Wellington Council To Review Magistrate Appointments

The Wellington Village Council approved the renewal of one of its four code enforcement special magistrate contracts last week, but decided to postpone the appointment of another magistrate until the appointment process is reviewed.

At the April 28 meeting, Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that the contracts for two of Wellington’s four special magistrates — attorneys William Doney and Rafael Suarez-Rivas — expire on June 1.

Schofield said Doney does not plan to seek re-appointment, while Suarez-Rivas has expressed an interest in continuing to serve.

Schofield recommended reappointing Suarez-Rivas to a second two-year term and utilizing the previous selection of candidates to appoint Doney’s replacement, which would be brought up at a later meeting. Attorney Kevin Michael Wagner had been identified as the next-ranked candidate from the selection process conducted in 2013, and Wagner has expressed an interest in serving.

The council passed an ordinance in 2013 establishing an eight-year limit of four two-year terms for special magistrates.

Code Enforcement Manager Steven Koch said his staff is preparing a report on the appointment process by other municipalities and the number of magistrates they have on staff.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she had asked Village Attorney Laurie Cohen to go through the procedures on record for magistrate appointments.

“It seems to me that we missed following our own procedure on this,” Gerwig said, pointing out that the administrative procedures adopted in 2009 state that public notice should be given 120 days prior to the expiration date. “These appointments expire [in] June, so we have missed the 120 days to advertise that.”

Gerwig added that the requirements include that three of the appointees must be residents of Wellington or have a practice in Wellington. “I think that what we are doing tonight is actually changing our procedures without a vote to change our procedures,” she said.

She added that the procedure adopted in 2012 stipulates advertising 90 days prior to the expiration of the magistrates’ terms. “It lays out where it should be advertised and how it should be done,” Gerwig said. “In some ways, we’re already varying from our own procedures and process.”

Gerwig added that state law requires the council to be the body that appoints the magistrates.

“I’m just asking for clarification on, first of all, why didn’t we follow our own procedures this time, and if there is a reason for us to violate our own procedures?” she asked.

Cohen said the 2012 resolution supersedes earlier policies.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t advertised,” Cohen said. “Apparently, the terms are coming up for expiration. We can certainly put it out and request letters of interest and see what we get. I’m not sure what occurred there. It’s not within my department.”

Gerwig said council members had discussed whether the appointments were within the Code Enforcement Department or the Legal Department, and decided it was code enforcement, but had asked legal to weigh-in on the process.

Cohen said it would be advisable to re-advertise, since it has been two years since the compilation of a candidates’ list. She also advised appointing a selection committee before the advertising is done.

Gerwig said she was primarily interested in the council following its own procedures.

Cohen said they could ask the sitting magistrates to extend their terms in order to allow them to go through that process. “We have three magistrates currently who are active, and I’m sure would be happy to cover that, so there’s certainly time to do it,” she said. “Mr. Koch had time to contact a couple of municipalities. In Boca Raton, it’s appointed by the city council with a recommendation from the city attorney and the city manager, so they don’t go through any kind of selection process reviewing the resumes or letters of interest.”

Cohen said the magistrates there do not have term limits. Boca currently has two magistrates, but they typically have three, and the magistrates’ performance is not monitored. “Other than if there is some issue that arises, we don’t really monitor their performance here,” she said.

She added that in the City of Doral, the magistrate positions are put out for bid using a purchasing model. “We did a hybrid of that the last time,” Cohen said, explaining that in Doral, the village manager reviews the candidates, and they are contracted for one year, typically with renewal clauses.

Doral has two magistrates, and their performance is not monitored.

Cohen advised that the council should adhere to its resolution stipulating a 90-day advertisement.

Councilman Matt Willhite said he had asked at the agenda review meeting the day before whom the magistrates report to. “They really don’t answer to anybody,” he said. “They are only scheduled by a person in code enforcement.”

Willhite also asked if they had appointed any new magistrates since the 2012 resolution was enacted, and Koch said the last two magistrates had been re-appointed, and the village would need to re-advertise only for the open position.

Cohen said the language of the village’s resolution says that advertising should be done 90 days prior to the end of the term.

“You also have the ability, under the resolution and under code, to remove a magistrate at any time, so I don’t see an issue, since you agreed to do it in that manner at that time,” Cohen said. “If you feel that it’s important to put that out and advertise it, then that’s certainly your call.”

Willhite said he was on the council the last time they went through the process and thought it was cumbersome to go through it every two years for four positions.

“My intention was to have some sort of term limits, and my intention was to have all of them from outside the Village of Wellington,” he said. “We don’t require the manager to live in the Village of Wellington; how can we require a magistrate on a 25 percent rotation basis [to live in Wellington]?”

Willhite said he thought they should reappoint Suarez-Rivas and advertise for the fourth position.

Mayor Bob Margolis said he thought three magistrates would be plenty for the village until they advertise the open spot.

Councilman John McGovern said that since the existing list of candidates is two years old, it should be updated.

Willhite said he thought that neither the village attorney nor code enforcement should be involved in the selection process.

Schofield suggested that the finance, operations and purchasing directors be on the selection committee.

Willhite made a motion to reappoint Suarez-Rivas, and for staff to come back with a revised policy recommendation for filling magistrate vacancies. The motion carried 5-0.