In a 4-1 decision Tuesday, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council agreed with their town clerk that a petition calling for a referendum on the planned Palm Beach State College campus failed to meet legal requirements.
An initiative committee circulated the petition calling for the repeal of two ordinances allowing the campus, gathering more than 250 signatures. Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said the committee had requested that the council review the clerk’s finding.
“The clerk found two grounds for insufficiency: one, that the petition did not have the text of the ordinances attached; and second, that the affidavit indicated that the text of the petition was available to the individuals who signed the petition, while charter says to provide the text of the ordinance,” Cirullo said.
Town Clerk Susan Eichhorn said she received what was supposed to be a complete package by the committee, and she looked at it along with Town Manager Mark Kutney and Cirullo.
“I did not see the full text of the ordinance attached to the complete package that was delivered,” Eichhorn said. “Also, on the affidavit, I did not see language that indicated that the text of the ordinance was attached. That led me to recommend that the petition was insufficient.”
Todd McLendon, a member of the initiative committee who has been one of the most vocal proponents of a referendum, said the text of the ordinances was attached to the petition.
“It simply wasn’t turned in when we turned the petition in because it said we needed to turn it in,” McLendon said. “You said we needed to have it attached while we were circulating the petition, so we cleared that up after the fact when there seemed to be some type of confusion as to whether it was attached or not. We did provide documentation that it was attached, although it wasn’t necessary because our town charter doesn’t say we need to turn that in.”
McLendon, who narrowly lost last week’s council election to incumbent Vice Mayor Jim Rockett, maintained that they only had to have the text attached while they were circulating the petition, not when it was turned it in to the office. “The action taking place right now is exactly what we suspected,” he said. “You’re trying to find the ‘i’ that wasn’t dotted, the ‘t’ that wasn’t crossed, to try to stop the people from voting. Everybody who signed the petition knew full well this was to allow us to vote whether the college came here or not.”
Planning & Zoning Commission Member Dennis Lipp, a former councilman, said he has supported the college from the beginning, but supports going ahead with a referendum since more than 250 people had signed it.
“When I say that, the words curdle in my mouth, but I think we should do it because it’s something that those who are friends of the college need to unite on this and put on a very vigorous campaign and let the people know the truth,” Lipp said, pointing out that if the ordinances allowing the college are repealed, the land use and zoning would revert to the previous mixed commercial use. “If they vote for this, that corner is going to look like something from Military Trail, with 300,000 square feet of commercial low and offices, as well as a 19-unit gated, zero-lot line community. That ain’t Loxahatchee Groves. The college will be our neighbor and will be something the people in this community can enjoy.”
Marsha Newell, another member of the initiative committee, said the town had not found a way to let residents know what’s going on, but now they are aware. “All of a sudden, people know we’re going to have a college on B Road,” Newell said. “Let them vote. I have not decided myself, but I think it’s something we need to vote on.”
Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor John Ryan said the council had vetted the college question for more than a year in public meetings and workshops, and the proceedings were well-publicized in local newspapers.
“I don’t believe we have a community of hermits out here who just don’t pay attention to anything and don’t listen to anything,” he said. “I think the petition has other motivations than real sincerity.”
Resident Ann Parker said the petitioners came by her house asking her to sign. “My comment was, ‘You should have thought about it a long time ago,’” Parker said. “Anyway, that petition had nothing attached. It was just the petition.”
Planning & Zoning Commission Chair Grace Joyce commended the town on the process it went through to approve the college. “I know no one in this room took this lightly one way or the other, so again this is process and transparency,” Joyce said.
Rockett said the idea that the petition did not include the full text of the ordinance when it was turned in, yet it was attached when they circulated it, begs the question of why the committee went to the trouble of removing the text before they submitted it to the clerk.
Rockett also produced a sampling of six signatures on one page of the petition with statements from the signers that indicated the full text of the ordinances was not attached.
“These six people are calling Mr. McLendon a liar, as I am, because he states that it was attached thereto,” Rockett said. “This is a sampling that says it was not.”
Councilman Tom Goltzené said he took Rockett’s points well but felt the referendum should go forward. “I think it would be a disservice to the town to have this be the end of it,” Goltzené said. “I think you would find a greater deal of dissension and bad will. I think for the town’s purposes, we’d be better off.”
Councilman Ron Jarriel said people had told him the full text was not attached. “They were misled and asked Mr. McLendon to take their names off the petition, and their names were still on that petition when it was certified,” he said. “I personally think we have more people who feel like we need to move on and not have a referendum.”
Councilman Ryan Liang said that the council must follow its own rules. “If we determine this to be sufficient, what does that say about our town?” Liang said. “Did we follow our own laws? I’m sure the college would file suit to say that we made a bad decision, an incorrect decision against our own rules.”
Jarriel made a motion to accept the clerk’s finding of insufficiency, which carried 4-1, with Goltzené opposed.