Lawsuits aimed at certain members of the Wellington Village Council have prompted the council to move a League of Cities luncheon planned next month at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
When the issue of whether to move the event — and whether to support events at the show grounds at all — was raised at the council’s Jan. 8 meeting, council members decided to keep the location so long as all of the council was welcome.
But within the past two weeks, the owners of the equestrian center have named both Councilman John Greene and Wellington Mayor Bob Margolis individually in lawsuits.
Village Manager Paul Schofield raised the issue again during his manager’s comments. “I need to know what you want to do,” he said.
Greene said he had spoken with representatives from the International Polo Club Palm Beach, who offered their venue for the Feb. 20 meeting.
“I know there was concern over some of the politics with certain venues at the last meeting,” he said. “It seemed that the council’s discussion was that we wanted to try to focus on an equestrian venue. I reached out to IPC… and they have the date available.”
Vice Mayor Howard Coates asked whether the League of Cities had a preference. Schofield said they did not. “They are Switzerland,” he said. “They will go wherever we ask them to.”
But Councilwoman Anne Gerwig thought the decision was to stay at PBIEC so long as all council members were invited.
“We all agreed that if we were welcome at the site, we would go,” she said. “I don’t understand why we’re having this conversation. If you just want to move it, I can easily be outvoted. But I don’t understand why we’re discussing it.”
Greene noted that at the last meeting, staff recommended against attending if the event was at PBIEC.
“They recommended we don’t hold it at a venue with which we are involved in heavy litigation,” he said. “There are certainly issues for some of the folks there toward certain council members. It’s not a very neutral site.”
But Gerwig still wasn’t convinced.
“We don’t have to do what staff says,” she said. “We made the decision at the last meeting, and it has been publicly noticed on the League of Cities web site.”
Margolis asked Schofield to explain what had happened since the Jan. 8 discussion.
“The lawsuits have been amended to name two council members individually,” Schofield said.
However, Schofield did note that he has confirmed that all council members were welcome to attend the luncheon, should it be held at the show grounds.
Coates said he wanted to be sure all council members are comfortable attending.
“I was in favor of keeping it at [PBIEC] not because of politics but because of how we brand our village as an equestrian community,” Coates said. “But I also understand the views of my co-council members who are being sued personally. If they are not comfortable being at that site, I could not, in good conscience, push to keep it someplace where they would not feel comfortable.”
Yet Coates wanted to be sure the luncheon stays in Wellington. “It sounds like Councilman Greene already worked that out,” he said. “I would support doing it at IPC if the rest of the council is comfortable there.”
Greene thanked Coates for his support. “I’m just not comfortable,” he said of plans to hold the luncheon at the equestrian center.
But Gerwig said it was playing politics no matter where they held it. “To say any location is not political is a little absurd,” she said. “I don’t agree that [IPC] is a nonpolitical location.”
Coates said he was concerned with comfort, not politics.
“If it’s a place where council members are expected to attend, it has to be a place where they’re comfortable,” he said. “It seems to me that at least four out of the five of us are comfortable at IPC, whereas only two out of five would be comfortable at the other site.”
Coates made a motion to move the meeting to IPC, which carried 4-1 with Gerwig dissenting.
In other business, council members unanimously voted to put out a request for letters of interest from lawyers or law firms looking to step in as Wellington’s village attorney.
Assistant Village Manager Francine Ramaglia explained that the option would allow Wellington to seek both in-house attorneys and contracted law firms.
Coates said he would agree with that. “I want to expedite the process,” he said.
Schofield said that the process for selecting a firm or individual lawyer would be different, so the council would need to decide eventually which to do.
Coates said he wanted the opportunity to hear a presentation from prospective attorneys, and Schofield said council members would have that chance. “You get to have that anyway,” he said. “The main difference is in the hiring process, whether you have an employee or enter into a contract.”
Council members directed staff to request letters of intent so they could continue to decide whether they wanted to hire in-house or contracted counsel.