The Wellington Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidates forum on Wednesday, Feb. 21 to help inform chamber members and other voters about the candidates seeking seats on the Wellington Village Council in the Tuesday, March 13 municipal election.
Seat 2 candidates Councilwoman Tanya Siskind and challenger Frank Ferrano appeared at the forum, as did Vice Mayor John McGovern, who is campaigning to return to Seat 3 on the council.
McGovern’s Seat 3 challenger, Bart Novack, was invited but did not make an appearance at the forum, held at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
WPTV News Channel 5 anchor Roxanne Stein moderated the forum, asking each candidate who appeared topical questions of concern to the Wellington business community. “Thank you all for coming to have an interest in our community forum,” Stein said. “I am a proud board member of the chamber and happy to do whatever I can for this village.”
Seat 2 candidates were questioned first. One of the questions asked what candidates would do to expand summer business activity.
“Retail survives really well around the fall, November, December,” Ferrano said. “Come the spring, they tend to struggle after the season is over, so the village, in terms of permit fees and those types of things, occupational licenses, if those things are due at the right time of year, it helps make it a little bit easier for businesses to allocate funds to that when the revenue is high. So, I would try to encourage those types of things when businesses aren’t overtaxed at certain times.”
Siskind acknowledged the seasonal aspects in the village regarding how businesses operate.
“But I think that one of the things we’re working on now is a midtown concept, and I believe that could help us connect Wellington and do good things for businesses in the summertime as well,” Siskind said. “It will make Wellington more connected, more walkable, bring more people. Wellington wasn’t really designed as a city, and so we don’t have a ‘Main Street’ with a lot of shopping in one particular district. But I think the midtown concept is something that could really help us in summer business growth.”
Candidates were asked what they would do to help support the equestrian industry.
Ferrano said he fully supports having the equestrian industry in Wellington and its growth, within reason.
“Within the Equestrian Preserve Area, there are a lot of things that should and shouldn’t be done,” Ferrano said. “I’m 100 percent behind any improvement within the Equestrian Preserve Area that meets the village charter and the mandate of the voters two years ago.”
Siskind said that Wellington needs to support the equestrian community, noting that the village as a whole is close to buildout and the land in the preserve is all under private ownership.
“I would do anything to support the growth of the equestrian community here as long as it was smart growth,” Siskind said. “I know our Equestrian Committee is reaching out to those landowners, and they would like to have some input from them about issues and concerns.”
The candidates were asked what they would do to increase the attractiveness of Wellington’s medical corridor.
Siskind mentioned projects already on the way, including the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic outlets slated for the State Road 7 corridor of Wellington.
“I think that a medical district is a great way for us to grow,” Siskind said. “It brings in high-paying jobs, and the medical industry is pretty much recession-proof, so I think that’s a smart way for us to grow in Wellington.”
Ferrano also supported the improvement and growth of the medical community in Wellington.
“I think having talked about [State Road 7], K-Park — that’s another thing that was purchased 15 years ago by the village, by Acme, 66 acres of park, and it’s still not a park,” he said. “I think it’s really important for the people who live in Wellington for that piece of property to be improved. And maybe they can pay for the construction by possibly selling off the piece that’s along [SR 7]. That would be a great place to do medical development, as well as have the park constructed at no cost to the taxpayers.”
When the Seat 2 candidates finished answering questions, McGovern got up to answer a similar set of questions.
He was asked how he would work with the chamber to build a stronger Wellington.
“Working with the chamber is about first and foremost being present,” McGovern said. “The chamber is the place where you come to find out what the business trends are, and what the community wants and needs.”
He was also asked about increasing office space in Wellington for small business and start-up companies. McGovern said this issue is an ongoing conversation.
“We need to encourage those who have office space, not just the Lake Wellington Professional Centre,” McGovern said. “We need to have other places where start-ups, one-person businesses, one-office businesses can go and thrive. But we need to make sure that is also economically viable for the businesses that own those properties.”
McGovern said families in Wellington are the foundation of the village.
“So, how any decision is made and how it impacts our families, Wellington families, will be the foremost of my decision-making — safe neighborhoods, great schools… increasing property values, state-of-the-art, new sports,” McGovern said. “Those are the issues that must be primary because they are the things that matter most to our families every day.”
McGovern shared his support for the equestrian community.
“If families are the foundation, equestrian is the engine,” he said. “It is undisputed that the equestrian community and the preserve are vital to our success. Wellington is uniquely blessed to have a thriving equestrian industry operating as an economic engine for our community.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig spoke at the beginning of the forum, first leading the Pledge of Allegiance and then a moment of silence for all those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“So many of us were touched by it,” Gerwig said. “We know people who were there, first responders who were sent. My daughter lives adjacent to the school property, and it has really been something that has affected the entire South Florida community. Thanks to the first responders who were there that day.”
Christ Community Church sponsored the forum. Pastor Peter Bartuska said that the church is looking to find new ways to support the Wellington community.
“We needed to get out in the community and ask questions, ‘How can we serve?’” Bartuska said. “We’d like to come alongside you and figure out how we can serve you where you are, not just come to us, but how can we serve you?”
To learn more about the Wellington Chamber and its upcoming events, visit www.wellingtonchamber.com.