The Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association held a candidates forum on Thursday, Feb. 20 featuring the race for Seat 5 on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council — the only council seat on the Tuesday, March 17 election ballot — between incumbent Vice Mayor Dave DeMarois and challenger former Councilwoman Marge Herzog.
DeMarois, a former Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District supervisor, is seeking his second term on the council. Herzog, who sat on the inaugural town council, is seeking the seat after a decade off the council.
Moderator Cassie Suchy asked questions of the candidates, submitted to the LGLA by residents.
Asked if the town should implement overlay districts on Southern or Okeechobee boulevards, or anywhere else, DeMarois and Herzog both said they favored them. While DeMarois did not go into details, Herzog said there is a great need to control where things are going.
“I think with direction and guidance of an overlay, we could have more success in what happens in this town, and we wouldn’t have as much back-and-forth issues going on related to people trying to get something other people near them don’t want,” she said.
The next question pointed out that there are commercial enterprises established after the incorporation of the town and asked candidates if they would use overlay zoning to make them compliant and assess them for business taxes. DeMarois said he would assess them.
“You need to control what’s going on there, but on the other side of the coin, you also need some taxable income coming in. If we have more commercial on Okeechobee Blvd., we control it with the overlays,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to achieve what we want and get some different businesses in here that we need rather than having people go outside, and spend the money here in Loxahatchee Groves, and let that money come back and save the taxpayers a few dollars.”
Herzog said she found it difficult to accept commercial uses on Okeechobee that she feels do not belong there.
“I think an overlay would help to control it, but I really would have difficulty going forward with allowing them to make exceptions to have commercial or industrial,” she said. “We have some industrial that’s happening on Okeechobee. We either create an industrial zone somewhere in the town, create overlays, do something but… don’t allow them to continue to be paying taxes as an [agricultural] person when they’re not performing as ag.”
Asked what they would do to control town expenditures, Herzog said one of the things she has noticed at town meetings is approvals of items that are not on the agenda.
“When money is spent without the [Finance Advisory & Audit Committee] or other committees evaluating what the consequences of spending that money would be to the budget, I think we’re leaving ourselves wide open for difficulty going forward to meet some of the required expenses that we have,” she said.
DeMarois said he is OK with supporting unanticipated expenditures, if it has approval of the four other council members.
“There are five of us up there,” he said. “As for myself, I listen and try to evaluate. I try to see what the need is for the town and see what the benefits are to the people. If it does work out that way, and we need to have it done, then I go ahead and support it. But yes, if we have a chance to send it through committees, that’s the proper way to do it.”
Asked if they had ever been accused of or investigated for using their official capacity to influence the hiring of staff or threatened the firing of staff, DeMarois was quick to defend himself.
“I’ve been accused of it… but I can tell you now, I’ve never done that,” he said. “I’ve tried to influence people to take a look at staff members, and I did that because it would help Loxahatchee Groves and help serve the citizens.”
Herzog said she has never been investigated for anything unethical.
The next question asked the candidates what they would do about berms along canals that are deteriorating in sections.
Herzog said she felt the berms need to have a better quality of material.
“Instead of pushing the sandy material over to create a berm, they need to use road rock-type material like they used on A Road near Okeechobee [Blvd.] on the north side,” she said. “They rebuilt that berm by bringing in the right materials and reinforcing the bank. It seems to be holding up a lot better… I don’t like driving on Collecting Canal [Road] where the berm is missing. It’s difficult when two cars are passing, and there’s no berm.”
DeMarois said he agreed with Herzog on this issue, but he added that the engineer and the public works department often make those type of determinations.
“If he brings us something that needs to be brought before us, then we would evaluate it, but usually when you put different materials down, it has a cost to it,” he said. “Everything now is based on cost. We found that out with our shell-rock roads. We are now replenishing them, and it’s costing us most of our roads budget to do that. But we still have to maintain those berms, and we can’t do all those berms all at once.”
The next question asked candidates to state their vision for the town as far as approving roads, drainage and multipurpose recreational trails.
DeMarois said his whole career in Loxahatchee Groves as a public official has been to support equestrian trails.
“I have supported roads to have them graded and proper material put down, getting the proper equipment to do the job, and I will continue to do that,” he said. “Safety is the number one issue with me, and the roads are one of the issues that have a direct safety correlation.”
Herzog said one of her key pursuits for years has been participation in the adopt-a-road program, enlisting the help of high school students.
“We were having difficulty getting landowners to assist us,” she said. “I guess we’re all aging out a little bit, and picking up litter is not always that easy, but the association that was established with the National Honor Society provided the relief that the town needed, and it provided them with a way to give back to the community. That’s one of the things that I think was very important, that I helped save the adopt-a-road program.”
Asked if, as an elected official, they would disclose or recuse themselves from a vote if they had an outside relationship with a vendor regarding a request for proposals, both said they would recuse themselves.