
The weekly Friday special meetings were cut back to those weeks when there is not a regularly scheduled Commission meeting. While Heard believed they served a purpose, the rest thought it was no longer necessary. A compromise was struck, and it was agreed that one meeting a week would suffice. Therefore, these special meetings would continue on the weeks when no Commission meeting happened.
As we have seen, the dashboard was pulled because the information contained was not all inclusive. Positive and negative test results were not reported simultaneously. Without some consistency, statistics are not giving a true picture. That was always the problem.
Ciampi once again brought up that all food handlers should be required to wear masks. He made a motion that was seconded by Heard. Smith stated that 99% were wearing masks (at least in the restaurants he has visited), and apparently, he eats out many times per week. Hetherington believes in using education. Jenkins said he would walk out if an employee was not wearing one.
Then Hetherington said something that made sense for not making it a requirement because the Sheriff would not enforce it. She is right that there is no reason to pass something that no one will enforce. It is too bad that, in general, we are truly short sighted. The motion failed with Jenkins, Smith, and Hetherington dissenting.
At the last meeting, the Corps and SFWMD made presentations. This time, it was a presentation regarding the Loxahatchee River in South County, and it was just as good as the two previous ones.
A couple of interesting factoids. One, the river is the last natural flowing one in Florida. The second is that Martin County has restored 10,000 acres of wetland habitat. It is fascinating and the presentation is well worth the look. Here is the link
CIP & GOLF COURSE
This was known as the workshop portion of the meeting. Before COVID-19 it was projected that the CIP ad valorem budget would increase by a little over $800,000. Because of the impact of our 2020 Depression, the CIP budget will fall by $2,357,000. That means there will be a shortfall of $3,100,000 from a couple of months ago.
This is not startling information. The Depression of 2020 (we are just beginning to feel the pain) will have severe ramifications on property values and tax collection. This will only worsen for governments during the next two years because of the timing of tax collection and when values are determined and implemented. Some may be partying like it is over, but we are far from through.
The entire proposed CIP budget is not yet on the County’s website. What is available was the County’s overview presentation. It can be found here
The “monster that ate our taxes” of this year’s budget is…big surprise…the Golf Course Clubhouse!
If you remember when this topic was discussed last, the BOCC decided to borrow $5,500,000 to refurbish the Course and buildings. Apparently the “Top Golf” like attraction may not be the money maker that only syaff imagined it would be. Blame it on social distancing. The department’s director, Kevin Abate, says he needs another $2,000,000 to build the clubhouse and finish up. You may ask how this overrun happened in a year? Well, you know how things can happen.
Smith and Ciampi are looking to move forward. Hetherington is looking to have it bid now before costs further increase. Since they have not even finished the design work, there is no firm numbers just estimates (sound familiar). A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Ciampi to finish design and bring back estimates. It passed 5-0.
If this moves forward, it has nothing to do with a better golf experience. The $5.5 million was already borrowed. That is the amount that staff said was needed. To complete this will mean that the County will either borrow more which will increase debt service or take it from somewhere else in a CIP budget which is already down $3 million from an earlier estimate. I guess no need to pave that road or put in new sewer there.
Beside Heard, who else will be voting no? Maybe one or, even more unlikely, two others. This is just one more example of our “exceptionalism.” We cannot just have a place to play a round of golf. It must include a spectacular event space. Why does the County government needs to compete with the private sector and build a “Top Golf”. Has it ever occurred to any Commissioner that something like Top Golf would be built by the private sector if they thought they could make money?
For what it cost to build and maintain our own water park, we could have built community pools in the CRAs for kids to go swimming…free. Martin County cannot decide whether it is a business or a government, and because of that, it sometimes does the governing part badly but always fails at the business part.
And, yet there are three Commission seats up for election, and so far, no one even has an opponent. If you complain about taxes and do nothing else, then there is no fear of the voter by the Commission. There is only useless chatter about how they are watching your tax money. And then everyone has a big laugh afterwards.
SPECIAL COVID MEETING MAY 29, 2020
Since it is a Covid-19 meeting let us start with Cleveland Clinic’s Rob Lord’s report.
The growth rate this week was 2.6% which is a good sign. We have now surpassed St. Lucie County in the number of confirmed cases, perhaps a bad sign. That is probably due to the increased testing that we have done in the past month. On April 29th, the day before the governor reopened the state in Phase 1 there were 5 patients in the hospital. Today there is 16. That is a bad sign.
There have only been 9 deaths. Mr. Lord stated that Cleveland Clinic since assuming Martin Health has brought in a great ICU team. When you are hospitalized with this disease you are very sick. The care you receive while in the hospital is important.
This is a debilitating disease. The virus may leave you with secondary problems that become chronic conditions and ailments. Lung and kidney disease may be with you forever. This is not the flu.
The County website Friday night posted that cumulatively there had been 601 confirmed cases and 74 hospitalizations.
ECONOMICS & CHILD CARE
Both the Business Development Board and the Economic Council gave presentations. The BDB touted their brochure which I highlighted in the News & Views Section. The Economic Council’s Ted Astolfi had David Heaton from the Children’s Services Council speak about what they are doing to make sure that enough space is provided for summer programs.
Astolfi then came up and said that 8000 Martin County citizens are currently unemployed. It will be impossible for these people to go back to work if summer programs are not opened. Because of the social distancing requirements only nine children and one staff member can be in a room at any one time. The availability of enough space is what is holding back these programs.
The greatest amount of space that is available and ideal are in the schools. They have facilities necessary to allow these social distancing guidelines to be followed. Astolfi is correct these buildings exist. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure that the people already own. Why should they be closed to our community?
Astolfi gave an example that the School District wanted to charge the Boys & Girls Club $18,000 rent for the portables on the old high school site and then $70,000 for the removal of those buildings. He also states that at a chamber meeting, Gaylord said that the schools would not be hurricane shelters this season. Both Taryn Kryzda and Sarah Woods emphatically said that was not true. Not only does the County have an interlocal agreement with the Board but also it is in statute that the schools act as shelters.
Ciampi made a motion to have a letter written formally requesting that the schools be made available for programs with copies to the governor and legislators. It was seconded by Smith and passed 4-0. Jenkins was absent.
Now comes the boondoggle part of the economics lecture.
Martin County has 5 Chambers of Commerce, the Economic Council, and the tax supported Business Development Board to the tune of $450,000 per year. There are also state organizations such as the Department of Economic Opportunity that provides grants. Yet our data driven private and semi-private friends want the County to hire a national firm to do a survey to determine what we, the public, think about issues. They are going to segment the responses by age.
I remember when Anne Scott was a Commissioner. She was criticized for never wanting to do anything without hiring a consultant. This reminds me of the same thing. For just a little while it seemed that Martin County would hold down spending with the three new Commissioners that were elected beginning 4 years ago. I am not sure that will occur. This is one more waste of dollars. Who are the experts going to survey, I bet mostly the people who are at the chambers and Economic Council?
Our growth industries are assisted living facilities and self-storage units. Martin County’s best paying jobs are non-profit CEOs and government employees. Maybe the Commission can fund a new organization for Non-profit CEOs and their economic development. What the heck that is the real driver of economic development in Martin County.
Martin County Latest News From The May 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 5, 2020
There was not a dry eye in the house as Martin County government said goodbye to Nicki van Vonno, Growth Management Director. After 32 years with the County (20 years of which she was the Director), she is retiring from her job. It is an amazing accomplishment.
Amazing because she had to have had the toughest job in the County. Nicki was beat up by developers, builders, Commissioners, no growth enthusiasts, and all that thought they should receive favors or for any other reason imaginable. Martin County policies could change with different Commissioners being elected. She would have to swing from pro to anti and then back again depending on the direction of the Board.
She will be missed.
SFWMD & CORPS PRESENTATIONS
At least when they speak, representatives of South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers sound as if there is harmony between the two agencies and everyone else. Which goes to prove that if you have money, you can get things done. The President’s budget has $250 million in it this year after a record setting $200 million last. Much of the credit goes to the governor and Congressman Mast for making sure we did not fall by the wayside.
Both Commissioners Heard and Smith have an amazing amount of knowledge about our water projects. That is one good thing about being there forever…a great recollection of what has been done previously and how the different pieces come together.
There were a couple of tidbits that I thought interesting. Every foot less in the lake translates into 430,000-acre feet of water or 140,116,115,712 gallons of water. So, keeping the level at about 11.5 feet going into the wet season instead of 12.5 feet where at that level there would be releases saves that amount of water flowing down the St. Lucie and into the Indian River Lagoon.
There is still much to be done. It is not only about us that are on the St. Lucie. The Lake provides irrigation and drinking water for the EAA and Palm Beach County. There are many constituencies that need to be satisfied. Just as we did not want to be ignored neither do the people and interests north and south of the lake.
There was some good momentum started when the Commission wanted to have a working group so that the School Board and the municipalities can know what Martin County is doing. It may have gotten sidetracked with the pandemic, but we cannot forget it. I urge the Commission to follow through and not forget.
The Army Corps and the SFWMD presentations that do complement each other can be found Here
A new Publix is being built at Kanner and Pratt Whitney Road.
These are two commercial roadways. The proposed Publix site is one parcel but has two designations both agriculture and commercial. Logically, it should only have one. There is already enough residential development that will support a supermarket being built there. The USB will be extended 599 feet to cover the entire property.
Anytime that a piece of property is developed, we need to ask ourselves whether the public is being served. In this case, they are. The area already has several developments. If you want to stop sprawl, stop having endless suburban homes being developed without planned commercial development. Now the people living there must drive miles to buy groceries, and that is not exactly good planning.
A motion was made by Smith that was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
To see the Presentation
For some time, the City of Stuart has allowed registered golf carts to be driven on City streets. It was an idea that seemed like a no-brainer at the time it was enacted. I would have thought more people would have taken advantage of the ability to do so. Unfortunately, not too many have done so.
I think one of the reasons I have not bought a cart is because it is unclear whether I could drive my cart across Federal Highway to go downtown from my home. Perhaps that worry may be a thing of the past soon.
The County is looking into designating “golf cart communities” in the unincorporated areas so that it would be possible to use golf carts throughout Martin and then to cross County roads to go shopping, etc.
You still would not be able to drive on roads that have speed limits of more than 35 MPH. If you lived in Palm City, you could cross Martin Highway and get to the other side. I would assume that the County ordinance will be like Stuart’s and require insurance, brake lights and other safety features.
