Wellington Sends Referendum On Council Vacancies To August Ballot

The Wellington Village Council approved the final reading Tuesday of an ordinance that places a referendum on the Aug. 30 primary election ballot that, if approved, would amend the charter’s existing method of filling council vacancies.

The ballot question asks: “Shall council vacancies exceeding 180 days be filled by special election rather than by appointment?”

The current charter requires that council vacancies be filled by appointment. The proposed amendment would eliminate appointments and would fill council vacancies in the same manner as mayoral vacancies by requiring a special election if more than 180 days remain in the unexpired term. A seat with fewer than 180 days remaining would not be filled until the subsequent election.

The question had been approved by the previous council to appear on the March ballot with other referendum questions, but was pulled because of confusion over the wording. Controversy arose over the question when Mayor Anne Gerwig had to resign her seat as council member to run for mayor in the last election.

Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said the charter amendment would ask voters if they want to eliminate the current method of council members appointing someone to fill a vacancy.

The question was changed slightly between the first and second readings, but not substantively, adding “exceeding 180 days” to clarify the language that less than 180 days would not require a special election.

“Those few words were added in,” Cohen said. “I think it does lend clarification.”

Gerwig was ready to move forward. “We’ve vetted this one over and over,” she said.

Councilman Michael Drahos made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 5-0.

Councilman Michael Napoleone, who was a member of the Charter Review Task Force before becoming a councilman, said he was happy that the amendment on filling council vacancies was finally on its way to a vote.

“We worked hard on that on the Charter Review Task Force,” Napoleone said. “I’m glad we all finally reached consensus on what should be on the ballot. I think it’s a well-worded question, and now the public will get to decide.”

Vice Mayor John McGovern agreed that the council and the task force had worked hard on the question.

“We worked collaboratively and constructively both through the charter review process and quite actively on this council to get a very good charter question that our residents will get to vote on,” McGovern said. “I hope people will go to the web site and read about it in advance and then cast educated votes in August.”

In other business:

• The council approved the final reading of an ordinance for the voluntary annexation of 2.85 acres of land that will become part of the 150-acre McArthur property at the south end of Flying Cow Road.

Growth Management Director Bob Basehart noted that the rest of the property had been annexed in 2004.

“It was also added to the Equestrian Preserve Area,” Basehart said, adding that the 2.85 acres will also become part of the EPA. “I believe it’s the applicants’ intent to move forward with a project for the property once the annexation is complete.”

• Council members also passed a resolution joining the Florida League of Cities in supporting the City of Orlando as it recovers from the attack that killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub early Sunday, June 12.

“What we’ve all seen in Orlando [last] weekend sends a clear call to all of us the fact that we are all Americans,” McGovern said. “We’re not hyphenated Americans of some type, but we are all Americans, and this resolution says as it should, as we should all do, that we stand with the people in Orlando, that we send our condolences to the families of the many who lost their lives, and that we stand with the first responders who saved many lives that night, and with our brothers and sisters in Orlando government and state government who are there today responding to this unthinkable, unimaginable crisis.”

• During final comments, Cohen said she would be scheduling a closed-session meeting soon regarding Palm Beach Polo code violations. Palm Beach Polo has several items in litigation with the village.

“While some of those violations might not be in litigation, they might relate to matters that are in litigation,” Cohen said. “To the extent that they are related, a shade session would be appropriate.”