Clerk: Petition Doesn’t Meet Referendum Criteria

The clerk of the Town of Loxahatchee Groves has determined that the petition to reverse approval of Palm Beach State College’s new campus is insufficient because those conducting the petition drive did not prove a complete copy of the ordinance in question was attached to the signing sheet.

This is the second attempt by a group trying to force a referendum to repeal the ordinance and resolution the council approved last August. On the first attempt, the initiators failed to maintain 10 members of their committee, as the town charter requires.

Town Clerk Sue Eichhorn said that this time, the committee gathered 267 signatures, which were then verified by the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections.

“They had to amount to 10 percent of the voters from the last election, which was 2,069 registered voters, so they would have had to have 207 signatures,” Eichhorn told the Town-Crier Wednesday, noting that 244 signatures were deemed valid.

“After that, we had to go by our charter and review the petitions to see if they were sufficient or not,” Eichhorn said. “We had to go line by line by the dictates of our charter… The two areas of [insufficiency] were that the total text of the ordinance was not attached as far as we knew to the petition so that people when signing it could read it, nor was it indicated in their affidavit that they had submitted the full text of the ordinance to the registered voters to read.”

After the initiative committee received the certificate of insufficiency, one of its leaders, Todd McLendon, also a candidate for Loxahatchee Groves Town Council running against incumbent Jim Rockett, submitted an affidavit stating that the full text was attached when people signed the petition, Eichhorn said.

The issue will go before town council Tuesday, March 5, when they will have several options, including acceptance of McLendon’s affidavit. “Our charter gives any person who has had a petition certified as insufficient two days to come back and request that the council review it,” Eichhorn said. “They really didn’t request that, they just submitted this affidavit, which I have taken as their request to have the council review it.”

Eichhorn said she didn’t know if council members would take action at the March 5 meeting or the March 19 meeting. Options include rescinding the ordinance and resolution, calling a referendum or challenging the petition’s validity. “There may be more options, depending on what happens in their discussion,” she said.

McLendon said the paperwork was attached when committee members circulated the petition. “I have since signed an affidavit that stated we had all the paperwork with the petition when we were circulating,” he told the Town-Crier. “Now, what they’re going to do is leave it up to the town council. They’re doing exactly what I expected them to do, which is to do everything in their power to stop the people from voting.”

McLendon said he believes the council is trying to stall action on the petition until after the March 12 election. “They’re going to present it to the council March 5, and they’re not going to ask them to make a decision March 5 because it’s seven days before [the election].”

McLendon asserted that town staff could have presented the petition to the council two weeks ago. “How convenient is that? They clearly could make that decision March 5, but they’re not going to,” he predicted. “The reason they’re not going to is they don’t want people to vote. They’ll be free to do that assuming Jim Rockett is re-elected.”

If the council deems the petition insufficient, McLendon said he would probably call yet another initiative. “That possibility is definitely open,” he said. “Would it be a big deal? We collected those signatures, more signatures than necessary in less than half the amount of time, so could we do it again? Absolutely, so all it’s going to do is delay the inevitable, which is the people voting. I don’t care if we have to do the petition 10 times.”

If a referendum is conducted, McLendon said he would support the outcome either way. He added that he thought council members’ contention that repeal could cost taxpayers $4.5 million or more is a scare tactic; however, town officials are concerned that if the referendum occurs and passes, the college would be left holding a $4.5 million property it could not use, and probably would seek remuneration from the town.