Many of us confuse Golf Carts with what are known as Low Speed Vehicles. Think of a tricked-out golf cart that has things like windshields, lights, and seat belts. They can go no more than 25 miles per hour. The vehicles are registered and insured just like a car. They can cross any road but cannot be driven on roads with speed limits of greater than 35 miles per hour.
This was discussed at the meeting. There seemed to be clear direction to bring back an ordinance to allow for golf cart communities throughout the County. It would seem to me both type of vehicles would be great options for residents to have. In some instances, it may negate the need for that second car for families. I hope the County can seriously move forward with this and not get bogged down as sometimes happens.
The County’s presentation can be found Here
Stuart’s current rules, state statute on slow moving vehicles and golf carts can be found Here
The Board is looking for re authorization to grant tax relief to certain businesses to locate in Martin County. It is being pushed by the Business Development Board as an arrow in the quiver or a tool in the toolbox (and any other tired metaphor) to take tax dollars from one taxpayer and give it to another. A tired gimmick that has not been used very effectively or very frequently in the past. So why should it continue?
Study after study have proven that these gimmicks just are corporate welfare. If government spent that money on schools, roads, parks…all the things that make communities attractive… companies are more likely to locate. The business of government is not business. It is to provide good government. When you conflate the two, you get no business and bad government.
I do not want my tax dollars going to subsidize a rival company. I do not want my tax dollars being spent on anything but the functions of government. When will our elected officials stop playing make believe games and do what we put them in office to do? It was not to pick economic winners and losers. I urge you to vote no on this referendum question.
The draft resolution can be found Here
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MAY 8, 2020
The Sheriff reported on compliance. He said restaurants had not been a big challenge. The beaches were extremely busy with 60% of the users being from out of the County. Boat ramps and sand bars were used very heavily. It is impossible to enforce social distancing at the sand bars. Snyder said it was just not practical.
A motion was made to use outdoor parking areas for dining. Restaurants can put up tents. Hetherington wanted to make sure that fees were waived. Smith says that the businesses will figure it all out. It passed 5-0
The owner of the Jensen Beach bowling alley again made a pitch to be reopened. The decision about which businesses can be reopened are up to the governor. The Commission can only make regulations more stringent. Ciampi made a motion to send a letter to the governor and state representatives regarding reopening. Smith seconded it passed 5-0
Ciampi made a motion to open the batting cages in the parks. It was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 5-0. Ciampi made a motion to open playgrounds that was seconded by Hetherington. The motion passed 4-1 with Smith dissenting. A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Ciampi to open the splash pads. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. All the motions are based on the social distancing guidelines being used.
BEACHES OPEN FOR MARTIN
For a couple of months now, every time a Commissioner wanted to restrict beach access to Martin County residents, the County Attorney said because the County takes federal and state dollars for re-nourishment and other beach programs, the beaches must remain open to all.
Change of plans! Ms. Woods reached out to the state and feds and received no formal replies. To our south is Florida’s Corona hot spot. Nothing has changed in the past few days except that the Commissioners want the beaches only for Martin County residents. The staff legal rationale is that because of the state of emergency, they could do something this week that they could not do last week.
Administrator Kryzda spoke to her counterparts in both Palm Beach and St. Lucie Counties. While they may have concerns, St Lucie’s beaches are already open. Sheriff Snyder said he would set up checkpoints to verify IDs. It was decided that Jupiter Island would remain closed.
Smith wanted to make sure that guests could still use the beaches in front of their hotels. He was assured they could. Snyder said there could be a lawsuit. The Commissioners did not seem overly concerned. That is what tax dollars are for, I guess. A motion was made by Hetherington and seconded by Smith. It passed 5-0.
SPECIAL MEETING MAY 15, 2020
Rob Lord of Cleveland Clinic gave a presentation to the Commission.
The hospital is now allowing one visitor per patient per stay. It seems that people, who are ill, are not coming to the hospital. They are allowing emergency situations to become worse for fear of the virus. At present COVID patients are on one ward. People should not ignore symptoms until it is too late.
Lord went on to say that the supposed herd immunity theory is not the best policy. It is estimated for COVID-19 that 70% of the population would need to have had the virus to have enough protection for the entire population. Cleveland Clinic estimates that 2% have been exposed. By the time 70% would contract the disease at present rates it would take years. That is not to mention the death rate and medical facilities being overrun. We still do not know how much immunity is conferred on the individual once you have had the virus.
WHAT ELSE CAN THEY DO?
Commissioner Heard has seen fewer and fewer people wearing masks and social distancing. She states that according to the statistics we are going in the wrong direction. I agree with Heard. The daily numbers are not re-assuring. She seemed to want mandatory face covering but there was no other Commissioner that was interested.
Taryn Kryzda did not think that anything mandatory could be enforced. Hetherington made the comment to educate and not legislate. I am not so sure that the limited regulations we currently have are any longer going to be tolerated by most of the public. The final determinant will be how much sickness and death can we accept as a society to have a beer at a bar.
BASEBALL & BEACHES
Commissioner Ciampi wanted to open the athletic fields to organized play. He had Mark Rogers from Martin County North Little League there to answer questions. He made a motion to open the fields, but the governor’s order still forbids that from happening. A motion was made by Ciampi to open the fields to all sports as soon as the governor allows. It was seconded by Smith and passed 5-0.
I was surprised Heard did not vote no, considering what she stated earlier. I reached out to her but had not heard back in time to include her answer here.
People do need to take some personal responsibility for their actions. Government can only pass restrictions that the overwhelming majority believe is necessary to keep everyone safe. If more people than not do not want to abide by a law or regulation you cannot enforce it.
It seems to me that we closed the schools for two months to keep kids apart. They were deprived of learning for their physical wellbeing. Here we are ready to allow sports just in time for what would have been the end of the school year. No one can say Martin County does not have their priorities straight.
Since Palm Beach had not decided whether their beaches would be opened, the Commission will wait to see what to do regarding Hobe Sound Beach. They meet again next Tuesday.
Martin County Latest News From The May 3, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 21, 2020
Up until this point, the BOCC had decided not to have any way for people to comment virtually at its meetings. Every Martin County municipality has been using some sort of virtual platform. Sewall’s Point, Jupiter Island and Indiantown are using internet-based platforms exclusively to have their meetings which include staff and members of their boards. There have been very few glitches.
Stuart has the Commissioners convene in the meeting chamber and is using the Flagler Center for any overflow of participants from the Chamber. Comment from those remote attendees can be given through the internet platform. Further, the City will allow comment through Zoom from wherever the speaker is listening and watching on this computer.
The County has not relied on any virtual platform so that the public cannot be heard in “real” time, and public comment cannot be taken unless people appear before the Commission. People can comment by email that is read into the record and as dramatic as the staff readings are it isn’t the same as the constituent in person. Ms. Woods assured the Commissioners that this is what Palm Beach is doing.
Commissioner Heard said that Martin County can do better than the Palm Beach standard. I agree. While Zoom or Webex are not perfect, they allow the public to be part of the meeting. They can comment and see what is being done in their names. It was mentioned by Kryzda that the County is streaming live, having it carried on MCTV, YouTube, and Facebook. Those are passive platforms and the others are interactive. Once the current state of emergency is over, it would be a good idea keep using the interactive platforms to allow comment by the public from anywhere.
Commissioner Hetherington said she wanted to continue the items that were not critical in order to allow public comment. Heard agreed as did Ciampi. The items that the Commission requested to not go forward would be held over until May 5th. The vote was 3-2 in favor with Jenkins and Smith voting not to do so.
Nothing on the agenda that was held was critical. I further believe that both Hetherington and Ciampi will vote in favor of these items when they do come forward. Their reluctance was because of transparency and citizen involvement. I hope by May 5th that people will have the ability to make public comment through one of the virtual platforms. If staff cannot get it together by then, those three Commissioners should be prepared to postpone those items again.
TENNIS RETURNS…AT LEAST FOR SINGLES
By a vote of 4-1 with Smith, dissenting the Commission agreed to open the racket sports (tennis, pickle ball, and racquetball) for single matches only. Frank McChrystal, an advocate, spoke on behalf of doing so similar to what Stuart did. It was the consensus of the Board that the play would be self-regulated. Smith was afraid that the doubles players would be asking next. That is the reason for his no vote.
I do not know whether it should have been approved or not. Sure, they are not breathing on each other, but they are both touching the same ball. Odds are that a tennis player will be fine. If playing singles tennis had anything to do with work or feeding your family, it probably is a very acceptable risk. If it is for recreation, there are plenty of other, less risky, ways to do that.
As we open back up, we as a community will never know whether a likely spike in cases was because of going to work, going shopping, eating at a restaurant, or playing tennis. If it happens and all the experts tell us that it will, we may once again shut our economy down. Perhaps we should concentrate on getting people back to work safely instead of thinking that the most important thing is hitting a ball with either a racket or a golf club.
The County went out for bids to hire a communications firm. Seven firms applied, but only one was a Martin County based firm (Bonny Landry & Associates). The selection committee, which appears to be made up of all County employees, chose the firms of Moore Communications and the M Network at a cost $500,000 for five years.
Hetherington noticed that the scoring sheet had unusual scoring. For each different category, each firm had the same score throughout. The item was on the consent agenda, but she pulled it for discussion. Staff made a feeble attempt to explain how, for example, the M Network received a score of 20 in each category and Moore received 19 in each category with the 5 other companies receiving the same number score in each category.
To see the scoring sheet:
Ciampi wanted to know why no local company bid. Staff tried to explain that none applied. Yet both failed to mention Landry, who is based in Stuart, as a local concern. I think it was more that none of the local “usual suspects” applied.
Hetherington did not see in the contract that there was a communication’s plan. Staff explained that the winning bidder would be tasked to create one as part of the contract. She thought it should be part of the RFP.
Ciampi continued to insist that he would have liked to have seen firms that already knew the County and Commissioners so when needs arose, they would be up to speed. Kryzda noted that, in the past, communication firms who worked for individual Commission candidates could have a conflict. Ciampi felt that it was insignificant. Smith argued that in the early part of the century when Commissioners were more involved, conflicts certainly arose and so he prefers this system.
I believe Smith is correct. This RFP process takes the appearance of conflicts out of the equation. Ciampi is a very loyal person and in the spirit of keeping dollars in Martin County feels locals should have a leg up on the competition. That cannot always be the case especially if the ones you prefer did not apply. The solicitation went out to 298 firms.
Smith made a motion to accept staff recommendation that was seconded by Heard. It passed 3/2 with Hetherington and Ciampi voting no.
I also would have voted no because Hetherington has a point. The scoring just is not right. And the explanation given did not make me want to accept their recommendations. Smith and the others that voted yes also are correct in their belief that perceived conflicts should be avoided. Commissioners should make sure that the selection committee just is not phoning it in. In this case I believe that Hetherington’s concerns outweigh everything else.
Here is something else to consider, why go outside when we have a great way of communicating with the public through MCTV. The County should hire communications people to give us programming. When a need arises, the County can immediately craft a message that other outlets can pick up and use. I think we forget the reason to have a communication plan and a spokesperson is to get information out to Martin County residents. It is not to make staff and Commissioners look good.
The winning proposals as well as the one from a local firm can be found at:
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 24, 2020
Sheriff Snyder began with an update on what had transpired. He stated that the golf courses are mostly compliant. There is a significant number of people trying to use the closed beaches and boat ramps mostly from outside the County. Martin County residents are complying.
Heard, Jenkins and Smith all chimed in that beaches should remain closed until they are opened down south. Smith rightfully thought that there was going to be a prepared plan for the reopening of the county to discuss. He was assured by staff that there would be after the presentations. Sheriff Snyder was requested to stay at the meeting until then.
Cleveland Clinic, Health Department, EOC and the United Way informed the Commission about what they were doing. Vickie Davis, the Supervisor of Elections gave an update on her office including reaching out to expand those that vote by mail. David Heaton from the Children’s Services Council also spoke regarding what they were doing. CSC he said is in for the long haul and will next concentrate on making sure enough protective garb is provided once all day care and other programs are opened.
Assistant County Administrator George Stokus outlined a plan for reopening the County using federal and state guidelines. While the federal government has issued 5 factors that need to happen before opening, Governor DeSantis has not yet announced anything. His order will probably occur early next week. In the past, the governor has issued minimum standards and then allowed local government to craft more stringent requirements.
Both Indian River and St. Lucie Counties will be opening their beaches. Indian River will have recreation only with no coolers or sitting. St. Lucie will open without restrictions. Palm Beach County, at present, is not reopening until Broward and Miami-Dade do. The Commissioners, with the Sheriff’s input, have decided not to reopen until Palm Beach does. It seems that all agree that when the beaches do reopen there should be no restrictions.
Heard made the point that though recreational matters seem to be in the forefront, the Commission is not addressing businesses which are more important. She went on to state that it will be easier to have rules about business than recreation. I agree with Commissioner Heard…let us not forget about the economy.
Much depends on DeSantis’ orders. Until Martin County staff know more, it is hard to craft a final plan. As a citizen that has endured multiple weeks of a lock down, I do not want to see all that was sacrificed go for nothing by having to lock down again in two or three weeks after re-opening if there a spike.
The Commission will meet next Wednesday if the state has issued their recommendations and orders. If not, then the Commission will meet next Friday.
The staff presentation including the federal guidelines that should be met before anything is re-opened can be found at:
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MAY 1, 2020
There was more than an hour of public comment. Most from emails being read into the record by Assistant County Administrator George Stokus. With few exceptions the public seems to want everything open yesterday.
County Administrator Taryn Kryzda spoke about what was and what was not open in the three southern and two northern counties. This would entail open beaches to our north and closed beaches to our south. Though parks and golf courses have been reopened in Palm Beach County.
Ciampi started off saying he wanted to take a reasonable approach. He said it would always be easier for Palm Beach County to absorb the recreational needs of Martin County than the other way around given that Palm Beach has 10 times our population. He wanted to make clear that the Commission did not have the ability to loosen restrictions under the governor’s order only to tighten them.
The first motion was to remove the restrictions earlier placed on golf courses except for the CDC guidelines and that only people who live in the same residence can ride together. The motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 5-0
The second motion by Smith was to open the boat ramps even on the weekend. It was seconded by Hetherington and passed 5-0. The FWC spoke and reiterated that the sandbars would remain closed.
Ciampi motioned to reopen the park restrooms and that high traffic ones be cleaned at least twice per day. It was seconded by Smith and it passed 5-0. A motion was made by Smith to allow the playing of racket sports including doubles. Now only singles play is allowed. It was seconded by Hetherington and passed 5-0
Another motion was to allow use of the pavilions. There were discussions regarding social responsibility because of cleanliness. Smith made the motion which was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 5-0
Hetherington brought up allowing the playgrounds to reopen. Jenkins said there is no way to keep the equipment clean. Ciampi stated that children are not in a high-risk group and there has been little evidence of the disease in their cohort. There was also mention of the parent’s responsibility for their children. Smith buys the personal responsibility argument for adults and even teens but believes children are different. A motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Hetherington to re-open the playgrounds. It was defeated 3-2.
Ciampi mentioned that bowling alleys are still closed and wanted to know if the governor’s order addressed whether they could open. Sarah Woods said she would call the governor’s office and ask for a clarification. Ciampi also wants to know about summer camps, driver tests and permits, and whether yoga and Pilates studios are classified as gyms. He also then spoke about salons not being able to open. Ciampi made a motion that the Commission send a letter to the governor urging all businesses be allowed to re-open. It was seconded by Smith. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
Ciampi was on a roll and brought the rest of the Commission with him except for Heard. I cannot believe that they want bars, nightclubs, sporting events and concert venues to open at this point. Ciampi was speaking about salons but sometimes he is like a jazz musician on a riff and he is so good he takes some of the rest of the Board along.
The Commissioner made a motion to open the pool at Sailfish for lap swimmers. It was seconded by Smith and passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. Ciampi made a motion to require food handlers to wear masks. It died for a lack of a second.
Then he came to the main event which was re-opening the beaches. He wanted them opened Monday-Friday. There would be no tents, umbrellas, or coolers. When the lots were filled, they would be closed. The one beach that would not be opened would be the one on Jupiter Island. Commissioner Jenkins agreed with the Jupiter Island part.
Smith wanted to know whether they could limit the beaches to residents because of the state of emergency. Ms. Woods gave the appropriate answer when staff knows there is not a prayer… “I will check.” He also wants no restrictions on the beach except CDC guidelines. Hetherington agrees.
Commissioner Heard thinks it is reckless and they will be overwhelmed. Sheriff Snyder, the voice of reason, said in effect if you make the policy, I will enforce it. He also stated that the beaches should be open on the weekend so that it be a true test of whether Palm Beach residents will overwhelm us or not. When the Commissioners began giving him tips, he politely said that his department knows how to do enforcement and what tools they need to do it.
Commissioner Hetherington made a motion for the beaches to be open on Monday, May 4th with no restrictions except Jupiter island will remain closed and it will be re-evaluated at their next special meeting. It was seconded by Smith and passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. All the above motions were to apply the CDC guidelines.
The Commission made several hard decisions. Ciampi said earlier that there are no right answers. Most votes were unanimous. Commissioner Heard was the lone no vote on a few motions. I would have probably voted the same as Heard.
I do believe we are opening too fast without adhering to all the guidelines of the CDC. The level of testing is still not where it should be. Martin County is not on the downward curve long enough with the number of new cases. In the not too distant future, we may find a spike in the number of cases. Then what will we do?
A synopsis at the above can be found at:
Martin County Latest News From The April 17, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 7, 2020
It is funny how fast we adapt to a new normal. The Blake Library meeting with the spread-out Commissioners and reduced staff is what I have grown to accept. It is a meeting but not as conducive as one held in the chamber. Life in the “Time of Corona.”
WHY IS IT EVEN AN ISSUE?
Like so many businesses, the travelling carnival has been shut down due to COVID-19. Unlike other businesses, the word travelling means the carnival brings its employees with them as well as their equipment. Which then requires a place to park their equipment when not in use. That also means their employees need a place to park their travelling homes when not on the road.
The Deggeller family is based in Stuart. They have been in the business of county fairs and amusement rides for 3 generations. As a community, we need to support this business as much as possible.
I most often notice the business when their rides and campers are parked in a corner of the existing Fair Grounds. If they are based in Stuart, that equipment is part of their base. While at times the campground seems “junky,” it is an industrial part of the County and not disturbing any of the neighbors.
Like many of our workers, most of their employees are either immigrants or here on worker visas. Those on visas are promised employment for a defined period and then they leave. Here is the rub in the “Time of Corona.” What happens if they can’t get back to their country of origin?
The Deggellers lease the space at the Fair Grounds from the County’s tenant, the Fair Association. Their equipment and employees living there are all covered in the lease. Further, last year the Health Department required adequate waste and water be provided which was done. Then why is the County Commission even involved? Apparently, Commissioner Heard wanted to somehow intervene because of social distancing.
The Mexican national employees were able to fly back to their country. The Deggeller family also had some long-time American employees and a South African contingent. South Africa will not allow its nationals back into the country. It appears that the Deggellers are trying to avoid homelessness for these people.
While their quarters may not be ideal, these are their homes, at least for part of the year. As to social distancing, it really is no different than a multi-family dwelling with apartments that have roommates. This is a matter for the Health Department and Code Enforcement not the Commission.
There is a lease that allows this to occur. We should applaud the Deggellers as caring employers. The Commission should not look to make people homeless. The majority of the Commission agrees with that statement.
SHOULD WE OR SHOULDN’T WE?
After much discussion, the Commissioners, reminiscent of Hamlet delivering his soliloquy of indecision and self-doubt, needed to decide what to close and what would remain open for recreation. Except for Sarah Heard, who always knows her mind, the sausage making was sometimes hard to watch.
The Commission spoke long and eloquently about the decisions that would be made. Should playgrounds be closed? What about basketball courts in the “Time of Corona?” There was the hint of Claudius’ character in Commissioners Smith’s charm. With Ciampi playing the role of Polonius dispensing sound advice wrapped in comedic speech. Our Chair, much as Young Horatio, won’t allow ambition or deceit to cloud his loyalties. Then Ophelia’s and Gertrude’s attributes are on display in Commissioner Hetherington. This part of the meeting almost took as long as Hamlet which has 5 Acts to perform.
In a series of motions, the Commission passed the closure of playgrounds, pickle ball and tennis courts, basketball courts, athletic fields when used for organized and pickup games, and rest rooms. Boat ramps will remain open during the week and closed on weekends, except at Jensen and Sandsprit Park, for licensed commercial fishermen.
