Former Wellington Councilman Bob Margolis hopes that voters will heed his campaign message of experience, transparency and ethics, and elect him mayor on Tuesday, March 13.
“I believe that the council should listen and respond to residents’ needs,” said Margolis, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Darell Bowen. “I don’t see that happening today. I know I can do a better job running the village with the rest of the council. I have been involved in Wellington for more than 20 years. I understand where it has been and where it needs to go.”
Margolis and his wife, Linda, moved to Wellington in 1983 to raise their family. “I could have moved anywhere,” he said. “I picked Wellington because of its village feel, the lifestyle and the ambiance.”
Early on, he became involved first as a coach, then in running Wellington’s travel basketball league and as part of the Wellington High School Football Boosters. He also chaired Wellington’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.
Margolis was appointed to the council in April 2003 and resigned as part of an unsuccessful bid to become Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections in 2008. He left office in January 2009.
A retired pharmaceutical representative with Proctor & Gamble, Margolis currently sits on Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.
During his time in office, Margolis said that the council accomplished many things, including saving residents millions of dollars by purchasing land that became the Wellington Environmental Preserve, purchasing the K-Park land on State Road 7 and saving money in a reserve fund that helped Wellington through the economic downturn.
Margolis said that he believes Wellington has become less transparent in recent years and that current council members do not listen to residents.
If elected, he said that his goals would include an independent audit to help foster transparency, revamping code enforcement and addressing crime issues.
Margolis said that an independent audit would ultimately help the village.
“The awards we get are based on the… information we give them,” he said. “The audit information we give them is not the information that is there. It’s not about finding fault, but about finding recommendations.”
Margolis said he’d also like to readdress code enforcement, which he feels was more stringent years ago.
“I’m a little concerned about the way the village is looking,” he said. “I think code enforcement has been lax. I think there needs to be a revamping of code enforcement that is not selective for a couple of people. I don’t believe it’s just enforcement; I think it’s education.”
Margolis is also concerned about crime.
“We have the Safe Neighborhoods program,” he said, “which one could argue that that’s nothing more than a community policing program. They say crime has declined by 50 percent in some of those areas. I’m not concerned about those areas. I’m worried about where those people are going in the rest of Wellington. We can argue about statistics, but that’s what people tell me, and that’s what I feel. I would want to sit down with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and develop a plan for all of Wellington, not just the rental areas.”
Margolis is concerned that the Safe Neighborhoods program is not helping. “When I did research on the [program],” he said, “it really concerned me because some of the money was being spent on video games. I don’t understand where the need for video games helps solve crime in the neighborhoods. I see a disconnect there.”
He also criticized Wellington’s decision to close Goldenrod Road — a measure that proponents said would stop speeding and curb crime in the area.
“You can’t just close down the problem,” he said. “You have to develop a solution. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know we have to keep working toward an answer. Closing a road does nothing for it.”
Margolis said that smart financial decisions have helped Wellington weather tough economic times. He said he would look to cut salaries before services.
“Our council built up ample reserves so it could make cuts but not cut many services,” he said. “If I had to cut, I’d look first at senior management salaries. I think they are doing a good job… but if you look at the top 10 senior staff members of Wellington, it’s at least $1.5 to $2 million in salaries and benefits.”
He said that should tax rate increases be necessary, an open and honest discussion with residents is important.
“If we tell them how we are spending their money in a transparent manner,” he said, “and give them reasons why there should be a tax rate increase, they won’t be against that. If an increase of $5 a month is for superior parks and better schools, they’re not going to mind that. When residents see we spent $6 million to put pretty trees on Forest Hill [Blvd.], they are against that.”
With Wellington suffering more than other communities from the foreclosure crisis, Margolis said that more work is necessary.
“Wellington has done a good job with education,” he said. “My concern is with those homes that are not in foreclosure; those that are in disarray. Wellington has an abatement, which we pay a lot of money for. I don’t see that working. My concern also is that… there are over 300 squatters in the Village of Wellington right now that are in homes they aren’t supposed to be in. That causes crime issues.”
Margolis said that he’d like to see some changes in the management of Wellington, notably with the elimination of some senior staffers and possibly a change to the village attorney.
“We don’t need two assistant village managers,” he said. “When I was on the council, we had department heads and it worked well. They have too many senior staff members. They’re good people, but with benefits, they are probably in the $250,000 range. We’re struggling. We’re hiring more senior staff while reducing other positions. The mayor and the council will tell you we didn’t fire anyone, but the employees who were fired will tell you different.”
Margolis wants the village attorney’s position put out for bid.
“I think we should go out for a competitive interview process to see what’s out there,” he said. “I think [current attorney] Mr. [Jeff] Kurtz should be a part of that process. What concerns me is the village attorney is supposed to advise on legal issues. I think at times he oversteps his bounds and almost serves as the sixth councilperson and gives his opinion. That’s because he’s passionate. He lives here, and he’s passionate about his community.”
Regarding the proposed medical arts district, Margolis said he does not believe the concept is feasible.
“I’ve known the medical community here for years,” he said. “I’ve talked with doctors in the area who don’t know anything about it. They say they don’t need more medical arts. I think it was sort of a bait-and-switch. They said they were going to build the medical arts district so they could double the intensity.”
Margolis also opposes Wellington’s decision to join a lawsuit against the inspector general’s financing.
“Seventy-two percent of the people in Wellington and the county screamed to have the inspector general overlook the municipalities,” he said. “Entering into a lawsuit is almost an insult… Sheryl Steckler said that it costs two postage stamps per year per resident. I don’t think that would be adverse to anybody.”
Another controversial issue is the proposed Equestrian Village project, which Margolis voted against when it came before the zoning board. He said he thought that the process for the project was flawed. “The village didn’t question,” he said. “They didn’t ask. They approved everything.”
Margolis said he supports the dressage element but feels the commercial aspect is too large.
“The comprehensive plan says you cannot build higher than 35 feet in the equestrian preserve,” he said. “If you look at the plans, they have pillars going to 100 feet. Nothing else in the Village of Wellington is that big.”
Margolis said he would be a leader with passion who will fight for transparent government.
“If they like where Wellington has been,” he said, “and they like the job I’ve done, if they like transparency, honesty and integrity, voters will choose me. I have no agenda. I only want to make Wellington what it was and help Wellington become what I know it can be.”