The Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association (LGLA) hosted a candidates forum Thursday, Feb. 25 in advance of the Tuesday, March 15 election.
Two seats on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council will be on the ballot, and three of four candidates seeking those seats attended the forum. Attendees included Seat 4 incumbent Mayor Dave Browning and challenger Thais Gonzalez, along with Seat 2 challenger Todd McLendon. Councilman Jim Rockett, the Seat 2 incumbent, did not attend the forum.
Browning, a Loxahatchee Groves resident for 37 years, served 11 years on the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control Board of Supervisors before being elected to the council. He has served on the council for 9 years. He would like to continue.
“There’s a lot of things up in the air; a lot of things going on,” he said. “It has taken a long time getting the ducks in order — on things like the horse trails — and we’re almost there. On a lot of other things, they just do not happen quickly. I wish they did.”
Gonzalez, a six-year resident of Loxahatchee Groves, moved here to raise her family. She operates a horse farm with her husband.
“I love this town, and I have been fighting for the rights of the citizens of this town, not as an elected official, but as a citizen. As an elected official, I think I could do much more,” she said.
McLendon, a third-generation Floridian, has lived in Loxahatchee Groves for 10 years, moving to the area in order to operate his aviary, where he raises exotic birds.
He moved to Loxahatchee Groves just prior to incorporation and was against the idea. The goal of incorporation, he noted, was to preserve and protect Loxahatchee Groves.
“We’re nine years into it, and I haven’t seen much preserving or protecting of Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “I’ve seen 7-Elevens that are 24/7 gas stations being approved. I’ve seen the largest not-for-profit kennel being approved right in the middle of Loxahatchee Groves. I’ve seen two Dunkin Donuts being approved in Loxahatchee Groves, and I’m still trying to figure out what we’ve done to preserve and protect. If it was to preserve and protect developers, they’re doing fantastic at that.”
If there is a possible conflict of interest, the candidates were asked at what point a council member should recuse himself or herself. All three candidates said they would recuse themselves early on.
The candidates were asked if it would be appropriate for an audience member to raise an objection to a conflict of interest, and what sort of evidence they would need to show.
“Obviously, anybody could raise any objection at any time about anyone. You just have to have elected officials who are up there to do the right thing, and not have to be pointed out that they’re making mistakes,” McLendon said. “If there is something they shouldn’t be doing, they should take it upon themselves and police themselves. We need council members up there who can do it for themselves.”
Browning said anyone with information should have the opportunity to speak.
“If there is a violation, it is very important that the people know if that person refuses to recuse themselves,” he said. “Understand, I think everyone thinks we have a strong mayor system. We don’t. I am a council member up there with everybody else. I don’t have the right to call another person and say, ‘You’re wrong.’ I can’t do that. That’s why we have legal counsel.”
Gonzalez said that all citizens should be able to voice their opinions, no matter what the opinions are.
“Now, perception is reality,” she said. “As a council, I believe we should do research to find out the facts. But I do believe that everybody should have the right to voice their opinion.”
The candidates were asked if they thought it was appropriate for council members to campaign for those up for election.
Gonzalez and McLendon said that it was not appropriate, preferring neutrality. Browning, who has campaigned on behalf of others in the past, said that with age comes wisdom.
“I’ve realized over the years that it really is a bad position to take to support candidates for the council. Because whoever is elected, everybody has to work together. To campaign against somebody who might be sitting next to you, I think, is a bad decision for the future council and for the citizens of the town,” Browning said.
Public comment has a three-minute limit during meetings. Candidates were asked whether they think there should be a limit for council members, and if so, what sort of limit.
Gonzalez suggested a three-minute limit for members of the council.
“I have been going to the council meetings, and some on the council go on and on and on, like a dog chasing its tail. I’ve gone to meetings that are so long that most people leave after an hour,” she said. “At the end of the meeting, you may have three people sitting there still. It goes on for too long, and I think that’s very disrespectful for the people going. I take the time away from my family to go to these meetings.”
Some subjects, she said, might need more time, but the council should not lose sight that there are people sitting there attending the meetings instead of being with their families.
McLendon disagreed, saying that there shouldn’t be a need for time limits. “We should have council members up there who don’t take advantage,” he said.
Browning mentioned that there is a suggestion for limiting each person’s conversation to five minutes, and going around the table.
“To limit the council members to three minutes for each subject is really crazy, because every subject we deal with is really important to the residents out here,” he said. “I’m not for limiting it, but I think we need to share the time with the other council members, trying not to be the center of everything.”
ABOVE: Dave Browning, Thais Gonzalez and Todd McLendon take questions from LGLA members.