Over the past two to three years, voting majorities of Loxahatchee Groves Town Council and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors have supported Underwood Management Services Group’s ambitions and made several serious mistakes that adversely impact all landowners and residents of Loxahatchee Groves. Several OGEM letter roads have not been adequately maintained since they were turned over to the town in September 2013. The remaining dirt letter roads should not have been turned over to the town last September without a plan for cost-effective maintenance and emergency repair backup. (The LGWCD better provided these road services for many years.) The LGWCD should not have auctioned off all of its road grading and watering equipment without a transition road plan for the town. The town’s private road maintenance contractors were known to cost two to three times as much as the district’s employee-and-owned-equipment-based road services.
Landowners’ and residents’ experience with the town includes road contractor mistakes and inadequate service, unwise contract buyout payments, expensive use of outside engineers and consultants, minimal promised trails, poorly justified litigation involving residents, use of intimidating permit fees and requirements, attempted code control beyond reasonable ag/res standards (including an abusive code employee with a problematic past record as a sheriff’s deputy), and selective code enforcement.
When the town council was unable to award the town management contract to a replacement company in the fall of 2015, Underwood’s expired contract was extended for one year. By doing this, the town effectively surrendered control of its future to the rejected Underwood Management Services Group. It was only natural for Underwood to take full advantage by requiring an unnecessary new three-year contract in April 2016 for more money with less protection for the town, and more ability to manipulate the divided and ineffective town council and (indirectly) the LGWCD. In fact, this new contract was backdated for six months to cover-up several thousand dollars of excessive management fees Underwood had incorrectly awarded and paid himself — again taking advantage of his ability to manipulate a majority of the town council. This contract was then supplemented in May 2016 with an addendum for a code employee that also provided more margin money for Underwood.
The above comments provide no reason to support the LGWCD becoming dependent to the town at this time. The town council should first act on the December 2016 inspector general’s recommendation (based on a two-year OIG performance audit of the town) to replace with individual contractors or employees the town’s flawed “all-in-one, inherently conflicted” town management company structure. Poorly maintained and unsafe roads provide no confidence that town drainage and flood control should be turned over to Underwood Management Services Company for yet more tax and/or assessment burden on landowners and residents. In reality, the above discussion provides a reason to also replace a majority of the town council and the LGWCD board — or quit the town if capable people are not willing to serve in these important public service oversight roles.
Mayor Dave Browning is unreasonably afraid of replacing the entire town staff (all part of Underwood Management Services Group) and does not provide leadership to have the town council carry out necessary oversight and accountability for Underwood. [LGWCD Chair] Anita Kane often appears to coordinate district decisions that will support Underwood’s flawed ambition to control “his town.” It also appears that the town attorney sometimes works more for Underwood’s objectives than for the town’s welfare. Residents need critical thinking before acre voting on June 25.
John Ryan, Loxahatchee Groves
Editor’s note: Mr. Ryan is a former supervisor of the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District.