Other discussions were held regarding golf course closings. I won’t belabor my Hamlet analogy, but the Commissioner’s characters were, “More honored in the breach than in the observance.” The only Commissioner that knew her mind was Heard who plainly stated that they either all be closed or left open. When you begin making exceptions, enforcement becomes problematic. Heard is correct.
The Commission made no golf decisions in this Hamletian of meetings. They would take it up again at their special meeting on Thursday.
In another note, Kloee Ciuperger, the County Legislative Coordinator, gave an update on the CARES Act. You can look at her Power Point presentation at:
SPECIAL COVID-19 MEETING APRIL 9, 2020
This was the golf course meeting!
It turned out fine for those who could afford the privilege of playing at private clubs. The County course has been closed already. No shared sacrifice for the people of Willoughby, Sailfish Point or other such clubs. We are here to play, and we pay the taxes to you to do so. At least that was what the speakers seemed to convey.
The Commission did place the following restrictions… On private courses, residents of those communities and members regardless of where they live, can play maintaining CDC guidelines and social distancing. On private courses open to the public only, Martin County residents can play with the same guidelines. There can only be one golfer to a cart and no gatherings of more than 10 people. The bars and lounges remain closed.
This will be enforced by the Sheriff. We have just given him and his department one more thing to do. There seemed to be a discussion by some Commissioners regarding how the Sheriff will know how to enforce this ordinance without their guidance. Now that he has the ordinance provisions, Snyder will enforce it as he enforces other things. He has discretion on what to do. I am sure that no one is going to jail for not following the ordinance. Ultimately, I guess he could choose to close the course if there is a continued problem.
Commissioner Heard just came out and asked why this was even under discussion. Golf Courses should be closed, period end of sentence. She is 100% right for a couple of reasons. Once complaints come into the Sheriff regarding golfers not following the social distancing rules, a deputy will have to investigate. If an impromptu 19th hole was happening, alcohol and belligerence may lead to unintended consequences.
In my opinion, here is the real problem with allowing the courses to remain open. It sends the wrong message and reinforces the belief that if you have some money, you don’t need to sacrifice. There may be some rationale for leaving those private courses open such as helping to curb domestic violence. Other speakers stated that, as private gated communities, their residents are used to following rules and being self-governing. I guess they are since they have chosen to live in those communities knowing what the rules were when they moved in.
There is no more tennis or baseball in the parks. Bathrooms and water fountains are closed. The County golf course is locked. It is all being done to protect us from ourselves. Because as of now, the only way to prevent the spread of the virus is by self-quarantine.
The Commission took the necessary step of closing boat ramps on the weekends to prevent non-residents from driving here from the south to launch their boats. That means, of course, that residents can’t use the ramps either so no boating on weekends. Except for those who live on the water and have access from their homes whenever they want. Once again showing that if you have a few dollars you get to be exempt.
The Commission rightly made an exception for licensed commercial fisherman to be able to launch their boats on the weekend. It seems a good exception. The Sheriff apparently noticed that there has been an uptick in new commercial fishing licenses. I have heard of people who are now allowing others to tie up to their docks to get around the ban.
During World War II, the future Queen Elizabeth did her bit as a mechanic and driver. She led by example even before she had the crown. Someone who was a war profiteer was looked down on. We no longer have the sensibility of the entire nation being in this together. Back then, most people who were from privileged families set examples. Look at young George Bush becoming a naval aviator at 18. The youngest pilot in the war. Americans then had duties… not excuses.
The Commission passed a resolution leaving the courses open 3-2 with Heard and Ciampi voting no. I guess it was decided that those members in private courses just couldn’t be inconvenienced for a few weeks. Will this action result in someone spreading the virus? I don’t know the answer, but Martin County has acknowledged that the waiter out of work is acceptable but the golfer at Sailfish needn’t put down his club.
To read my post entitled The Greatest of Sacrifices:
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 17, 2020
The Commission met for little over an hour. They made no changes to any of their policies.
Rob Lord of Cleveland Clinic stated that we won’t hit our peak for another couple of weeks. He went on to say that before we can open back up, we need to have a sustained amount of leveling of new infections. The only way we can know where we stand is with more testing. Testing needs to be followed up with enough new health workers to trace contacts of those testing positive and then self-isolating to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.
The Health Department stated there are currently no tests approved to determine antigen or antibodies of this virus. I am confused since earlier I heard that Fisher Island had provided testing for all their residents. So, what gives!
Here are the lessons I have learned about the governmental response so far. No one person or agency is in charge. Even the State Health Department is only allowed to regurgitate the talking points that come down from Tallahassee. The information could be different from the CDC, governor’s office, or the president.
In some respect the County Commission is just as confused as the rest of us. Since Tallahassee and Washington are not leading, it is up to the “5 at the Blake” to call the shots. All politicians are subject to pressure. I think that is why the private courses are open. It is not corruption but politics. No different than DeSantis declaring wrestling essential and then receiving $18 million plus as a donation to the Republican Party the same day from the McMahons.
If you are rich and those that live on Fisher Island are, then different rules apply. Even in Martin County the Health Department is saying no tests and yet Mayor Fender of Sewall’s Point wants to provide his residents testing. While Sewall’s Point is no Fisher Island or for that matter Jupiter Island in per capita income, it does dwarf that of Indiantown and close neighbor, Stuart.
Sheriff Snyder reported that he had 500 calls reporting violations related to the pandemic rules. There has been an uptick in domestic violence calls. All is quiet on the boat ramps, sand bar and beaches. Though he did mention that with the heat expected this weekend that could change. He was not allowing those with recently acquired commercial fishing licenses without proper tax receipts to use the ramps.
The Sheriff said that for the most part golf courses were complying with current rules. Though emails on the County website show that several clubs such as Jupiter Island and Jupiter Hills were not following those rules last weekend. One of those rules is that only Martin County residents or their members could play on the courses. Apparently, The Florida Club was attempting to say their email list was the equivalent of membership.
Which again brings me to the point of why people can’t follow the rules for a few weeks. Sure, it is maddening but it won’t kill you to forgo boating, tennis, or golf. What will kill a few of those rule breakers is if you catch the virus. What will hurt many more is if businesses stay closed longer. Some people going to the trouble of obtaining commercial fishing licenses for the sake of getting on the water is baffling to me.
It is just as baffling as to how those more economically fortunate seem to be able to use their influence and money to get what they want. If we treat these restrictions as a game where individuals can cheat or flaunt the rules, what does that say about our society and as individuals? Is this the exceptionalism we hear about in Martin County and the United States?
Martin County Latest News From The April 5, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 24, 2020
Every one of our Commissioners, along with the Administrator, Attorney, and staff, have shown that Martin County has an effective government during this difficult time.
They have that ability because of use of their television channel, Facebook, and YouTube. By having a televised meeting, the Commission showed that, though constrained, the County was still conducting business. By having presentations by every municipality except Jupiter Island (who chose not to participate), citizens could understand that the municipalities were operational.
Here is something I don’t understand. Why is it that Martin County does not televise every government meeting? Xfinity is required to have a public access station available for public programming. The station is for all…not just the government of Martin County to program and control. Those costs are borne by the General Fund in the County Budget. Every taxpayer pays those costs.
Would it be more expensive to use that asset as it was meant? Yes, it would, but then government becomes open to the public. The Stuart News, other print, electronic and this newsletter do provide coverage and commentary. We are limited in what we can do. There is no local broadcast news for the most part and certainly nothing in depth. Citizens are left in the dark. Citizens that are paying with their taxes to keep the lights on at MC 20.
Democracy requires that we know what government…all government…is doing in our name. It shouldn’t be a struggle. I am calling on the County Commission to embrace this openness not only for them but for all government in the County by televising all municipal and School Board Meetings in addition to County Meetings. The added cost will be well worth it.
TRASH HEATS UP
Jeff Sabin from Waste Management pleaded with the Commission to postpone picking a company for the County’s waste hauling contract. Waste Management has had the contract for decades. After all that time, it is just good government to have those services go out to bid.
No one likes to lose such a lucrative piece of business. Sabin took the track that not all his people could participate in the RFP because of the pandemic. He also mentioned that Indiantown threw a wrench into the process because they may not continue with the County Interlocal Agreement. The other bidders don’t understand what Indiantown adds to the tonnage, etc.
Government needs to continue. The procurement process is proceeding. Offices are open for business. Every municipality that has an agreement with the County can terminate it at some point in the term of the contract. That is part of your calculation in formulating your bid.
I am glad it is continuing.
The site of the old Admiral’s Table in Jensen Beach is one step closer to becoming a microbrewery and restaurant after 20 years. The owners of Conchy Joe’s, which is located across the street, and the Dolphin Bar are moving forward with this project. When completed, Conchy Joe’s improvements and the rest of the project will be a big boost for Jensen Beach.
The Commission approved lowering the speed limit on that section of road to 30 MPH. If you are going to have people crossing the road to park their cars and perhaps look at the lagoon, then it only makes sense to have people slow down. A motion was made by Smith and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 5-0.
The site plan and backup can be found at:
The Commission was given an update on the Flood Maps for insurance purposes. These maps will be what your insurance company uses to set your rates. The maps are what determines whether you need flood insurance or not. Everyone should understand how important this is to all property owners. To find the information:
EMERGENCY MEETING MARCH 31, 2020
Commissioners stop identifying a “special meeting” as an “emergency meeting.” This was in no way an emergency. It was basically a way to get information out to the public. There were no emergency declarations. They didn’t order people to stay home. In short, they provided Cleveland Clinic, United Way, Sheriff Snyder, and others with an opportunity to give the public updates.
That is very important! The public has a right to know. And the best way you currently have is to have a televised meeting. But just like the moniker “breaking news” has come to mean nothing of substance, so too will “emergency meeting.”
Cleveland Clinic’s Rob Lord gave numbers regarding cases and testing that were different than the Health Department. I am not going to recite either since they are by now completely out of date. You can find the latest numbers, which are updated constantly, at:
Lord did say that Cleveland Clinic, since it is a network of facilities, has the ability to switch patients, equipment and personnel around depending on where most needed. That should give all of us some comfort that as hospitalizations are increased, we are not just looking at one hospital to take care of our residents.
I was also impressed that both Community Foundation and United Way are working together to fund the increased needs during this emergency. I would urge anyone looking to donate to look to those organizations first. They will know who is doing what and where your dollars mean the most.
Here are Carol Houwaart-Diez, C.E.O. of United Way of Martin County, remarks at the meeting:
Good morning commissioners. I’m Carol Houwaart-Diez, at United Way of Martin county. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. And for all that you are doing for the safety and well being of our community to get us through this pandemic.
