The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors moved ahead Nov. 20 on a request by Supervisor Gary Dunkley for an assistant in his position as treasurer to help with a financial newsletter.
However, Dunkley’s selection of former ITID Supervisor Penny Riccio for that position drew sharp objections from Supervisor Michelle Damone.
Damone and Riccio are longtime political foes. Riccio unseated Damone in 2002 and served one four-year term on the ITID board. Damone regained an ITID board seat in 2004 and clashed with Riccio for the next two years.
In 2006, Riccio chose not to seek re-election to the ITID board, opting instead to mount an independent run for the Palm Beach County Commission. She took 5.5 percent of the vote, coming in a distant third in a three-way race won by Jess Santamaria.
In a 3-2 decision at its October meeting, the board had approved the request for a Dunkley assistant. The position was designed to help Dunkley as he recovers from a recent hospital stay.
“[Residents] used to get updates on our financial statements until the year 2006,” Dunkley said. “As the treasurer, I’d like to enact where the residents of The Acreage will be able to get a quarterly statement; a treasurer’s report of what your money is being used for. The transparency needs to be there.”
He explained that Riccio published a quarterly report when she was a supervisor. “She volunteered to try and put together our first treasurer’s report,” Dunkley said.
He said there are some big-ticket items the board has discussed that he believes residents should be aware of. “I’m not here to run your money,” Dunkley said. “I’m here because you trust my decisions, but in my decisions, I would like to make it more open.”
ITID Vice President Carol Jacobs asked about a purchase order that was placed for $1,000 for Riccio to publish the report, and Dunkley said the order had been canceled because they had decided she would publish the first report voluntarily, and then they would discuss compensation.
ITID Manager Jim Shallman explained that a purchase order is made if an expense is anticipated, but no check was issued. He clarified that the purchase order still exists.
Dunkley said he took full responsibility for hiring Riccio, pointing out that as treasurer, he is entitled by statutes to an office, stamps and a deputy.
“It doesn’t say that I have to go to anyone for this permission,” he said. “Once the board says I can have this, based on the statutes, I chose Penny Riccio.”
ITID President Jennifer Hager said some people were wondering why a current staff member could not publish the report. ITID Attorney Mary Viator said that option is available and that the district now has a finance director who could do it. “That is an option,” she said. “However, Mr. Dunkley is the treasurer, and the board did authorize going forward with that.”
Dunkley said Riccio would not have direct access to financial activities. “Any fiduciary responsibilities fall on my shoulders,” he said.
Shallman added that after the first successful distribution of the newsletter, with board consensus, $20 per hour with no benefits might be discussed. “That was the figure I came up with, without benefits, without vacation, anything else. If it’s a success, we come back to the board for consideration,” he said.
Damone said despite Dunkley’s accepting responsibility, the decision would reflect on the entire board.
“This board selected and chose Mr. Dunkley as treasurer,” Damone said. “Three of you voted to support Mr. Dunkley getting an assistant. When asked to declare who that person was, and he knew last month, he chose not to. For a person who ran on transparency and refused in public to state who that person was, and three people on this board went ahead and gave their votes for him to be able to do that, so therefore it reflects three of your votes. It also still reflects all five of us, because at the end of the day, we are all responsible for the tax dollars of this district.”
Damone alleged that Riccio had acted irresponsibly in the past. “I have a very thick folder over here, and I have a thicker one at home, and that includes some false unemployment claims when she was a supervisor here at the district,” Damone said. “I have a problem with the person you chose. I have a problem spending $1,000. I think staff should do it. I’m not debating whether a financial newsletter should be printed or not, but I do not like the way that this board conducted it.”
Supervisor Ralph Bair said the district is prepared to spend $10,000 to $30,000 for web site improvements with a lot of additional information. “To put out a quarterly newsletter, that’s three months behind,” Bair said. “You put it on the web site, and it’s updated every month.”
Dunkley said he asked staff to do updates to the web site but said some people are not able to get on the Internet.
He added that Damone had made an assumption that he had already selected Riccio to do the newsletter.
“I had more than one person in mind, and I decided when I wanted to,” Dunkley said. “That’s a personal attack, but we are dealing with a newsletter that she has previous knowledge of what we are about to do.”
Jacobs made a motion to make the discussion an agenda item because there were some residents who wanted to comment, which carried 5-0.
During public input, resident Anne Kuhl said she had no problem with a quarterly newsletter because the information being published is already public. “I really don’t understand why anyone would be that concerned, for just putting that information in a good format that everyone can understand,” Kuhl said.
Resident Patricia Curry also supported a quarterly newsletter and would like to see one with more general information. “We have a lot of residents who just have no idea of what Indian Trail Improvement District is and what it does,” Curry said. “Most of the people have no idea they pay taxes to Indian Trail.”
Jacobs said she would like to get more information on how many hours it would take to produce and how much the postage would be. “I think people would like something with not just finances,” she said.
Damone said the newsletter was to detract from a more covert intent. “I love the smoke and mirrors,” she said. “Everybody supports the newsletter. What I don’t support is the person doing the newsletter. What I don’t support is the process we went through. It was less than transparent.”
Damone said there were issues with the distribution of the newsletter and its content when Riccio published it.
“It was less than transparent then, and it will be less than transparent now,” Damone said. “There will be abuse of the newsletters. I hope the board will have a chance to review it. This woman does not follow rules.”
Hager said she favored a newsletter because it is more “in your face” than the web site where residents have to seek out the information.
Dunkley said that Riccio was being unfairly attacked, pointing out that she had never been arrested and had no criminal record. “She can do the job; she did the job before,” Dunkley said.
“That is my entire problem, that she is going to do what she did before,” Damone said. “I’ve been down this road before. There’s three of you up for election next year. She will abuse the position [and] the newsletter.”
Damone said the newsletter had been used in the past to support candidates Riccio favored. “Little things like that that might not land you in jail, but are still unethical,” Damone said. “You guys weren’t here. You weren’t active then.”
In other business, ITID Engineer Jay Foy announced to a round of applause by residents that new flood maps produced by the South Florida Water Management showed significantly fewer homes in The Acreage to be in a flood zone than recently published Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps.
Foy said all the homes in the M-2 Basin are now out of the flood zone, whereas most of them were in it before, thanks to data recently released by the South Florida Water Management District.
“I talked to FEMA, and they say they will accept this,” Foy said, displaying maps generated by LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology showing all but a few Acreage homes not to be flooded in a heavy storm. “These homes will no longer need flood insurance.”
Foy cautioned that mortgagers and insurers might say a homeowner needs flood insurance because there is flooding on the property, but that is not the case. “This is South Florida, and that’s what’s supposed to happen,” Foy said. “Your house isn’t supposed to flood, but your lot is. That’s where the fight comes in.”
ABOVE: The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors.