A manual recount held last Saturday formally declared Bob Margolis, Matt Willhite and John Greene the rightful winners of the disputed March 13 Wellington election.
After three weeks of meetings, court hearings and uncertainty over the vote, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Robin Rosenberg approved a request last Thursday for an expedited hand count.
The six-hour hand count on Saturday, held at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections facility in Riviera Beach, found the numbers to be almost exactly the same as the March 19 machine recount ordered by Wellington Canvassing Board members the day the vote-counting mix-up was discovered.
Margolis received 2,947 votes (50.6 percent) to Mayor Darell Bowen’s 2,877 votes (49.4 percent). Meanwhile, Greene took 2,957 votes (51.85 percent) to Shauna Hostetler’s 2,745 votes (48.15 percent) in the Seat 1 race. Willhite easily won the Seat 4 race, taking 3,342 votes (58.07 percent) to former Councilman Al Paglia’s 2,412 votes (41.93 percent).
The only difference between last Saturday’s numbers and the March 19 machine recount were two under-votes in the races for seats 1 and 4, Village Clerk Awilda Rodriguez said.
Shortly after the hand recount results were announced, the canvassing board met and declared Margolis, Greene and Willhite winners of the election. The candidates will be sworn in before the April 10 council meeting.
Margolis said he is looking forward to getting on with village business. “The process worked,” he said. “We were happy to see that the manual recount was perfect. [Supervisor of Elections] Susan Bucher did a phenomenal job of guiding everyone through the process.”
He added, however, that he’s looking forward to being officially sworn in. “While I’m confident that the results are certified,” he said, “we’re not sworn in yet. When we’re officially sworn in, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief.”
Margolis said he is looking ahead, noting that big items like the budget, the Equestrian Village project and committee appointments are set to come up soon. First and foremost, however, he plans to tackle Wellington’s involvement in the lawsuit against the Office of the Inspector General. “I added it to next week’s agenda because I would like to have it dismissed,” he said.
To help get residents engaged, Margolis said he’d like to bring back the importance of advisory boards and committees, as well as encourage residents to speak at meetings.
“It seems like [the boards and committees] have been watered down for whatever reason,” he said. “We really need to make them feel important again and let them set their own agendas.”
He also wants to see seniors have a say. “We sunset a senior advisory board some years ago,” Margolis said. “I think it’s time to get those folks back together, whether it’s the same people or new seniors. We need to get their input, especially about the new community center.”
Margolis said he will be receptive to residents’ ideas. “We need to be a little more user-friendly during council meetings,” he said. “It’s a chance for the public to represent their needs and views, and we shouldn’t limit that.”
Willhite said he was pleased with the outcome. “I felt like I did a lot to represent Wellington,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into the race and ran a good, clean campaign. So, I was disappointed to think that I lost.”
He said that winning is validation that residents feel he has done a good job representing them.
“I think residents thought a lot of me and what I’d done,” he said. “I swung the largest margin of votes and the largest amount of votes cast.”
Willhite said he was grateful that Bucher identified the problem and moved quickly to rectify it. “I felt the hand count was the most accurate way to prove that the voters did vote for me,” he said.
Willhite said he will continue to work toward bringing the community together and doing what’s best, noting that even though candidates had different ideas, everyone wants to see Wellington succeed.
“Everyone who ran cares about Wellington,” he said. “I think we need to calm the community down and assure them that we are working for the betterment of Wellington. Whatever the council does over the next four years, each one of us is doing what we think is best for Wellington, no matter who you are, how much money you have or what your interests are.”
Greene said he felt fortunate that the mistake was caught, ensuring that the correct candidates were put in office.
“It’s easier for me, thinking that I lost and ending up winning, than for someone who thought they won and then found out they lost,” he said. “I feel fortunate that the mistake was caught, made public and corrected.”
Greene said he was in support of the hand recount but wanted to be sure it was done swiftly.
“If that’s what it took to bring closure so that everyone feels that every vote was counted, I have no problem with that,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do was leave it in their hands to file suit. So we got it in front of a judge and said if a hand count is necessary, we wanted to move it forward as quickly as possible.”
Now that the results have been certified, Greene said his first goal is getting up to speed.
“I want to get a good handle on things,” he said, noting that he has been meeting with Wellington staff. “This is not just about a single issue. I’m an objective person who wants to do what is best for the community on all issues.”
Greene thanked his supporters but noted that he will be a voice for all residents, whether they voted for him or not.
“Whether you voted for me or didn’t vote for me, I will continue to fight for you and to make Wellington a better place,” he said.