I’ll keep my comments brief but wanted to take this opportunity to share United Way’s response to COVID-19 and how we are collaborating with local nonprofits and government to help Martin County residents in need.
We all know that people are struggling in the economic wake of this pandemic and in the weeks and months to come, more people than ever before will scrambling to cover their basic needs, such as food, housing, utility, health care resources and more.
To help local individuals in need, we launched the COVID-19 Economic Relief Fund and allocated $200,000 from our emergency funds to help people right here in Martin County. We anticipate the need to gather significantly more funding and have been able to raise an additional $50,000 in contributions from our corporate partners and generous donors. 100% of donations will go toward the relief funds – no administrative fees will be taken. We’re working with two local nonprofit agencies who will handle the case management for this fund- House of Hope and Salvation Army. I have said this many times, Covid-19 is something that our local community, our nation or the world has never seen before. It is going to affect people and businesses that have never had to ask for help. I strongly believe that we have to work together and let those organizations that it is their mission year round to provide this assistance take the lead in helping our community now, which is why we chose the House of Hope and Salvation Army to take the lead in doing the case work for assisting in basic needs.
Additionally, we are working with Martin County funders to support established local nonprofit organizations that are the frontline responders in times of need through a centralized grant process. Grant requests are vetted by all funders to ensure that resources are allocated to nonprofit organizations in a strategic manner to organizations with a proven track record of the most people as efficiently as possible. We have agreed that during this initial phase of the pandemic, the United Way will focus on the immediate needs of our community members and the other partners will look at operation support for our nonprofits.
We’re also working as the volunteer coordination arm for Martin County Emergency Operations by coordinating all the volunteers so that we will be able to account for the manpower it took to keep our community going.
We continue to keep residents informed of local resources and where they can go for help through our website, social media and email newsletter which can be found on www.UnitedWayMartin.org. Please know that we are a resource that is here for you.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
That seemed to be the one of two refrains from Commissioners.
When Sheriff Snyder spoke, he did say that the closing of the boat ramps did help. Unfortunately, our own residents are not social distancing at the Sand Bars, but we also had an influx of boats from down south which complicated matters. With the closing of the ramps on the weekend, that lessened people from down south as well as Martin County.
Even so, Snyder thought that there were a couple of thousand people at the sandbars last weekend which makes adequate social distancing impossible. The stupidity of some people is astounding!
What was interesting was that Snyder has no arrest authority to enforce the Governor’s directives presently. Ciampi then wanted to know if the Commission passed a shelter in place directive, could it be enforced? That really was never answered because Snyder, Kryzda, and County Attorney Woods kept speaking about using persuasion.
The other interesting matter was if the County did order something, then under Florida Statute, the municipalities automatically must follow it. If the County closes parks, then Stuart’s parks would also need to be closed.
Every Commissioner spoke about more draconian measures, but none wanted to enact them. There was a discussion that lasted nearly a half hour about how golf courses are being inundated by Palm Beach and other south counties’ residents.
This shows that Governor DeSantis’ approach to this pandemic is inadequate. Every county deciding what to do as if an island is just not practical. Pandemics don’t stop at the County line. DeSantis is stopping cars at the border to fill out a meaningless piece of paper if they are from New York. All that does is create a bottleneck for trucks bringing supplies into the state.
The pandemic deserves a statewide response. Otherwise, you have Martin County debating whether to close our facilities because they are being overwhelmed by people from other counties. This should not be a burden on individual counties. Under current state law, a city or county cannot pass an ordinance to tell someone what to plant in their front lawns. That was pre-empted from local control. When there are really things at risk and politically tougher, Tallahassee has a hands-off approach. That is political irony.
AND THE 2nd REFRAIN
Each Commissioner said that we need to give the citizens more input and information. They are speaking with Palm Beach County local broadcast stations begging to give Martin County a few minutes on their news broadcasts. They are relying on print news to put out more information. What is wrong with this picture?
This crisis calls out for constant updates. MC TV could be a way to let people know what is happening throughout Martin County. For too long, it has not been the people’s channel but a waste of a valuable resource. Why is the Commission allowing it to not be adequately utilized?
MC TV, whether it is on Xfinity, U-verse or the County’s YouTube channel, should be a font of information. It should be showing not only Commission meetings but all County, School Board, and municipal meetings. The County needs to adequately program it so it has valuable information being disseminated.
The cost for the station is from the General Fund. That is the fund that collects money from every taxpayer. How about using it as it was intended which is a source of government information and providing transparency for local governments in Martin County. If we can afford to give tax money to the air show, equine rescue, and a variety of other things, we can afford to bring information and transparency to the voters and citizens of Martin County.
SPECIAL MEETING APRIL 3, 2020
County Attorney Woods gave a succinct explanation of the governor’s orders. What was painfully obvious was how badly constructed and confusing those orders are. There seems to be very little communication between Tallahassee and counties concerning this.
“Section 1-A Senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition
(such as chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions,
immunocompromised status, cancer, diabetes, severe obesity, renal failure and liver disease) shall stay at home and take all measures to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
If he meant that seniors should not be galivanting around it makes sense. Just like it is sensible for every citizen to remain at home as much as possible regardless of age. If he meant to imply that seniors are not allowed to leave their homes for any reason, then it just isn’t doable. Seniors need to shop for food. They need exercise the same as everyone else. They need to walk their dogs.
Many seniors are owners and employees of essential businesses. The County Administrator, County Attorney, I believe one Commissioner, 4 of the 5 Constitutional Officers including the Sheriff, and I don’t know how many others would effectively no longer be able to do their jobs.
The parks are open. DeSantis’ order keeps the golf courses open. Who exactly is playing golf if not for those over 60? Churches can hold services even if they have a thousand people attending. It is obvious that the order is not very well crafted. No interest group apparently except grandparents are overlooked in the exceptions to the lockdown that isn’t.
The Sheriff put it all to rest when he said that his department would not be having check points to look at ID and take seniors to jail. Deputies would not be outside Publix at the senior hour to round up those 60 and over. He explained it is a tool that can be used if necessary. His department in general will be using reason over police power to look for compliance. End of story.
Woods explained that even with the order, local government can close their own facilities. They just can’t order privately owned facilities to close.
Once again, the Commissioners stressed communications with the public. I hope they do something concrete in addition to speaking about it at Commission meetings.
A resolution was passed in support of the governor’s orders
FROM THE MARCH 22, 2020 EDITION
PALM CITY FARMS
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed an article in Stuart News regarding the ongoing struggle between the Trail Association and some Palm City Farms landowners that startled me. It seems that the dispute over rights of way has escalated to people brandishing guns. That scares me.
This dispute reminds me of an old John Wayne movie…two sides arguing over open range and the preservation of their way of life. The character Wayne usually portrayed came to the rescue, and after he shoots the bad guy, everyone lives in peace and harmony.
I hope no one believes that they are the Duke incarnate and proceeds to think of shooting the bad guy for I don’t believe there are any bad guys. It is just a situation that has been allowed to go on for way too long.
I am a big believer of people being able to speak for themselves in this newsletter. In keeping with that, I asked both sides to write something expressing their viewpoints. The Palm City Farms Trail Association sent me the following:
Appropriate Solutions to Palm City Farms’ “Contentious Issue”
PALM CITY – With many rights of way obstructions in Palm City Farms having been restored to public use already, the Palm City Farms Trail Association (PCFTA) is eager for resolution to be reached with the few remaining hold outs. Escalated tensions have resulted from years of misinformation and misunderstanding about what the PCFTA considers to be a clear-cut matter of public rights.
In other parts of the country, folks might own to the center of the road, fear private liabilities, and even claim squatter’s rights but in this case, none of those factors legally exist. The chain of title of deeds in Palm City Farms list(s)”less road right of ways of record”, a fact further proven by no taxes having ever been paid on these right of ways.
The solutions available are not complicated. For those unwilling to remove obstructions from the land they are currently occluding, there are legal methods to employ, roadway abandonment and partial re-plat. An abandonment is used to remove the public right to use the right of ways abutting the property in question. Public hearings offer negotiation of equitable passage to be created that may be more agreeable to the applicant, the public, any relevant private parties, and the County. Another solution used in the case of
Canopy Creek, is a re-platting of the parcel where right of ways can be traded for alternative public use elsewhere, such as a perimeter trail.
Simpler still, the County has methods “on the books” to control the use of the right of ways. One ordinance already prescribes that the County indict right of way takers who refuse to remove obstructions. Currently this method, while lawful, has not been employed by the County. It is worth noting that a private lawsuit is underway with Ron and Patricia Shewmaker (not the PCFTA itself) challenging a group of right of way takers and Martin County. Several of the defendants have stated that if the County instructs them to return the public’s use of the right of ways- that they will. To date, the County has done no such thing.
Members of the Palm City Farms Trail Association invite inquiries and offer tours of the of the 13 1/2 square mile plat area in question with the goal of creating better understanding about the public’s historical asset out in the farms. To schedule, contact Tara Jacobs, Board Secretary, at (772) 260-5814.
Here is a link to their Facebook page they asked to be included:
The other side did not wish to comment because of their pending lawsuit:
Good evening Tom,
We are not going to be able to provide information for an article this month. We need to clarify and confirm some information and run it past our attorneys, as we are still involved in a lawsuit with this group. Sorry for the last minute notice. We would love to tell our side of the story.
I also asked District Commissioner Ed Ciampi on his thoughts:
My goal with the trail issue is to be as much an impartial moderator as possible. I would prefer not to give my position or opinion on how it should be resolved. Instead, I would like to get the two sides together per individual trail segment to reach an agreement. That strategy has worked well in the past. But the remaining few links that need to be addressed are the most challenging, which is why they are still disputed.
Thank you for shedding light on the issues, I think that will help move the conversation forward.
What should be done?
I don’t believe that trying to settle the issue in court is going to work in the long run. Courts pick winners and make losers. This is one of those instances where both sides will not be happy. It will take the County to move this issue forward and solve a few other problems that the area has.
There is not only an issue about trails but also a bigger issue regarding flooding and run off into waterways. Both need to be solved. We need to tie this in with creating a trail system in Palm City Farms.
Grants will be needed to create Stormwater Treatment Areas (STA). Many areas flood when it rains. To build trails involves more than just clearing brush and removing debris. Trails need to lay drainage pipes and have a foundation before building the surface trails. Why should the County spend all that money and end up with only half the job? If we want to be good stewards of our environment, we need to do everything possible to alleviate flooding and runoff ultimately into our waterways.
Not every right of way needs to be opened to create a trail. The important thing is that a trail is opened with the inclusion of biking and hiking. There will need to be land swaps and perhaps purchase of land so that the trail is contiguous. I understand people rightly or wrongly have built their homes and businesses predicated on the exclusive use of those rights of way. After so many years, their interests can’t be ignored.
Besides grants, a permanent funding source must be found. The best way would be a special taxing district to accomplish this. I have heard how unique Palm City Farms is. Now its time for the people of the area to show that they are willing to pay for their uniqueness. Most of the money collected will end up going for flooding and stormwater relief. So, it is not just to have a trail.
Commissioner Ciampi, you can do this. By using your charm and having the muscle of the county, there could be a settlement. Didn’t you want to be a hero like the Duke (except for shooting the bad guy) when you were growing up? Now is your chance to bring the two sides together and then ride off into the sunset…but stick around for another term.
EMERGENCY COMMISSION MEETING:
There was not much of substance. I believe the Commission felt that the meeting was to let everyone know that the County had a functioning government with elected officials that were not going to panic.
They will continue to have their meetings at the Blake which will be televised and open to the public. Much like Stuart’s meeting held the day before, seating was spread out in conformity with the CDC guidelines. While I felt that Stuart was a bit frantic in their decision making, I think Smith was right on target when he said that County meetings should proceed as regular as possible.
Ciampi outlined possible liaison assignments for each Commissioner during this unprecedented period. I don’t know why it is necessary if the County government is still functioning. While you can’t go to offices, you can make phone calls and go online.
Commissioner Ciampi was trying to be responsible. I just didn’t think the “class assignments” for the Commissioners were necessary. And my advice to Ed is let Commissioner Jenkins as Chair be the spokesperson. While Jenkins may be a bit taciturn, he certainly is capable of speaking to the County and reassuring our residents in that Gary Cooper “aw shucks” kind of way. As you can see the old movie western thing is a theme today!
MARCH 8 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 25
All the action took place during Commissioner comments this meeting.
Commissioner Smith wanted to begin thinking about what to do with the soon to be ex-fairgrounds on Dixie. That is a good idea given that the Fair is supposed to be held in Indiantown next year at the new facility. Smith suggested the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council help in that effort. Perhaps they could come in and facilitate a workshop for the Commission and introduce possibilities.
If the County combines Parks with Public Works, then an additional four acres becomes available on Dixie. This is valuable property, perhaps per acre the most valuable County-owned property. Ciampi is a proponent of selling it to help offset the new facilities. That is a good idea. Another idea would be to see whether it makes sense for either the airport or another enterprise type-fund to buy it and use for additional light industrial. It has rail and easy access to both the turnpike and I-95.
Commissioner Heard made the surprise request to place a ½ cent sales tax on the agenda to buy conservation land. Is it a good idea or a bad idea or more likely a nonstarter? We do need to buy more land for IRL (Indian River Lagoon) South and in Pal Mar. Is there a better way to do so rather than a tax?
I believe it is worth the discussion. Can Heard first convince her colleagues to limit the tax for her purpose only instead of becoming a Christmas Tree for every vanity Commission project? And second can she then convince the voters to approve taxing themselves for that purpose? If it is to succeed, she would need to do what School Board Member Li Roberts did to convince the voters to increase the sales tax and property tax for the School District.
I have not been a fan of the airport enterprise fund and resources being used for private purposes. At this meeting, Commissioner Ciampi praised staff, the tax money spent, and the use of a hanger for the Leighton charity, Operation 300, for sending supplies to the Bahamas. I am not doubting that it is a noble cause. But why is our County government subsidizing this charity and not another one?
Staff has negotiated a rent-paying lease for that hanger with a private business that probably will begin April 1st. Ciampi asked that the charity continue until then. After the past many months, one more won’t make much difference. The Commission went along with the extension.
Ciampi has been working on the coming traffic nightmare that will happen due to the thousands of units being built on the Martin/St. Lucie County line. The delays will be exaggerated with other road work on Murphy Road. Ed, along with Representative Toby Overdorf, Port St. Lucie Council Member Jolene Caraballo, and the FDOT have come up with a novel way of not building new roads or spending additional tax dollars.
His idea of not charging a toll on the Turnpike, if you enter on Becker Road and exit at Martin Downs Blvd and vice versa, is a great idea. If it succeeds in alleviating what promises to be serious congestion at peak driving times, Ciampi has earned his pay. We should have more elected officials willing to think creatively to solve problems.
Commissioner Hetherington weighed into the Springtree debate at the Stuart Commission Meeting the night before this meeting. She is the District Commissioner for most of the City besides the unincorporated parts that surround Stuart. While there are legitimate minor traffic issues, is there a need for a Town Hall for her unincorporated constituents? She believes so.
The developers are willing to work on some traffic calming devices. If so, then maybe some of the outcry can be modified. This developer will pay to the County impact fees which should go to alleviate this type of problem. Stuart City Attorney Mortell told me that the County impact fees will be over a million dollars.
Hetherington made it clear that she does not possess discretionary district funds to help in this respect. The developer’s road impact fees will go into a fund but not to help in this instance apparently. By not using these fees for this project you encourage sprawl. You are begging people to develop ranches and farmland because it is easier and cheaper. If you don’t have a neighbor to complain and you can use impact fees for brand new infrastructure, then why wouldn’t you take the easy path and have sprawl development.
The second thing she championed was the creation of a committee to disseminate information regarding the County efforts on LOSUM. Unfortunately, staff and other Commissioners weighed in and it lost its original intent. The motion that was ultimately made by Smith and seconded by Hetherington had staff of the County and the municipalities discussing the water situation. Though it passed 5-0…it is useless.
First, places like Ocean Breeze and Sewall’s Point do not have staff to do this type of thing. Second, we have County and municipal elected board members participation in things like the MPO for our roads, isn’t our water quality at least equally as important? What this board should consist of is one elected representative from each municipality, the BOCC, and the School Board to meet once a month to be briefed by County staff on our water quality and what is being done by the excellent County staff and their many consultants in this regard.
Every taxpayer in the County is paying their fair share into the County’s general fund, so the problems and successes need to filter back to everyone. If only staff is involved, then there will not be enough transparency. Let us have our elected officials get involved in this effort and not just relegate it to some small inter agency group.
Martin County has the greatest capacity to be successful when representing the citizens in this respect. I am just asking that the County incorporates a way to involve all local governments. I believe a water quality council can do just that. I hope the Commission will reconsider and create a board along those lines.
As the Chair he kept everyone in line!
Chair Jenkins greatest ability is to accomplish things quietly. He goes about his business in a sober professional manner. He doesn’t believe in theatrics but results. The old Theodore Roosevelt adage of walk softly and carry a big stick applies.
COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 3, 2020
During Commissioner comments, Hetherington brought back her last week’s idea of a Committee that would be made up of one representative of the BOCC and each municipality. They would meet once a month and be briefed on the status of our waterways. This would not only be about LOSUM and LORS but the entire water situation. Both the County and municipalities would provide information to each other. We could learn the progress with everything from the BMAPs (Basin Action Management Plans) to conversions to sewer.
Under what was proposed last week with only staff participating it would have been no solution. Ciampi picked up on that when he said that the smaller municipalities don’t even have a staff person that could participate. Jenkins wanted to remind all that sometimes it is forgotten that there is more than one river in Martin County. There is also the Loxahatchee.
Smith suggested that it come under the purview of the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments. The other Commissioners said, and I agree, that we need to keep this local. The Council is just too big and disparate a group. Having been Chair of that group, I know firsthand that Okeechobee would never see water issues quite the same as we do on the coast.
Hetherington made a motion for staff to bring back a resolution creating the body. It was seconded by Ciampi and it passed 5-0. I hope beside the BOCC and the municipalities that a representative of the School Board is included.
I want to congratulate Commissioners Hetherington and Ciampi for championing this coordinated effort to make sure that everyone in the County understands what is being done for the health of our waters. The County is doing so much, and no one knows about it. According to the County besides their staff they have 14 different consultants to advise on all facets of this issue.
It is important that the information gets out to the public. A meeting of elected officials conducted in sunshine is a great way of accomplishing this task. Every elected official in the County can now know, contribute, and understand what is happening in this regard.
SHOULD THERE BE A TAX INCREASE?
Apparently, some people thought that when Commissioner Heard brought up this idea at the last meeting, she was advocating for buying land outside of the County. Heard put that rumor to rest today when she said her idea was to buy only in Martin County. She is looking to do so in order to make sure that CERP moves forward.
Ciampi likes the concept of buying that specific land but wants a different funding source. He mentioned that currently 40% of Martin County is government owned. It is a legitimate cause, but taxpayers don’t want to increase their taxes.
Hetherington agrees with Ciampi on this. Smith stated it must be specific, but it should also include Pal Mar and other parts of the County. This is exactly why the sales tax failed the last two times because of trying to provide something for everyone.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch spoke as a citizen. She believes that the residents would support a tax increase if it were for a very specific purpose. She stated that it failed in the past because of poor marketing on the County’s part. If it is targeted for a specific purpose as Heard has proposed, she believes it would pass.
I tend to agree with Thurlow-Lippisch that it could pass if the County did state in their ballot proposal that it would be used only to purchase properties that were needed for Everglades Restoration. It would also have to have proper marketing which was not done last time. There is more to selling a proposal than sparsely attended town halls.
I also agree with Ciampi’s suggestion to try out the ballot language with survey questions. The surveys must be conducted by professionals and must be of a wide cross section of voters.
It will be brought back as an agenda item at the next meeting.
Like many things in government this is another one of those drawn out affairs.
From the time that the Option to Lease was signed, the County was going to spend the money to bring the water and sewer out to the new spot. At this meeting staff asked for $500,000 to do design drawings to accomplish this task. This money would have to come from the reserve fund.
To be quite clear it is my understanding that this has always been part of the deal. It should not come as a surprise to any member of this Board. Should it have been done is a question that has already been answered when it was agreed by the parties.
Yet the Fair Board has comeback with a subsequent ask that was not agreed to originally. They want the County to pick up the connection fees with Indiantown Utilities, the provider. That amount would be $600,000. Here is where I would draw the line for sure. They also requested County help in cutting trees etc. so that a survey can be done. The Commission firmly said no to the trees as they should. The connection fee was left for another time.
