The Palm Beach County Commission held its annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20 as Melissa McKinlay stepped down from her one-year term as mayor and was sworn in to a second term as District 6 commissioner after securing re-election without opposition.
Commissioner Mack Bernard (District 7) was chosen to serve as mayor, while Commissioner Dave Kerner (District 3) was tapped to be vice mayor. Also sworn in were new commissioners Gregg Weiss (District 2) and Robert Weinroth (District 4).
The commissioners recognized and thanked outgoing commissioners Paulette Burdick and Steven Abrams, and honored McKinlay for her year of service as mayor.
“I just wanted to thank my colleagues,” McKinlay said. “It has been a tough year. We had a lot of difficult conversations that needed to be had. It has been an honor to represent Palm Beach County across our county.”
Bernard thanked McKinlay for her work over the past year.
“I want to thank this whole board for going through what we’ve gone through this year,” he said. “The key, ultimately, to our success here in Palm Beach County, and we’ve heard it throughout the morning here, has been our ability to work together on a cooperative, bipartisan basis.”
County Administrator Verdenia Baker praised McKinlay for her successful year as mayor.
“You continue to address the opioid issue,” Baker said. “That is a very close and personal passion of yours. In addition to that, you not only addressed it at our local level, but at the state and federal level. You piloted a nursing room for mothers at the South County Courthouse.”
Baker said McKinlay carried the banner in Tallahassee to protest the sweeping of trust fund money to be used for affordable housing into the overall budget.
“You reordered the regular meeting schedule to account for commissioner and staff comments at the beginning of the meeting,” she said. “You continue to ‘green’ the county’s operations. You reinstituted the Commission on the Status of Women. We were busy.”
Baker added that the county and the Orange Bowl Committee collaborated to perform a complete overhaul of the Pioneer Park football field and other amenities in Belle Glade.
“The extra effort continued through improving the economic engine for the Glades community,” Baker said. “You kept in focus the fact that Palm Beach County is ranked fifth in the nation for our agricultural production, and you made sure Palm Beach County was well represented overall at the state and federal level… Thank you for an awesome year.”
County Attorney Denise Nieman told McKinlay that her thoughtful compassion and intelligent leadership has changed the entire county.
“You have a rare, graceful strength in you that is a role model for all of us,” she said. “When you talk about empowering women, you actually really do empower women.”
McKinlay reviewed her last four years as a commissioner, highlighting her work to improve conditions in the Glades region.
“We’re inching closer each day to actually making the inland logistics center a reality,” she said. “A lot of that had to do with the FEMA flood maps and getting the dike fully repaired so that those communities were no longer flood threats.”
McKinlay noted that there are proclamations or letters from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council in support of the Florida Department of Transportation’s proposal to extend rail service from Miami International Airport to the City of South Bay in order to get freight off Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike and be able to populate the proposed inland logistics center.
McKinlay added that several businesses have located in the Glades area, adding several hundred jobs there, and more than 600 affordable housing and workforce units have been built.
The Pahokee Marina is undergoing a $2 million renovation with the help of the state legislature, and several million dollars in road and water pipe repairs and stormwater improvements have been done.
“We took a courageous step to actually make some changes to our land use code to allow for the development of a data center right on the edge of the Glades communities,” McKinlay said. “The Boys & Girls Club is doing a multi-million-dollar expansion of their club, thanks to the county’s support in handing over the gymnasium to them. The youth empowerment center and Student Aces, which is a mentoring program, we’ve been trying to coordinate conversations with them and Bank of America into co-locating at a new facility out there to help our students.”
McKinlay added that the completion of the Hoover Dike project was largely due to the cooperative efforts by U.S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to get the project fully funded this year and finish the project three years earlier than originally scheduled.
“Not only is that a half-billion-dollar infrastructure project, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with us to try to employ as many Glades residents on that job as possible,” she said.
McKinlay said a balance of needs was found between the agriculture and environmental communities in terms of water resources by introducing a new $1.2 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce harmful runoff to the east and west.
McKinlay also noted that the county brought in 100 county commissioners from across the nation in April who didn’t understand why Palm Beach County had an interest in agriculture.
“We brought them and hosted the first annual Farm Bill Summit, and we now have a hundred new friends from across the country who understand the impact of our agricultural community on the nation’s farmers,” McKinlay said.
The county has also been busy seeing that the additional one-cent sales tax goes to infrastructure projects across the county.
Part of that has been allocating $3 million for a new community center in The Acreage, as well as numerous other projects in that community, including a new Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue Station 22, which has been operating out of a rented building in the Grove Market Shopping Center.
“Verdenia has promised me to get a shovel in the ground and move some dirt by the end of the year, but we hope to do a groundbreaking in January and a ribbon cutting in November,” McKinlay said of Station 22.
Housing was another of McKinlay’s priorities, and the county took steps to establish a foster home for 12 boys between the ages of 11 and 17.
“Mayor Bernard, you have a challenge, because we set the record on dollars raised in attendance at the Mayor’s Ball for our Homeless Resource Center and for the Homeless Coalition, but I’m sure that as the chair of the Homeless Coalition, you will beat me next year,” McKinlay said.
She added that the county is looking at building a cottage home community on property vacated by the tax collector’s office. It is also looking at repurposing old strip malls to see where it can add affordable housing and workforce housing units. She also noted her focus on human trafficking.
“Human trafficking has been a passion of mine long before I was elected,” McKinlay said. “Thanks to my fellow commissioners, we were the first county in the State of Florida to pass a local ordinance requiring the hotline sign be posted, and what that allows us to do is for code enforcement and law enforcement to be able to check to make sure that those signs are posted where they are supposed to be in our adult entertainment facilities. We have actually broken up illegal prostitution rings and reported suspected human trafficking cases to the sheriff’s office.”