Wellington Mayor Darell Bowen hopes voters see him as a leader who has served the community well, brought consensus to the council and led the village well through a difficult period.
Bowen faces a challenge from former Councilman Bob Margolis on Tuesday, March 13. Due to a charter change, this year’s mayoral election will be for a four-year term.
“I want to serve my community,” Bowen said. “I don’t have any higher political aspirations. Once I finish the next four years, I’m done. This is it for me.”
A 27-year resident, Bowen and his wife, Sherry, moved to Wellington in 1984. They have two daughters, who Bowen noted are products of the great public schools in Wellington.
Bowen began serving the community early as a coach, and later held leadership positions with his church, and served as president of the Wellington Rotary Club and the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. He has also served on the boards of the Wellington Boys & Girls Club, the South Florida Fair and the Palm Beach Zoo.
Elected mayor in 2008 and re-elected in 2010, Bowen is a small businessman who owns two Wellington-based companies, Creative Marketing Products and Bodis Realty.
In his time as mayor, Bowen said that he has been able to bring consensus and get things done, pointing to several major projects, such as the new municipal complex and the Wellington Amphitheater, that were approved and built on his watch.
“I’ve been able to forge coalitions and get things done,” he said. “One of the biggest problems with the council before I arrived was that they couldn’t get things done. They couldn’t come to an agreement. We don’t win 5-0 on every issue, but we got things done.”
Another accomplishment, Bowen said, has been putting Wellington on a path for the next 50 years to help the community continue to thrive. He said that if re-elected, he would want to continue to develop a strong road map for Wellington’s future.
“This community became this way, not because three or four guys came out and cornered Mr. Wellington, sprinkled pixie dust over it and it popped out of the ground,” he said. “It didn’t happen by chance; it happened because they had a great plan and they pretty much followed the plan.”
Bowen said his top goal is to bring sustainable jobs to Wellington. “My opponent said that he thinks Wellington ought to be a bedroom community,” Bowen said. “This hasn’t been a bedroom community since they developed State Road 7.”
Bowen said that having good jobs nearby is crucial to making Wellington a sustainable community.
“People will not drive very far to work when gasoline is $4 a gallon,” he said. “Everyone wants to work closer to where they live, and we need to adapt to that. We need to provide these jobs, so that people can work in a job that will provide them with enough income so they can buy all these homes sitting in foreclosure and make this a sustainable community.”
Bowen said that the medical arts district concept, which he has championed, will be a key part in attracting those employers.
“I’m absolutely convinced that this is the best use for that land,” he said. “This is the best opportunity we have to create jobs. Our medical community is pretty strong here. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to build on that. The two areas we have the best opportunity to build on are the equestrian industry and the medical industry. So why don’t we build on those?”
Since Bowen took over, Wellington’s budget has dropped by more than a third. He said that he believes Wellington can sustain itself with the budget it has now without making more cuts.
“I think we can live within the budget level we have right now,” he said. “I don’t think property values are going to go any lower. One of the big reasons is because of the equestrian component. Last year, we only lost 1 percent of our property value, which was the best of anywhere in the county.”
Bowen also noted that several large, new businesses, such as NuVista, will add to the tax base. And to make sure that the tax rate doesn’t go up, Bowen said that Wellington has ample reserve funds in its rate stabilization account to help balance the budget.
“I think we’re going to be able to balance the budget this year with the taxes that are going to be available,” he said. “I’m very optimistic. I believe that the real-estate market is on the move.”
Regarding Wellington’s response to the foreclosure crisis, Bowen said that the village has been proactive but has been bogged down by banks’ response.
“I think we’ve done just about all we can,” he said. “The problem is that as long as the property is in limbo, until banks take the title, there’s no one to go after. The abatement program has been very successful and has kept the neighborhoods looking better.”
Bowen said that the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative has been successful in turning around some of Wellington’s troubled neighborhoods.
“I think that every person deserves to go to bed at night and feel safe,” he said. “If one person doesn’t, we ought to deal with it. Every penny spent on this program is worthwhile.”
One of the most controversial issues in the election is the proposed Equestrian Village development. Bowen said that he is generally supportive of the idea, but expects that changes will be needed once a specific plan is put forward.
“I haven’t seen a real plan yet,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any stomach on our council for a five-story hotel. I don’t think anyone will vote for that. I don’t even know that we’re going to increase the [density]. We might a little bit, but I don’t think it will be very much.”
He noted that the property has a use-by-right of 260,000 square feet of commercial space.
“It was never a question of whether it was going to be green space or commercial,” Bowen said. “It was whether it would be commercial retail, or a hotel with a little bit of commercial. I personally think we’d be better off with a high-end hotel and a bit of retail than we would be with a whole lot of retail.”
Bowen also refuted claims by some that he is “in the pocket” of developer Mark Bellissimo.
“It’s just bunk,” he said. “I’ve never been to his house, I’ve never been to dinner with him. We don’t travel in the same circles. But he has been an asset to this community. I have a relationship with him because I need to. He is a big player here, and I need to be able to work with him.”
Though he voted to enter Wellington into a lawsuit against the financing scheme for the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General, Bowen refuted claims that he does not support the county’s overall ethics initiative.
“I’m very much in favor of the inspector general and her mission,” he said. “The problem is that when it was presented, it was supposed to be a quarter of a percent tax on contracts. But then they came to us with this assessment.”
Bowen said that his issue is that Wellington is being asked to pay double what other communities are. “I have a responsibility to protect my taxpayers,” he said. “They’re not assessing on a fair basis. But we did pay our assessment even though we didn’t agree with them. We have in no way tried to stop their work.”
While Margolis has run a campaign based on his opinion that Wellington needs to be more “transparent,” Bowen said that Wellington is among the most transparent communities in the state.
“Tomorrow morning you can go on our web site and see what bills we paid today,” he said. “I don’t know what else we can do. Wellington is one of the most transparent communities, and with transparency comes increased public scrutiny.”
Overall, Bowen said that he has been a leader who has navigated Wellington through the tough times. He said he wants the chance to see his vision through.
“I’m going to keep us moving forward,” he said. “We’re going to continue to move forward while being fiscally responsible. We’re going to finally create jobs so that we can be more sustainable and broaden our tax base so that your kids and my kids will be able to come back here, get a job and raise their families.”