The utility wanted the County to put in a bigger line that was needed because there could be development on vacant parcels. Smith’s motion was not to do that but to do the engineering drawings with only the size line necessary for the Fair. How that would work is if within a decade those vacant parcels are developed then the developer would pay the cost of the bigger lines back to the County. If not then too bad.
The motion was seconded by Ciampi and it passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
In my gut I have a feeling that the Fair Board is not up to the task. They have plans that will include so much. All of it a good idea. But much more than the original idea of a Fair.
I have said this in the past that Martin County just can’t build a pool for kids to swim. It must be an amusement park. There can’t be a concession stand to buy a hot dog at a beach. It must be a white cloth restaurant. The same goes for a public golf course or just a park to play ball. Everything must be overblown and then require so much more in tax dollars in the long run to maintain.
The Board approved two Comp Plan amendments so that eventually a Publix can be built on Kanner and Pratt Whitney.
This will expand the USB by 6 acres. The parcel is currently zoned General Commercial with a portion agricultural. This split zoning could not be done today. On one side it backs up to an existing residential development on the other it is all vacant agricultural land.
County staff believes that it is not sprawl. It probably isn’t in the technical sense. However once built, the agricultural land that abuts it at some point will be in play. This was what Heard expressed could happen. There is no doubt that a Publix shopping center will service the people in Tropical Farms and developments like the Florida Club. If I were voting I would ask myself whether this center encourages further development into western Martin County.
That is why it is so important to have density within our municipalities and CRAs. There should also be redevelopment of outdated uses in existing parcels. The easiest way for any developer is to plow over farmland and scrub. We should make it just as easy to do so where development needs to occur.
Commissioner Heard made a motion for denial that died for a lack of a second. Smith made a motion for approval which was seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
There was no public comment whatsoever.
Staff report can be found at:
FEBRUARY 23, 2020 EDITION
For the first time, the meeting included the new Village of Indiantown. These joint meetings tend to be uninformative and a bit boring, but this meeting had two interesting presentations.
The first was regarding Pineland Prairie. The School Board and the developer are in negotiations regarding sites on which to locate a school and related impact fees. There is also a provision for building a charter school. It is way too early to determine so much since nothing has been built yet in Pineland. At least for the past few months since the Board itself took over negotiations, things are moving in the right direction.
The second and more important presentation was by the County’s John Maehl who is spearheading the effort on LOSUM and LORS. He explained how the Corps must follow NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act.) This requires complex scheduling and is not as simple as a rallying cry of no more releases as has been shouted by Stuart officials. There are knowledge gaps that must be filled before the true picture can be known about what to do.
The County has a team of employees and 14 different consultants to follow the Corps actions. The very idea that was being proposed by Stuart of a one-man czar to give advice and be the City’s savior or even point person is ludicrous. The science is complex and requires real and deep knowledge in many different disciplines.
University of Florida and Martin County are working together on more than just LOSUM. Our BMAPS, nitrogen levels, endangered species and a host of other scientific disciplines are interconnected in this process. There are LOSUM sub-teams.
Performance metrics can be found at CLICK HERE
Martin County should not only have been doing all that they have and continue to do but should also publicize the work being accomplished with our tax dollars. Every taxpayer in the County including those residing in the municipalities, have been supporting this effort. It is unconscionable that the public was not made aware of these wonderful contributions sooner.
The County Commission should form a committee made up of one member from the different municipal and school governing boards along with one County Commissioner to have monthly meetings with Maehl and his team. They can be informed on what is going on and report back to their boards. Communication is key and this go-it-alone attitude needs to end.
The presentation can be found at:
COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 18, 2020
Sometimes this newsletter has a common theme running through it.
This week’s theme happens to be public comment. Public comment is required under Florida Statute. As long it is allowed under reasonable conditions boards are complying with the law. No board from what I understand in Martin County is not in compliance. As is mentioned in other sections of this newsletter, it is how public comment is being used by the different boards.
When comment is made by the public during specific agenda items at BOCC meetings, I think it is fine. The Commission is listening to what people think on a matter before them. It is with general public comment that the concept is not being used as intended.
General public comment was meant to allow citizens to address the Commission about their beefs and problems. It was never meant to have Commissioners make comments back to the speaker or to have problems solved individually from the dais. That behavior smacks of the Commission dispensing royal favors to individuals as if the peasants were speaking to a noble at court.
The Commission should listen attentively to the speaker. If a Commissioner believes that further action is needed the Commissioner can have it placed as an agenda item to be addressed at a subsequent meeting.
If there is a problem that a Commissioner is made aware of by a constituent, the Commissioner can intercede with staff to try and solve those individual issues at any time. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with the Administrator saying that someone from staff will contact the speaker to address an individual problem. Staff handles complaints while Commissioners take care of policy.
Commissioners should go back to listening and taking notes. Then after the meeting you can address those individual problems or if it is widespread bring it back as an agenda item to discuss and act upon.
SALERNO SEAFOOD FESTIVAL
When listening to this agenda item two things struck me. One was that the festival is a victim of its own success and two what should the Commission be weighing more heavily, commercial interests or those of the residents?
This year according to staff’s report there were 27,000 people attending. There were no arrests. The organizers hired 19 Sheriff’s Deputies and 10 private security personnel. They had a tram and dedicated parking for residents. There was also parking at the fairgrounds. It was portrayed as an improvement over the recent past.
The festival has grown from a neighborhood inspired event to big business. Once the seafood was all local being caught, prepared, and served by Port Salerno residents. That is when it made sense to have it in front of homes owned by the volunteers and vendors. But that hasn’t been the case in years.
Now it is a commercial venture for vendors that come from wide and far. The restaurants in Port Salerno do very well. There is nonstop entertainment. It is a party but no longer a neighborhood block party. It is a business that is taking place on residential streets where brick and mortar businesses wouldn’t be allowed.
It is supposedly to raise money for the commercial fishing dock. Yet a petition was signed by 44 commercial fishermen to move the festival. Someone identified as Sid spoke and said as a restaurant owner it was too good economically to move.
Yes, the festival is a victim of its own success. People come from all over to attend. It was said that it is in the top 25 of festivals in our part of the country. I applaud the organizers. It is a hell of a business. But make no mistake it is a business.
Heard, the District Commissioner, wants it moved. Not because she is against the festival but because she is for her constituents. Even with the heightened security the Commission received a thumb drive with video of things going on that you wouldn’t want to happen on your lawn.
Smith said he has lived with parking problems and debris on his lawn because of the Pineapple Festival in Jensen Beach. He looks at these successful festivals as good for all of Martin County. Economically he is right. Jenkins said everyone supports the festival but if it were starting today and the organizers wanted to bring 25,000 people to a residential neighborhood it would be a resounding no!
Ciampi stated that it sounded like a tennis match with each side scoring points back and forth. He said as did every other Commissioner that the organizers’ efforts were appreciated. Though he could not support the festival next year if it were on the same residential streets. He came up with a compromise that the festival be moved to only commercial streets.
Hetherington said that she was not going to mandate which streets the festival should be on. It is up to staff to work with the applicant and the residents. The County Attorney said that anyone can request a permit to close any street and that the Commission just can’t tell the organizers what streets they can ask the County to close. It can be denied, however.
Which brings us to another point of the festival raising money for the commercial fishing dock. The dock is owned by the County yet run by this consortium of politically connected families it seems. The festival this year resulted in a donation of $15,000 for the commercial dock or 56 cents per attendee. Not a good return on investment if you ask me.
Commissioner Heard said that she has never seen a financial report on the festival. That makes me think of another question, why has the County given the management of the dock to a private entity. Was there an RFP or RFQ? If commercial fishing is something that Martin County wants to see continue, then why doesn’t the County manage the dock as an enterprise fund just like the airport.
A motion was made by Ciampi seconded by Jenkins (who passed the gavel) to have staff and the organizers come up with a plan for next year with a strong emphasis on not being on residential streets. It passed 4-0 with Heard dissenting.
A Few weeks ago, the Commission voted not to proceed with negotiations for any of the sites that staff presented for a new Public Works Complex. Commissioner Heard was one of the dissenters and she asked that there be a motion to reconsider. That motion passed unanimously.
Then she and Ciampi made a motion to begin negotiations for the Pineland Prairie site. That site consists of 40 acres in their industrial section. Of the four sites presented that one was the most ideal.
Smith wants more info before voting. How many square feet is needed? What will be located on the site? Why 40 acres instead of 25? Where is the site plan? These are all valid questions.
Those questions should be answered before the purchase. The County is far from making a purchase. This action will only begin the process of buying this parcel. No vote was being taken to expend any dollars even though the Commission has already borrowed the money and is paying interest.
There are only so many sites that can be used for this purpose. This is one of them. As Ciampi stated it is close to the turnpike and I-95 for easy access to the rest of the County. The Parks & Recreation Department should be located there with Public Works since there is no need to have two shops to fix equipment and Parks current location is on very valuable land.
There are several steps that need to be done before the property is purchased. This is the authorization to negotiate with this property owner. I would think the Commission will see in the future a price, site plan, and business plan in how anything is going to work before approval. After 20 years the Commission is not moving precipitously. The vote was 4-1 with Smith dissenting.
IT IS TIME!
Hetherington during Commissioner comments brought up working with the City of Stuart regarding sharing information on LOSUM and other areas of water concern. Staff stated that once a month the two staffs are meeting. This isn’t good enough!
As I wrote above the elected officials need to be informed in addition to staff. I suggest that an informational committee be formed comprised of a member of every municipal and school board to be chaired by a County Commissioner. They would meet monthly to have updates on what is going on with Lake Okeechobee and the state of our rivers. This is not a policy board but one where information can be taken back to all elected officials for discussion at their boards.
It is time to work collaboratively and openly to have the results that Martin County deserves. Every taxpayer in Martin County is paying for the County’s scientists and consultants. Let’s not have a municipality go rogue because they don’t know the excellent job that the County is doing.
Martin County Latest News
FROM THE FEBRUARY 9, 2020 EDITION
The next Commission meeting will be February 18, 2020 and the joint meeting with the School Board, Stuart and Indiantown will be held at the Blake on February 13, 2020
Martin County Latest News
JANUARY 26, 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING JAN 14, 2020
The Board voted a 6-month extension on the current contract with Waste Management for trash services. It was determined that the bidders for the new contract would need more time to begin services if selected. The bid calls for all equipment to be new. It takes time to procure at least 54 new trucks.
