Groves Council Approves Questions For March 17 Referendums

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the final reading Tuesday, Nov. 19 of proposed charter amendments to be placed on the ballot for approval by voters. The council also approved the preliminary reading of proposals that would limit terms for the mayor and council members.

Proposed changes to go on the March 17, 2020 ballot include a series of housekeeping measures, such as the deletion or amending of passages outlining how the town would be created, its form of government, the transition schedule, initial election of council members, first-year expenses, temporary emergency ordinances, the merger and dissolution of taxing districts, references to service providers that no longer exist and other provisions considered outdated or not applicable.

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to approve the second and final reading of the referendum question, which carried 5-0.

Don Widing, vice-chair of the Charter Amendment Committee, thanked town staff for its cooperation.

“They have endured a lot of extra work from this committee,” Widing said. “I have served on a lot of different committees over my years of government service. This one got pretty intense at times. We started at 15 people, and I think we’re down to 12. We had a couple of meetings where we just barely had a quorum… We knew from the very beginning we were under a very tight timeline to get this before you and, hopefully, get it before the voters. If you support the recommendations, you still have two more to go, but I wanted to give compliments on behalf of the committee.”

Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey said she had received a call from a resident asking if the proposals up for final approval was all the committee had done.

“I said, ‘No, there’s much more to come, hold tight,’” El-Ramey said.

Town Attorney Brian Shutt said he has sat in on several charter review committees, and he was impressed by the Loxahatchee Groves committee. “It’s really getting into it, which is very good,” Shutt said.

Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said the committee understood the scope and magnitude of the work.

“They want to systematically go through the whole charter,” Titcomb said. “These items represent the things they could bring to the table quickly that might be enactable by referendum. I think they intend to reconvene in January and start to systematically go through all the other kinds of issues that may or may not become changes in the future.”

The council also gave preliminary approval to additional amendment questions — term limits for the mayor and council — to go on the same March 17 ballot.

The proposed question regarding the mayor provides that no council member may serve more than two consecutive annual appointments as mayor, without an annual break (one regular election cycle) between appointments. Partial year appointments will not be considered as an annual appointment.

Councilman Dave DeMarois, who was attending the meeting by telephone, said he did not see the need to replace an appointed mayor who is doing a good job if no other council member wants to serve as mayor.

“I certainly understand that argument, but it’s just not the direction I was given,” Shutt said.

He explained that the town’s mayor, who is elected by the voters and appointed mayor by other council members, is the ceremonial head of the council.

“The mayor has no other voting rights,” he said. “In most places the mayor is deemed the ‘figurehead’ of the town to attend events and things like that. Other council members go out there and are seen just as much if not more, so it just depends on who is the mayor. Also, in most cases you try and have the mayor sign the contracts. If it’s not the mayor, it’s the vice mayor, but once again, it’s not giving the mayor any other authority or power. The biggest thing about being the mayor is running the meeting.”

Maniglia said she sat on the dais with Dave Browning, the first and only mayor of the town before he retired and Robert Shorr was chosen as mayor last year. Although she liked serving with Browning, she felt there was a hesitation by other council members to appoint someone else due to his charisma.

“It cuts the discomfort if you want to rotate, because he held that seat a long time,” she said. “It was uncomfortable for the other council members, although some of the other council members may have wanted to sit. I think this takes that off the table.”

Widing said the charter committee had a “high spirited” discussion over the proposed ordinance.

“But I will tell you that at no time did any member make any inference of any dissatisfaction with our mayor,” he said. “In fact, it was very complimentary. We are very proud of the work that Robert Shorr is doing for our town.”

Councilwoman Laura Danowski made a motion to approve the referendum, which carried 5-0.

The council also approved an ordinance that would ask voters if they favored term limits for council members.

“What this ordinance would do would limit, beginning with the March 2020 municipal election, that any council member elected at that election and for each election thereafter would only be able to serve two three-year terms before they must sit out for at least one election cycle,” Shutt said.

Charter Committee Member Virginia Standish pointed out that Palm Beach County commissioners and the President of the United States are limited to two terms and cannot be re-elected.

Maniglia said she felt term limits have been needed in the town for a long time.

“If you look at the water control district, it’s no longer there,” she said. “The people of this town did that. If you look at this dais, we have people sitting on this dais who were on the previous dais. I think that it’s time.”

Danowski said she preferred two terms and done, with no avenue for re-election after sitting out for a while.

“I say that because it stops the recycling of the same faces,” she said. “It actually opens the double doors wide open for people who have kind of been in the background.”

El-Ramey said she would prefer the proposal as written, two terms with possible re-election after sitting out a term.

“I think this is something that the residents in this town, the ones who vote, are very well informed or engaged, and I think that they would have a very strong opinion on this,” she said.

Maniglia made a motion to approve the ordinance, placing the question on the ballot, which carried 5-0.