Four of five seats on the Wellington Village Council will be up for grabs on March 15, 2016 — and the fifth could become vacant should Councilwoman Anne Gerwig choose to challenge Mayor Bob Margolis.
The formal qualifying period opens at noon on Tuesday, Nov. 24 and closes at noon on Tuesday, Dec. 8. That is months earlier than the normal filing deadline, which is usually in February. However, the 2016 municipal election will be held concurrently with Florida’s presidential primary, and the state requires an earlier ballot deadline.
Seats up for election include:
• The Mayor’s Seat, currently held by Mayor Bob Margolis. Finishing up his first four-year term, Margolis has announced his intention to run for re-election and has already accumulated a sizable campaign war chest. Margolis currently has no formal challenger, but Gerwig’s name is the one most often mentioned.
• Seat 1, currently held by Vice Mayor John Greene. Also finishing up his first four-year term, Greene has so far drawn one challenger — attorney Michael Drahos, who serves on Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.
• Seat 3, currently held by Councilman John McGovern. McGovern was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Howard Coates upon his elevation to a judgeship. McGovern has announced that he will run for the remaining two years of Coates’ term. He is unchallenged so far. Should he win, McGovern would face the electorate again in 2018.
• Seat 4, currently held by Councilman Matt Willhite. Willhite will leave office due to term limits. He has already announced plans to seek a State House seat. Seat 4 has so far drawn two candidates: attorney Michael Napoleone and community activist Bart Novack.
Napoleone said that he is running because he has deep ties to the village.
“I’ve got a young family, a 10-year-old and a 2-year old. I have a long-term vested interest in how the community develops and grows over the next 10 or 20-plus years,” he said. “I care about how our village is governed. I care about how our money is spent. I care about how we are viewed by the outside world, and I care about what our future is going to look like, because the Wellington we build today is the Wellington our children are going to inherit.”
Napoleone recently replaced Michelle McGovern, the wife of Councilman McGovern, on the village’s Charter Review Committee. She resigned when her husband was appointed to the council.
He has also been active in the village through his son’s youth sports and scouting group. “I’ve always been active in his schooling and his school events,” Napoleone said, adding that his son went to preschool locally and currently attends Binks Forest Elementary School.
He said his activities have always been public service-oriented. “I was Palm Beach County Bar president, and I’m vice chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County,” Napoleone said. “I’ve always had a desire for public service and giving back to my community.”
He added that he attends council meetings regularly. “I’m pretty plugged into what’s going on,” Napoleone said.
Novack, a 14-year resident, could not be reached for comment. However, when announcing his candidacy last month, he wrote that he has served the community coaching two girls soccer teams, and that even when his daughter was no longer playing, he continued as a coach for many years.
He has worked in construction in different capacities from a laborer to boss. Novack also noted that he has been an outspoken voice in the community and at Wellington Village Council meetings for many years, stressing that he aims to help others without the thought of personal gain.
As a councilman, Novack said, “I will support equal rights for the rich and the poor, complete transparency, public policy and community outreach. I want to protect our bedroom community with low taxes, responsible growth and management. I will not divide our community, and, instead, will try to unite us.”
Margolis said that he is willing to hold his record up to anyone who comes forward to challenge him. “I’ve said all along that every member of the council is equal in the amount of power that they have,” he said. “We all have one vote, and the mayor is no different.”
He pointed out that the mayor’s job, besides running the meeting, is ceremonial at events, but he has changed his method of presiding to fit with council members’ desires.
“I’m a little bit more flexible in running the meetings than other mayors, and the reason I do that is because I don’t want to stifle conversation,” Margolis said. “I know we’re guided by a certain set of rules. There are probably thousands of pages of Robert’s Rules of Order, but if you look at the reason it started, it was for a different type of governing body than we have.”
In the beginning, Margolis said he tried to abide by Robert’s Rules, and council members did not seem to want to abide by that.
“Having been on the council before, I didn’t like my opinions stifled,” he said. “I’m a big believer that if you don’t like my opinion, don’t vote like I vote. I don’t believe council members are up there to argue with each other about their own opinions, which we do. It’s very difficult, quite frankly, to govern with some of the arguments that we have had for the last number of years, but it wasn’t any different than the council that we had before. It’s just different players.”
He feels that all council members are entitled to their own opinions. “We all are committed to the same thing, and that is to make the Village of Wellington the best it can be,” Margolis said. “We all have different views on how it can be. If you look at the Village of Wellington, there’s nothing bad about it. Property values are great, our schools are great, our parks and rec is great. We’re building a new community center. We built a new tennis center.”
Yet if people look for the bad in everything, they will find something, he said.
“I feel sorry for the people who want to look for the bad in everything,” Margolis said. “I think if you look at the beginning of this council, and where we are today, we have gone in a direction where this place gets complimented all the time.”
Gerwig, who has been considering a run for mayor, said she is still undecided because she would either have to resign outright to get her seat on the ballot, or resign effective after the election, which would throw the appointment to the council.
“My situation is that if I run, my seat cannot go on the ballot,” she said. “Because I would resign to run, my resignation is not effective until the date you would take the other office, which would be the week after the election.”
She said she asked for an opinion on the vacancy from the Florida Elections Commission but has not received an answer.
“If I resign to run, which I have to do to qualify, could my seat go on the ballot? At this point, the Election Commission attorney has not answered that question. They have not given us any information,” Gerwig said. “At this point, it looks like my seat would not go on the ballot, and that means after the election, the four council members would appoint the seat. That’s not that unusual, but for me, I don’t like that. I’d prefer to have the public pick their servant, so it adds a question.”
Gerwig said that she would like to run for mayor because she does not feel that Margolis runs the meetings efficiently.
“It’s a Catch-22, and I have to determine what’s best for me and my family, and what’s best for the village,” she said. “Officially, I have not made up my mind yet.”
Gerwig noted that many people have told her that she should stay where she is and not run. “I understand that, but I’ve never been the kind of person to sit on my hands,” she said.
Anyone interested in running for a council seat in Wellington should call Village Clerk Awilda Rodriguez at (561) 791-4118 for more information.