Okee Moratorium Extended, But No Cash For Workshop

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the preliminary reading Tuesday of an ordinance extending its zoning-in-progress moratorium on Okeechobee Blvd. to June 30.

The council was unable, however, to approve additional staff funding to prepare for a workshop and barbecue set for Saturday, Dec. 5 to get input on an overlay for the Okeechobee corridor.

Town Attorney Michael Cirullo explained that at its last meeting, the council was not comfortable with proposed amendments to the town charter regarding the proposed overlay and directed further review, including the workshop set for Dec. 5.

“As a result of that adoption, you would not have anything adopted by the end of the moratorium, which is currently scheduled to terminate at the end of this year,” Cirullo said.

“Hopefully, we can get this after we have the workshop, maybe get it done earlier, but this gives us a safety,” Mayor Dave Browning said.

Councilman Ryan Liang made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 4-0 with Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel absent.

But the council wound up in a 2-2 stalemate on approving financing for staff expenses in preparation for the workshop, centering on objections by Councilman Jim Rockett that town management was charging extra.

Town Manager Bill Underwood said that about $13,800 is needed for additional expenses in preparing for the workshop and barbecue.

“This is a change order to the original work order that was adopted in 2015,” Underwood said. “It is an additional $13,800 for the year that we have been working on Okeechobee Blvd. The original budget is $28,650.”

Rockett raised objections to the additional funding. “I think a month or two ago we discussed what we are paying for in town management,” he said. “I have no problem in paying an outside vendor. I’m presuming it would be [Planning Consultant] Jim Fleischmann to come in here and do some more work on the same subject, but I have real heartburn paying more money to our staff.”

Rockett said that Underwood should not be getting more for this service. “To me, there shouldn’t be any more payment,” he said. “I can’t pay the town manager more in terms of what I think he should have been doing in other areas and he’s not.”

Rockett made a motion to approve additional funding to outside vendors, but not what applies to the town management company, which was seconded by Liang.

Councilman Tom Goltzené said he thought Underwood was justified in asking for additional funding.

“I don’t think Bill would be asking for it if he thought it was included in his contract,” Goltzené said. “I disagree completely with the concept.”

Browning said he favored the additional financing in order to keep up momentum, saying that not approving it might raise repercussions from residents in the Okeechobee corridor.

“We’re in the process of trying to develop something along Okeechobee that all of our residents can live with,” Browning said. “We’ve spent 70 percent of the life of our town being in moratorium on Okeechobee because we can’t deal with it. We’ve set up a meeting; we need to get this resolved or we’re going to begin losing lawsuits. The people along there are going to say, ‘You’re holding us up; you’re trying to stop us.’ We can’t do that, so I think we’ve got to keep going on.”

Rockett’s motion resulted in a 2-2 stalemate, with Goltzené and Browning opposed.

Goltzené then made a motion, seconded by Browning, to approve the additional funding, which also resulted in a 2-2 stalemate.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Underwood said. “I didn’t want to attend a bunch of meetings anyhow.”

Browning said the issue could be brought up again at another meeting when all council members are present.

Cirullo asked council members if they wanted to bring the item, or some variation of it, back at the Dec. 1 meeting.

“I don’t see how we’re going to have a barbecue on Dec. 5 if we just told him not to do anything toward it,” Goltzené said. “Jim Fleischmann isn’t going to be here for free. It’s a Saturday.”

Cirullo said that as a council, they had already set the workshop for Saturday, Dec. 5, and Browning said they needed to follow through.

“I think he’ll come to the barbecue,” Browning said. “Will you come to the barbecue, Bill?”

“Someone will have to organize the barbecue, sir,” Underwood said.

Browning said he agreed that funding for the workshop and the barbecue had not been included in the budget.

“It’s an additional thing that we called for but didn’t budget for,” he said.