A vote was taken to support the railroad seeking the funding for the new bridge across the St. Lucie in downtown Stuart. This item was discussed extensively at the last meeting, and I reported on it in the last newsletter. A motion was made by Ciampi and seconded by Hetherington. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting.
The resolution can be found at:
When is a road private? When is it public? Can it be both?
Most people think of roads as being two kinds. The ones that are public streets which anyone can use and those that are usually within gated communities which are maintained privately for those homeowners’ use exclusively. That is usually how it works but there are exceptions.
On October 8th of last year, the Board instructed staff to bring back an agenda item addressing roads that are public roads but privately maintained. There are not very many of these but enough that the Commissioners are asked about them by residents. The question is who should pay to maintain these roads.
Martin County has three different categories of roads. The most prevalent are roads owned by the County and maintained by the County (533 miles of paved and 12 miles of unpaved roads.) There are public roads that are privately maintained (20 miles of paved road and 26 of unpaved road.) And last there are private roads that are privately maintained (406 miles of paved roads and 44 miles of unpaved roads.)
For a road to be considered public, the roadway must be dedicated and accepted. Prior to 1977 roads could be platted but not built in order to subdivide property. Since then, the roads would have to be built as part of the subdivision. A roadway must meet certain criteria before being accepted by the County. To quote from the agenda item:
“Often, private roadways do not meet County standards. For the County to accept supervision and control over these roadways, the interest in the roadway must be transferred to the County by all of the property owners along the length of the roadway, typically by Deed or Easement. The interest may also be transferred through County action by maintenance map or eminent domain proceedings.”
If a private roadway is taken in by the County, then it may assess the private owners to do the work to bring it up to current County standards. The assessable paving process is in the Land Development Regulations. That is where the landowners can ask the County to take the road and do the work necessary. All of this is spelled out in the attached agenda item and presentation. It should be noted that it costs between $700,000 and a million dollars a mile for the County to pave and bring a road up to their standards.
The Commission was supposed to give staff direction on how to proceed with public roads that are privately maintained (usually not very well) and where funding would come to bring them up to code and then have the County maintain.
Smith thought the residents along those roads should not have to pay for the maintenance or to bring them up to County standards. His reasoning was they are paying taxes as other homeowners are. Ciampi said that there were many miles of unpaved roads in his district and some of his constituents like it that way.
Heard stated that there was no secret about who owned and who maintained these roads when people bought their homes. If the County were to absorb the costs of paving and bringing the road up to standard, then what about the many other homeowners who were assessed when their roads became part of the County network?
Jenkins wanted to carve out an exception for thoroughfares which he defined as roads leading to somewhere else and not just to the property owners who are along the road. Hetherington said that Heard’s position made sense. But she has a resident on Myrtle Street where only two people use the road, and no one is maintaining it. While public safety vehicles can get down the street, trash hauling cannot. In this instance, the accessible paving program would not work because of how few people live on the platted street.
Heard shot back that the homeowner asking for relief bought his home in 2016 and knew about the street. She implied that the cost of the house had this unpaved and uncared for road figured in its purchase price. Ciampi stated that this homeowner was paying the same taxes as anyone else who had the same valuation assessment. Kryzda piped up that the assessment considered the condition of the road, and perhaps the value of the property would be higher if the road was paved and County maintained.
Ciampi made a motion seconded by Smith for staff to come back with a multi-tiered approach…whatever that means. It passed 4-1 with Heard dissenting. Heard’s position is the right one. Why should other County taxpayers come to the rescue of those that do not want to pay for the improvements when others have. We must keep in mind that it is election season.
The agenda item and presentation can be found at:
PUBLIC WORKS COMPLEX
From time in memorial, the County has been kicking around the idea of moving the Public Works Complex. Most of it is currently at the airport where the County pays over $200,000 rent per annum. There are approximately 90 employees sharing 2 toilets. Ideally, moving to a larger location will allow for better employee morale but, more importantly, will allow the County to build more modern facilities and put all Public Works and perhaps Parks with their equipment in the same place.
There is already bonding available and $200,000 will pay quite a bit of interest for the purpose of buying a site. The reason that rent must be paid to the Airport Enterprise Fund is because the FAA requires market rent to be paid. It is a federal law so that the County has no choice. If they could show that there is a tie in with the airport or aviation the rent could be less. That is what happened with the new fire training facility being located at the airport due to the training of the department for an airport response in emergencies.
According to staff, the County needs 35 to 40 acres. This would meet the needs now and into the future. Last time staff presented proposed sites, the options that they gave were not attractive. I believe this time they were.
There were four possible sites. Here is the synopsis presented in the agenda item:
OPTION 1 – Pineland Prairie – Palm City 40 acres
The owners of the Pineland Prairie property have offered to sell approximately 40 acres of property within the development at a cost equal to fair market value (FMV). Staff estimates the FMV was approximately $31,000 an acre ($1,240,000) but this is the value prior to the recent approval for the Pineland Prairie project. An appraisal will be required to ascertain its current value. The property is along the northeast side of SW Boat Ramp Ave., north of SW Citrus Blvd. Negotiations would focus on FMV less the cost for the County to improve SW Boat Ramp Ave. in accordance with the County’s development standards for Pineland Prairie. SW Boat Ramp Ave. is currently a dirt road North of SW Citrus Blvd. to the C-23 canal.
OPTION 2 – SW Citrus Blvd. at 96th Street – Palm City, 174 total/Site B 127 acres
This property, currently owned by Regilo I, LLC, has a total of 174 acres for sale at $6,875,000 and can be divided into separate parcels. The parcel of interest is Site B, which is 127 acres of cleared land for sale at $4M. The property is directly outside of the urban service district and is zoned AG Ranchette. The size of this parcel would provide additional space for future activities, departments and uses.
OPTION 3 – American Custom Yachts Parcel – Palm City, 35.89 total/21.2 acres usable
This parcel, currently owned by American Custom Yacht, has 21.2 acres of buildable space and is for sale at $4.95 million. The property is located south of Martin Highway off SW High Meadow Ave. and situated between I95 and the Turnpike, across from American Custom Yachts. The property is located within the Primary Urban Service Boundary and has available water service. It is currently zoned General Commercial.
OPTION 4 – Airport Site Adjacent to FRD Training Facility, 30 acres
This parcel presents some of the same issues as the current airport site. The use of the property for a maintenance facility would not meet the FAA’s requirement of Aeronautical use and will require the County to pay a lease at fair market value. It is estimate that building coverage lease fee could exceed $450,000. Given this added cost and the other factors, it will be better not to locate County Public Works facility on Airport property.
Commissioner Heard once again brought up the Fair Grounds as a possible site. This has been discussed over and over. This is probably the most valuable piece of property that the County owns. To use it as a parking lot for heavy equipment would be a waste of taxpayer resources. Once the Fair moves, it should either be sold for development to the Airport Enterprise Fund for more aviation industry space or to a private developer. She said that Pineland would spur development, and once residents moved in, complaints would happen. While the Citrus Blvd. property was outside the Urban Service Boundary and therefore not available for such a use.
To Ciampi, the airport land in Option 4 makes no sense because of the estimated rent of $450,000 or more. At Pineland, there would be no neighborhood issues and since the property being proposed is in their industrial component to the plan, there would be no residential around it. Option 3 would be smaller than what is needed, price is high and there are residents around the property.
Hetherington stated that Option 1 would necessitate spending money on creating a road ($1.3 million.) Don Donaldson, the Deputy County Administrator, said that the road costs would be figured into the purchase price and that it would probably be cheaper since the road would only have to extend to the entrance of the property not the entire length. Hetherington also said that the Citrus property was too large and too expensive. She said the airport property, Option 4, is the way to go since the County already has the property. You could put shovels in the ground immediately.
That is not technically correct because the Airport Enterprise Fund owns the property. The rent would be set by a fair market appraisal which is estimated to be about $500,000 per year. I would imagine that in addition to the appraisal process, there would be other things that the federal government would want. I don’t think you could turn dirt the minute a lease was signed.
Smith believed that Option 1, though already zoned industrial, should be saved for a higher use such as biomedical or technical. Option 2 is too far from populations centers. Option 4 is not the right use. Option 3 which is owned by American Custom Yacht should be saved for marine use. He wants to go to the landfill.
I don’t quite understand Smith’s rationale. He may believe that this piece of property should have this use and that another, but the market decides not the County. Ciampi stated that the Custom Yacht property is being marketed and may already have a buyer that is not a marine use. Unless the County wants to buy these properties, take them off the market and then try to find their preferred user, the Commissioner shows how little practical business experience he has.
Jenkins was negative on Options 2 and 4. He also thought that Option 3 should be for maritime use but that was before Ciampi’s statement about the property being sold. He is in favor of Option 1.
The closer you are to water, sewer, roads, and population, the more expensive the property is. The County should not be thinking in terms of today or even what the needs could be in 10 years. What are the needs for the next 50 years? If I were buying this for my business, I would look first to the 127 acres. Politically, it may be a bit difficult since it is not in the USB but that could be overcome. Twenty years from now, some of that property may be sold. It would turn a profit even with the ROI and other costs associated with the purchase.
Though looking at it as a business plan is probably asking too much of a political organization. Therefore, the next best alternative is Option 1. When asked by Ciampi how long this move has been under consideration, the presenter stated that he has worked for the County since 2001 and it was being bantered about then. Ciampi also said you need to rely on staff’s expertise for projects like these.
A motion was made by Ciampi to proceed with Option 1 and seconded by Jenkins after passing the gavel. It failed 2-3 with Hetherington, Smith and Heard in opposition. Too bad.
2020 COMMISSIONER PRIORITIES
When you wish upon a star and do nothing else, it probably won’t happen. When you say your priority is affordable housing, what do you expect to happen? Will there be magical funding to make it all come true? Are you saying you expect the government to build that housing? Are you going to do away with your impact fees or subsidize rent?
This was one of Jenkins priorities as well as Ciampi. Jenkins mentioned that as one of the larger private Martin County employers, he sees firsthand the problem as do other business owners. I would suggest to Jenkins and those other employers that if they truly think the lack of housing is hurting their recruitment efforts, they build housing and subsidize it. That would truly be a way to show commitment.
In general, this type of exercise is only helpful if the goals are obtainable. Some of the Commissioners goals may be accomplished while most will not. There is always 2021.
Attached are 2019 goals and how they have been addressed by staff and then the 2020 goals:
The 2019 Priorities:
The 2020 Priorities:
Martin County Latest News From The March 14, 2021 Edition