Loxahatchee Groves Vice Mayor Todd McLendon confirmed this week that he plans to run for re-election to Seat 2 on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council in March after serving his first three-year term.
McLendon ran unsuccessfully in 2013 against former Councilman Jim Rockett, but he returned three years later to defeat Rockett in 2016.
McLendon is proud of several accomplishments since sitting on the board.
“The first couple have to do with Okeechobee Blvd., increasing the safety and decreasing the amount of traffic,” McLendon told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “We also changed our comprehensive plan to limit it to two lanes to stop it from dividing our town. The only way it could be widened moving forward is if the council votes for that to happen. Before, there was no protection in place. It could have been widened to six lanes without any say so from the town.”
He believes that the town also improved public safety and reduced traffic on Okeechobee Blvd. by reducing its speed limit from 45 mph to 30 mph. Another public safety accomplishment was adopting the strongest sexual offender ordinance in the state.
“Those are probably the biggest things I was able to accomplish,” McLendon said. “There’s actually quite a list.”
McLendon said the town went through Hurricane Irma but is still waiting for cleanup reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“All new utilities will be required to be underground,” he said. “That was something I was able to accomplish after the hurricane. Some of the people went for a week and a half without power. I thought it was important that we do something to prepare for the future.”
McLendon wants to continue working to improve town codes that he calls “horrendous.”
“I was against [approving] code enforcement soon after I was on the council because I knew there were major issues with our code,” he said. “I was against enforcing a code that the entire council knew had major problems. I lost that fight, and we ended up with code enforcement. So, my next fight was to do whatever we could to fix the codes.”
The council subsequently voted to assume the duties of the Land Planning Agency formerly conducted by the town’s Planning & Zoning Board. McLendon said that continuing to fix problems with the code will be a key focus of his next term.
The town now charges franchise fees for commercial garbage collection, which will help with revenue for the town, he said.
“We’re collecting business tax receipts in the town where we never did that before,” McLendon said. “The business garbage fee will easily bring in more than $100,000 a year… Doing all this will lessen the tax burden on the residents.”
McLendon said the transition to a dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District was a tough road, due to most all the district employees quitting soon after it became official.
“That made things more difficult, but considering the circumstances, I thought the transition went very well,” McLendon said. “There were hurdles that had to be jumped over legal-wise, and it was the first time in the state that I’m aware of that it has ever happened that an independent district has become a dependent district to an existing municipality. So, there weren’t any guidebooks to follow.”
McLendon said the transition is saving property owners money having the town and district working together.
“We definitely need to do better with roads,” he said. “We’re failing in that department. I’m not pleased with the contractor that we have, and we’re looking to move that stuff in-house, so we can have better quality control over it.”
McLendon said the town is working on major road drainage projects, which is helping people on those roads.
“We did a bunch on B [Road], we’ve done a couple on E Road,” he said. “It’s a continuous project moving forward. With the drainage, it will help the dirt roads last longer.”
McLendon said another big accomplishment is opening some of the horse trails.
“When I ran for election, I never promised that I would get equestrian trails open because there was a huge problem that I thought we’d never get across,” he said. “To my surprise, I was able to get it done in my first term. It took humongous coordination and determination to make that happen. We were fighting other elected officials who were promising the world and working opposite of getting the trails open.”
McLendon said he is confident that the issue with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office giving notice that it will no longer provide a law enforcement contract with the town will be resolved and the town will come out in a better position than it was before.
“I don’t believe we were ever required to have a contract with the sheriff’s department,” he said. “We pay the same county taxes now than what we did before incorporation, and those county taxes paid the sheriff’s department. So, whatever level of service they were providing before incorporation, they should be required to provide now.”
McLendon said he favors a contract with the PBSO for additional services, but he does not feel it should be a requirement.
“It should be a luxury item for us,” he said. “We want something better than what unincorporated Palm Beach County gets. I expect to pay for that, but it seems we have been paying the entire nut for our law enforcement, and that’s not the way it is supposed to be.”
McLendon regrets that Mayor Dave Browning has decided not to run again after serving on the council since incorporation. “He’s got to put himself as number one and take care of his family, and I understand that,” he said.
Election filing opens Wednesday, Jan. 2 and closes Wednesday, Jan. 9. McLendon said he is sure that he will face a challenger.
“I’ve talked to some people who are under the impression that you can just close the town office for a couple of months while we figure out how to deal with some issues, and that’s not reality,” he said. “It amazes me to hear that stated. There are other people who think we’d be better off to un-incorporate, and I think that’s a horrible idea. Although I wasn’t for incorporation, it’s here, and we need to make the best of it.”
McLendon said finding and redefining new town management will be a big issue, in the face of ardent opposition to the current form of contractual management, and opposition to the current town manager, Bill Underwood.
Underwood has put a transition plan in place to employee management from contract management.
“It’s going to cost the town more money,” McLendon said. “Whether we’ll get better service by going that route is yet to be seen. The more money we pay staff is less money that we can use to put down road rock material and fix some of our major issues.”