The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District formally came under the control of the Town of Loxahatchee Groves this week after property owners cast ballots in a proxy vote election based on acreage owned.
The vote to make the LGWCD dependent to the town passed 2,988 for and 872 against amid unprecedented turnout during Monday’s referendum.
The annual landowners’ meeting of the LGWCD started 15 minutes late due to overflow at the district office. LGWCD Chair Anita Kane urged attendees to remain calm and allow voters who had not yet cast their proxies into the overflowing building.
“I would ask everybody to remember that we’re all neighbors, and we’re all friends, and we’re all here to look out for each other’s best interest,” Kane told the crowd. “Regardless of how this vote goes tonight, we are all still living in this same town together. Remember to be kind and respect each other.”
On legal staff’s recommendation, Kane was elected to chair the annual landowners’ meeting because she was familiar with the procedure.
LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator explained the process of the referendum, that by state statute, the landowners must vote in the same manner by which the district’s governing body is elected, which for four of the five seats is a proxy vote by acreage.
After the proxies were counted and dependency confirmed, Kane read a letter from Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning thanking the board for their confidence in the town’s ability to move the district and town forward together. Browning asked district officials and employees to be present at a meeting the following day for the official transition of district management to the town.
“I understand that there has been much concern regarding the operations of the district and would like the opportunity to start the new dependent district of the Town of Loxahatchee Groves by asking the existing district employees to report to work tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. directly at town hall,” Browning’s letter stated.
Supervisor Laura Danowski said that she was thrilled that the community is waking up and taking a more active role in their government.
“I firmly believe that we are in the situation that we’re in because we’ve been asleep at the wheel for too long and left the burden of government to the same 10, 12 or 15 people over the last many years,” Danowski said. “I definitely want to see more people participating. That’s the only way we’re going to get through this together. I’m very excited that we’re going to have one government.”
Supervisor Connie Bell said it was a pleasure to have served on the board.
“I have learned a lot. I’ve met a lot of people, and it has been a real eye-opener for me that we definitely need to get involved in the local government,” Bell said. “That’s where it starts.”
Supervisor Karen Piesley said that she is looking forward to the changes and was sure that the town can pull together to accomplish what the outgoing board had set out to do, to fix the roads and canals.
“Thank you. I appreciate having been able to serve on this board,” Piesley said.
Supervisor Simon Fernandez said he is very proud to have served the community.
“Thank you all for coming and getting involved,” Fernandez said. “Look to the future to resolve the issues and definitely get involved in your local committees and meetings.”
Kane reminded the supervisors that they have to be at town hall the following day to officially hand over the reins of the district to the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council.
“I am thrilled at the enormity of the turnout,” she said. “This is a record in our town. We have never had this many landowners vote, and that shows people are getting involved, and that’s what we really want.”
The following morning, supervisors and a roomful of people met at town hall to officially hand over district control.
Council members were sworn in as the new LGWCD supervisors by Town Clerk Virginia Walton.
Several resolutions were read and approved that included the town acknowledging the results of the referendum; an interlocal agreement for the town to provide the district’s services; that the district manager report to the town manager on district matters; for the town clerk to serve as district secretary; for the town engineer to be the district engineer and the town attorney to be the district’s attorney; confirming that all rights, actions, orders and contracts of the district continue in full force under the jurisdiction of the town; and that district staff will continue employment with their current terms.
During council comment, Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said that she would like to see the culverts blown out.
“We’re going to have more rain,” Maniglia said. “I know the previous board had instructed moving forward… so I would like to see that completed.”
She also pointed out that the berm separating the road from the canal that the district had removed from A Road is now exposed to traffic that could potentially drive into the canal.
“I would like to see those berms somehow replaced,” Maniglia said, adding that cutouts for drainage need to be restored on the roads. “Therefore, when we have the rains, the water has someplace to go. That’s my honey-do list for the day.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois said he appreciated people coming out to view the transition.
“I appreciate that everything went smoothly and that the board was very cooperative on this,” said DeMarois, who served for many years on the LGWCD board.
Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler thanked the former district board for the work they had done to put the transition in place. She added that she hoped the former supervisors would be helpful to the town in completing the transition.
Councilman Todd McLendon thanked the former board, especially Kane, for their work in accomplishing the transition.
“She stepped up to the plate with this,” McLendon said. “I’m amazed at how fast she made this happen.”
He also thanked Town Attorney Michael Cirullo for preparing the resolutions transferring control of the district to the town.
“I don’t think we’ve ever passed so many things on our agenda so fast,” McLendon said.
He also welcomed the district employees to the town, which previously contracted all services.
“You guys are officially the first employees of the Town of Loxahatchee Groves,” McLendon said. “We’ve never had employees until 20 minutes ago.”
McLendon agreed that the road cutouts need to be done and was thankful that the district was there to do it rather than contractors.
Browning said he was looking forward to a good relationship serving the people of Loxahatchee Groves and thanked Town Manager Bill Underwood and Cirullo for putting the transition together.
“I don’t think I’ve ever moved through this stuff quite this quickly,” Browning said. “The responsibility comes on us, so let’s do what we can, let’s work together and make this community the best it can be.”