Loxahatchee Groves swore-in three new council members Tuesday, March 19 amid congratulations from residents and admonitions to resolve issues in the town, including longstanding road woes and settling differences with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Laura Danowski, Lisa El-Ramey and Robert Shorr took the dais, replacing Mayor Dave Browning, Vice Mayor Todd McLendon and Councilwoman Anita Kane.
Once seated, Councilman Dave DeMarois was tapped as mayor pro temp, while Shorr was picked as vice mayor pro temp. The annual appointment of the mayor and vice mayor will be made at the council’s next meeting on April 2.
Newly hired Town Manager Jamie Titcomb, sitting at his first meeting, pulled several items from the agenda that he said needed further review before going to council discussion.
During public comment, McLendon congratulated the new council members.
“It’s a new day for Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “You all have great opportunities ahead of you. Some of the things that have been done before you guys got here is you have one of the most well-respected town managers from the county maybe the state, and you have four appropriation bills in Tallahassee right now that are well on their way to being approved that are almost $3 million.”
He also noted another $3 million in transportation grants in the works, $8 million that voters approved for road improvements and new road maintenance equipment.
“You have County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who is eager to work with the Town of Loxahatchee Groves and make it a better place,” McLendon continued. “We have a state representative and a state senator who want to work with the town… Please use this opportunity to do great things.”
Former Councilman Dr. Bill Louda congratulated both the outgoing and new council members, especially Browning, who served as mayor since the town’s incorporation.
“The new members should recognize one thing,” Louda said. “The constant mantra of Loxahatchee Groves is, ‘I want equestrian trails. I want good roads. I want public safety. I want good sheriff’s representation. I want reasonable code enforcement. But above all, I don’t want to pay for it.’ I’m not speaking for myself. We get what we pay for.”
Planning & Zoning Committee Chair Dennis Lipp, also a former council member, recommended that the new members read the town charter.
“This is the bill that me and several other people in this audience worked on through Tallahassee to make this town a town, and there’s things in this charter that you’re going to need to pay attention to, because a few members who have sat at the dais haven’t. We need to be sure that everyone understands the charter.”
Former Councilman Ron Jarriel congratulated new and old council members for “sitting in the hot seat.”
“I want to welcome Mr. Titcomb,” Jarriel said. “I think he’s going to do an outstanding job. I think all five of you are probably going to have the best year that we’ve seen in a while because you’ve got a lot of things going for you.”
He pointed out that the town now has five public works employees, including Director Larry Peters. “I met them all,” Jarriel said. “They are very knowledgeable, they are very skilled, and they are going out and taking care of these roads with that new grader and the new tractor. I’ve got faith that you are going to do a good job, and 2019 is going to be a very good year for the town. The biggest thing is I hope that the community will pull together.”
Former Councilwoman Marge Herzog said she hoped for a good year with anticipated funding and grants. “With everything that’s promised to come in, it should be a very productive year, and next year’s budget should be a lot better than this year’s is,” she said.
Herzog encouraged the new council members to take the government studies classes offered by the Florida League of Cities.
“I know that when the first council sat there, I was one of them, and we went away for a whole weekend and we studied the processes of government. We learned so much,” she said. “You think you know a lot, but you’ll find out how much you really need to know in order to be an effective councilperson.”
Herzog also encouraged new council members to participate in an ethics seminar that will be conducted by Town Attorney Michael Cirullo, as well as attend the next Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association meeting on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m. at Palms West Presbyterian Church, where an expert will speak about agricultural classifications.
Community Emergency Response Team member Ken Johnson invited council members and the town manager to attend the next CERT meeting on Thursday, April 4 at 7 p.m. at Palms West Presbyterian Church.
Johnson explained that CERT will have one of its radio communications trailers on hand for display. “We have radios throughout town,” he said. “We can talk to every square foot of this town.”
Johnson noted that council members are elected to protect the citizens of Loxahatchee Groves.
“That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders, but you’re here to protect the lifestyle and protect us from outside developers,” he said. “Outside developers are one of our biggest foes. They are in it for the money.”
Johnson also encouraged council members to look at resolutions that have been passed and determine which ones need to be kept or not. “There’s some things on the books that have never been enforced,” he noted.
Johnson added that council members should develop a vision for the future of the town. “We need to have a future vision as to where we are going to be in one year, five years and 10 years out,” he said.
Resident Paul Coleman questioned why the preliminary reading of an item pertaining to the contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had been postponed. “I hope this doesn’t become something that just gets pushed and pushed,” he said.
Finance Advisory & Audit Committee Member Connie Bell encouraged council members to serve all residents equally.
“One thing that kind of bothered me when I was at the [candidates’ forum] was there was a lot of talk about horse trails and horse people,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of residents out here who are not horse people. We pay big taxes, and we’re not ag exempt. Take time and listen to some of the people who are not ag exempt and see what we’re paying in taxes.”
Bell added that some people do not live on lettered roads but pay gas tax money, yet some of the roads get no attention for months at a time. She also said that more attention needs to be paid to lost business tax revenue.
“We established a business tax last year,” she said. “The last time I looked at the report, you had 300-plus businesses that did not pay. Without code enforcement and without putting out the proper notices, which have to go out before we can collect this year, we’re going to lose substantial revenue.”