On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-District 21) hosted a roundtable discussion at the Wellington Community Center to better understand what local leaders are facing. Mayors and other elected officials from across Palm Beach County told Frankel about the problems that keep them up at night.
Frankel has been using much of her six-week recess from Washington, D.C., to conduct these roundtables at home in her district. She likes to meet with local officials a few times every year.
“I identify with them because I was a mayor for eight years,” Frankel told the Town-Crier after the event. “They rarely have to explain, for the most part, what their issue is and how it’s affecting their community.”
Frankel represents Florida’s 21st Congressional District, which includes much of central and southern Palm Beach County, including all of Wellington. Before being elected to the U.S. Congress, Frankel was a state representative for the area in Tallahassee and later mayor of West Palm Beach from 2003 to 2011. She is co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus for the 116th Congress. She recently re-introduced a bill to protect seniors by fighting Medicare fraud and just this week has called for a congressional hearing in the Jeffrey Epstein case.
Thirteen officials attended the roundtable discussion with Frankel.
According to the attendees, affordable housing is an issue in most municipalities. Frankel explained there are bills being passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by the Democratic majority that put more money in the budget for subsidized housing. However, they have been stalled in the U.S. Senate, which remains under Republican control.
Frankel shook her head and said, “I don’t know where we are going to end up.”
Another issue facing local areas is gun safety. Frankel explained that legislation has passed in the House for universal background checks, but, again, is sitting on the shelf in the Senate. She plans to vote for banning assault weapons, which Frankel said has a chance of passing in the House.
A lack of funding for water infrastructure is another issue that many mayors and county officials are facing. As a future environmental concern, government utilities may not be able to supply clean, fresh water in years to come, as water levels rise. Also, septic to sewer conversions continue to be a pressing issue.
Frankel explained that problems with water infrastructure are huge all over the country.
A new issue for all of the local municipalities is that communities across Florida have been hit by lawsuits alleging that web sites are not accessible to the legally blind or visually impaired. There are lawsuits being filed under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In many cases, it is too expensive to make some items accessible to the visually impaired. This means that files not legally required are being taken down from web sites, cutting off access to everyone.
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig told Frankel it is a problem. “We are all taking down every PDF,” she said. “Our clerks are going to be hit with [public records requests] and paper.”
Many things that you could once download online, now you must make a formal request through the village clerk. Gerwig thinks this may overwhelm the clerk’s office.
“On Wellington’s [web site] was a portal, and any vendor could go online and look at the portal, but now it is completely gone,” she said. “You have to come in and bother our staff. We are going to have to hire aides to do it. In the meantime, we cannot take the risk [of a lawsuit].”
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that Wellington’s recent web site upgrade included removing many older files. “We have 500,000 pages of PDFs that we had to pull off,” he said.
Frankel agreed it is a concern. “This is going too far,” she said.
Lantana Town Manager Debbie Manzo said her community is dealing with erosion of beaches and algae blooms in the water. She explained that Lantana Beach has lost a project to replenish the seaside. They recently had to close the beach because of high algae, as well.
Ocean Ridge Vice Mayor Don MaGruder explained what keeps him up at night is the Lake Worth Lagoon.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are not supporting the effort to preserve the mangroves as they possibly could,” MaGruder explained.
The Army Corps is allowing developers to drain the mangroves, according to officials in Boynton Beach and Ocean Ridge.
On another topic, Frankel said that she is aware of the lack of cyber security throughout many government entities and warned county officials that action should be taken locally.
Frankel puts on many different hats. She represents those in the community, but also fights for far more sweeping legislation in Washington, D.C. However, while also trying to fix national problems, Frankel said that she will take the issues raised by the local officials to heart.
“We take these issues and go back, and talk to our staff in Washington, to see what we can do to go forward on some of these things,” Frankel explained.
What keeps her up at night?
“It’s not enough to have low unemployment when people are working two and three jobs,” Frankel said. “People need good-paying, decent jobs. Affordability of healthcare as well.”
She also wants to get government to work better for everyday Americans.
“There is a lot of dark money in politics,” Frankel said. “This influences so much that goes on in government. So, we have to get the campaign finance system much more transparent. We have to make sure people get to vote. We have to get a handle on this gun violence in America.”