Outgoing Loxahatchee Groves Town Manager Bill Underwood gave his final manager’s report earlier this month before new Town Manager Jamie Titcomb takes the helm on March 18, summarizing his firm’s eight years as the town’s management company and giving recommendations for the future.
“In 2011, we first showed up,” Underwood said at the Feb. 5 meeting. “Staff began in early September in order to be ready to begin Oct. 1, and the meeting was days after we arrived. In the first several months, there were no mechanisms in the town. The town had no checks, no credit cards, no mechanism to pay bills because the former vendor was gone, and their checks came out of Broward County.”
The first few months were difficult without the ability to pay the town’s bills, Underwood explained.
“We worked tremendously hard,” he said. “We even paid invoices on behalf of the town in order to get through the first few months, and, fortunately, things moved forward.”
In 2011, Underwood Management Services Company began posting all the checks and invoices.
“This town is probably one of the more transparent towns relative to its financial records, relative to its minutes, relative to meetings,” Underwood said. “I think we probably exceed transparency that most governments wish that they could achieve.”
In 2012, the town began videotaping its meetings, although it has recently been revealed that the videos are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“Little did we know that we can’t do videotaping, but we did videotape the meetings and posted them on the YouTube account for the town, and I think they were fairly popular,” he said. “I think we’ll probably have to take those down along with all the other meetings that we’re not going to do transcriptions for.”
In 2012, the council was also having issues relative to getting permits through Palm Beach County, so the council asked if the management company would take over that job. “We came forward and provided that service,” Underwood said.
In 2013, the council saw its first five-year plan.
“This was a five-year plan on capital improvements that you were going to undertake over the next five years and was with resources and expenditures, and that was followed through in 2014 and 2015,” he said. “The council and/or the citizens did not understand the plan, or did not like the way it was laid out. I apologize for that, but you did have plans. You had plans for every year in 2013, 2014 and 2015.”
In 2014, Underwood actually took over the manager position from Mark Kutney, who was employed by Underwood Management Services Group.
“Prior to 2015, all code enforcement was not from Underwood Management Services,” he said. “Code enforcement came from a monitor, Frank Schiola, and Russ Elgin who is with Tew & Taylor, so we had nothing to do with code enforcement back then, except to make sure they got to the meetings on time and process their stuff.”
The management company also developed purchasing policies, which have gone through several iterations, he said.
“Hopefully, the new manager and [the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee] can move those purchasing policies forward,” Underwood said. “We believe they are ready. Purchasing policies are going to hinder the town in its ability to move things forward. If you’ve got to get quotes for things, we just can’t get them done.”
About seven years ago, Underwood attended a Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association meeting where his comments received an unwelcome response.
“It was myself and Mark Kutney and Perla [Underwood] and some other staff members, and I almost lost my head on that night because, at that point, I stated that the town council needed to get a vision, fix the comp plan and fix the land development codes, because if you keep sticking your head in the sand, you’re going to get run over,” Underwood said. “Today, it is still true.”
Underwood said he still stands by what he said.
“Changes continue to be made, but they’re not being made fast enough,” he said. “I would advise you that you must allow and not restrict development, especially on Southern Blvd. I understand that there is this propensity that you want… 10 percent of the property, that’s all you can build on. But realistically, you guys need to generate money, and you’re not going to generate money with 10 percent on Southern Blvd. Commercial development on Southern Blvd. is an absolute must.”
Underwood said the future of Okeechobee Blvd. has been studied since Underwood first arrived in 2011.
“Okeechobee [Blvd.] has never moved off dead center,” Underwood said. “I would tell you that any development that you currently have in the books, you’re looking at 2022, 2023 before you see any income from that development. You need to be more favorable to Southern Blvd. You may want to consider something on Okeechobee.”
Underwood said he has told all the councils, including past municipalities where he worked, that they need a good mix of residential and commercial uses.
“You need to come up with a vision for the town for the next 10 years or 20 years that is going to fit what’s here,” Underwood said. “The codes that you have that you don’t enforce will eventually get the town in trouble. You have codes that require fill, you have codes that require maintaining water. Somebody’s going to get flooded one day, and they’re going to have a problem with their neighbor who just filled their land, and the issue is going to be… who did not do their code? The Town of Loxahatchee Groves did not implement their code, so they’re liable, they’re on the hook. I don’t know what else to say except you guys really need to be doing that.”
Underwood said that despite the difficulties, he has had a great time managing Loxahatchee Groves.
“There’s a lot of great people,” he said. “There are a few snarky people, but a lot of great people. I can tell you that we’ve done the town hall. You’ve got your town hall. I’m real pleased that the water control district finally merged, which probably should have occurred in, maybe, 2007. You didn’t need to wait until 2018. I want to leave you with your comp plan, now, don’t wait. You need to get rid of your [Uniform Land Development Codes] or enforce them, one or the other. As long as you’ve got them on the books, you’re liable for them.”
Underwood also urged the council to save money for emergencies because the town does not have enough money saved now.
“I also urge you to take advantage of the people you have,” Underwood said. “Take advantage of Mr. Titcomb and, hopefully, you will have a successful future.”