Loxahatchee Groves Town Councilman Ron Jarriel defended his actions last week after the town’s management company criticized him for directly asking the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District for help with hedging work on a town road.
His action drew a letter from Town Manager Mark Kutney suggesting that Jarriel was undercutting Kutney’s authority as town manager, since he had been directed by the council to seek a contractor to do the work.
In a memo to Jarriel dated Dec. 11, Kutney wrote: “It is with deep sadness that I must write this… I specifically refer to your actions at the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors meeting last evening. Earlier that afternoon, I had informed you that the town’s public works independent contractor was set to undertake the hedging of Sixth Court North from D Road to Folsom Road. Although you expressed a contrary view, you did not advise me of any intention to address this matter in front of the LGWCD board.”
Kutney’s memo also charged that Jarriel had violated the town’s charter regarding non-interference by council members and asserted that Jarriel violated the town’s ethics code, which states that no public officer shall undermine the duties, responsibilities and role of the town manager.
Jarriel asked that the issue be placed on the Jan. 15 council agenda for discussion, saying he felt his actions were not unwarranted if he were acting as a citizen.
“We have a situation where the town manager felt I was unethical, and I want to clarify it tonight,” Jarriel said. “If the council feels like I was unethical, then I need to know it, and it won’t happen again. If they agree with the way I feel, then we have to ask for legal advice how we can keep this from happening again.”
Jarriel said he was concerned that Kutney had also written a letter to LGWCD Chairman David DeMarois expressing similar concerns, a move Jarriel said was “uncalled for.”
He pointed out that LGWCD staff hedged the road in six hours using its hedging tractor, which is capable of trimming as high as 22 feet.
“If the town had been able to get their contractor to do it, we had an estimated cost of 30 hours,” Jarriel said, pointing out that the town’s independent contractor is LGWCD Supervisor Frank Schiola. “The job would have been done with a pole saw and a chain saw. At $26.50 an hour, it would have been approximately $800. That’s not counting the rental of the chain saw and pole saw.”
Jarriel also pointed out that using those tools would have been dangerous compared with using the tractor.
Kutney’s letter to DeMarois referred to a 1999 attorney general opinion that special districts could not perform work on private roads. Jarriel did not feel that concept applies.
“Everybody knows that the roads in Loxahatchee Groves are basically public roads because they’re open to the public,” Jarriel said, estimating that he has personally put in 20 to 30 requests for various types of maintenance on behalf of residents.
Councilman Tom Goltzené said he has spoken to Kutney about the need for hedging and trimming on Sixth Court North. “I spoke to him as we rode in his vehicle the length of the street and watched the branches bounce off his windshield,” Goltzené said, adding that the town had been waiting a long time to see any work done.
Jarriel said the town is in need of an interlocal agreement with the district for such work, but it has been stalled by recent events, including the dismissal of former LGWCD Administrator Clete Saunier.
The memo from Kutney warned Jarriel to take his concerns seriously, “since these infractions are considered malfeasance.”
“I would advise you that you conduct yourself accordingly, as the management company cannot continue to overlook this indiscriminate behavior in the future,” Kutney concluded.
Jarriel asked council members if they thought he had behaved unethically. “I personally feel like the management works for the council. The way I read this letter is we work for management,” he said.
Kutney said the management company enjoys its role but that there have been several situations where Jarriel had pushed the envelope. “You guys have been great bosses,” he said, adding, “Ron Jarriel is a fine man [and] my memorandum was an attempt to help Ron.”
Kutney pointed out that the management company operates under direction of a council majority and that if individual council members do things that could affect the rest of the council, it’s a serious situation.
Kutney said he had no intention of the discussion being on the agenda, but Jarriel had insisted. He added that Jarriel cannot appear before other governmental bodies saying he is only a resident, because he is still a councilman. “I’m sure when those supervisors look at him they don’t recognize just Ron Jarriel, resident,” Kutney said.
During public comment, LGWCD Supervisor Don Widing said that if he’d known his motion at the district meeting was to do the hedging, he would not have done it, and he did not know that the town’s contractor was Schiola. He added that it had taken too long to reach an interlocal agreement between the district and the town.
“It doesn’t take 10 people three or four months to make a simple decision on who’s going to cut some stinking dead trees down in this town,” Widing said. “We’ve got to stop these little skirmishes.”
Councilman Jim Rockett said he did not disapprove of Jarriel’s behavior. “I think he might get overzealous at times, but that’s it,” Rockett said. “I’m not interested in doing anything about it.”
Vice Mayor Ryan Liang said he supports Jarriel and his actions. “I think the bigger question is, why did he feel he needed to go directly to the district?” Liang said. “At times, I’m sure we all have felt government is moving too slow. We’re trying to get things done, and Ron feels at times that he needs to take it into his own hands. I have no objections to that, but we do need to follow our guidelines.”
Liang added that he would have liked the council to have discussed the issue before Kutney’s letter had been sent to the district.
Goltzené said the function of the council is to make policy. “In doing that, we ought to realize those policies are for everyone, including ourselves,” he said. “Ron needs to understand, and I say this with all due respect… that his role in this situation is one of five, and one who is here to vote on issues and give direction to management, and to allow management to do the work.”
Goltzené said he did not want to sanction Jarriel, and that it was Jarriel himself who had brought the issue up. “I’d just like to see people get along, work together and we not have any repercussions of this between us,” he said.