Wellington’s Charter Review Task Force began meeting in the summer of 2014 and spent nearly a year going line-by-line through the village’s governing document. After many hours of work by volunteers and paid village staff members, the task force proposed nearly a dozen changes to the document. Eventually, those were whittled down to six sent to the Wellington Village Council. The end result? Three ballot questions are heading to voters this month, but only one came from the task force. That would seem to be more than slightly insulting to the task force and its diligent work. Left on the cutting room floor were several important changes, along with a few bad ideas. Was the entire project a waste of time? Was it really a means to an end to get something else on the ballot? We’ll let other observers make that judgment. Instead, let’s review the items actually going to the voters.
Question 1: “Inclusion of the Equestrian Preserve Area Within the Charter.” The charter currently makes no reference to the Equestrian Preserve Area, which was created after it was written. This proposed amendment — the only remaining item actually drafted by the Charter Review Task Force — would recognize the Equestrian Preserve Area in the charter and permit landowners to apply to be voluntarily included in the preserve through a majority vote by the council, but would prohibit removal of properties from the preserve without a four-vote supermajority. This was something that the task force, and those who attended its input meetings, felt strongly about. In reality, there aren’t a great deal of opportunities to expand the preserve, and shrinking the preserve is something that most Wellington residents (equestrians and non-equestrians) agree is not in the community’s best interest. For that reason, requiring a four-vote supermajority to remove land from the preserve seems a prudent measure. The Town-Crier endorses a YES vote on Wellington Ballot Question 1.
Question 2: “Village Canvassing Board.” The current charter provides that the election canvassing board be composed of those members of the council not running for reelection and the village clerk. This proposed amendment permits the council to appoint, through a four-vote supermajority, a community member and an alternate to serve on the canvassing board when necessary. This idea was put together by the council as a largely housekeeping measure meant to safeguard against potential problems with the canvassing board, especially now that the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections (originally considered a canvassing board member) has decided that it is inappropriate for her to participate as a voting member. In an election such as this year’s, when a sitting council member not up for election is seeking another seat, it is quite possible that there may not be enough members on the canvassing board. This change would account for that possibility. It is a prudent measure, especially after the 2012 election showed the importance of this largely symbolic panel. The Town-Crier endorses a YES vote on Wellington Ballot Question 2.
Question 3: “Certain Land Uses in the Equestrian Preserve Area Prohibited.” This proposed amendment would prohibit “motels, hotels, condo-hotels and apartments in the Equestrian Preserve Area.” This amendment is not a housekeeping measure, nor is it from the task force. This specifically targets one developer and one project, with the goal of stopping any potential similar projects. In our opinion, this is an abuse of the charter. The hotel component of the controversial Equestrian Village project would have already required a supermajority vote for final passage, which it never received. Further, the concept of a hotel in the preserve was not in and of itself a problem back in 2012. Most of the opponents were opposed not to the concept of a hotel, but the size and scope of what was proposed. To prohibit even the discussion of future hotel projects improperly ties the hands of future councils. Furthermore, many equestrians have voiced concerns about the broad language used in this amendment, which could be construed as prohibiting the renting of satellite apartments and guest houses on estates within Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Area, which is a longstanding component of the equestrian lifestyle. This amendment is a bad idea. The Town-Crier endorses a NO vote on Wellington Ballot Question 3.