The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved resolutions and ordinances Tuesday, March 3 that will allow non-resident property owners to hold positions on town advisory boards.
Each board was limited to a maximum of one non-resident property owner. The decision came after a long discussion with negative pushback from some residents.
The change was approved by resolution for all advisory committees except the Planning & Zoning Board, which required an ordinance due to it being a quasi-judicial body. The preliminary reading of the ordinance was approved.
Town Attorney Brian Shutt explained that the Planning & Zoning Board ordinance does the same thing as the resolutions.
“It modifies [so] that you may appoint one member, including alternates, who is a non-resident landowner, and the other thing is the absences, that there are two consecutive board meetings that they [have unexcused absences]… they are subject to removal,” Shutt said. “The other change is that the board meeting in May of each year is when the organizational meeting will occur, not in April.”
Laura Cacioppo, who sits on the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, said she was concerned about appointing non-residents to committees.
“I know there is the struggle and you have to fill the seats, but I am very concerned about having [non-resident landowners],” Cacioppo said. “I can see where it would be beneficial, but I don’t think that we are somehow obligated not to listen to anybody who does not sit on the committee. I realize that you all take advice, and you don’t necessarily have to listen to the committees that we have and what we provide for you, but the concern is that we may have really large landowners who don’t necessarily share the same vision that most of the town folk do.”
Mayor Robert Shorr reminded concerned residents that the amendment is to allow the appointment of only one non-resident property owner to an advisory committee.
Nina Corning, formerly a member of the Roadways, Equestrian, Trails & Greenway Committee, said the Planning & Zoning Committee has a higher standard than the other advisory committees.
“It really has a higher responsibility, and for a non-resident to be on that, even just one, is questionable,” Corning said. “As it is, I think you have to submit financials and all kinds of information… that you wouldn’t have to submit for other advisory committees. I’m worried about how much influence we let people have in our town.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia agreed with the residents who had spoken out.
“I’m glad Nina stepped up to say that,” Maniglia said. “Nina is a fairly large landowner in our town, and that is also my concern. I do believe maybe we need to work a little harder to find those residents, but we just got our vote when we made the water district dependent on the town. The big landowners had the majority of those votes.”
Maniglia, who had earlier voted with the majority to allow non-residents on the other boards, said she wished to change her earlier vote to the negative.
Shutt explained that since she had been on the prevailing side, she could make a motion to reconsider.
“Let’s get through this item first, and then if you want to move for reconsideration on the prior item, and if the board votes to grant the reconsideration, then we could have another vote on that,” Shutt said.
Maniglia said she had been against having non-resident landowners on advisory boards. “However, I try to work with my fellow council members,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey said the council is encouraged to put members on the boards who have experience and knowledge in the fields they are addressing.
“We are already putting the fox in charge of the henhouse when it comes to Planning & Zoning,” El-Ramey said. “I do agree that there is concern to be had, but you’re talking about a group of people that also have a vested interest. Just because you’re a resident doesn’t mean you don’t have any skin in the game in this town.”
Vice Mayor Dave DeMarois made a motion to approve the preliminary reading of the ordinance, which carried 4-1 with Maniglia opposed.
Maniglia then made a motion to reconsider the earlier vote approving a resolution to allow non-resident landowners on the other committees, which carried 4-1 with DeMarois dissenting.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski subsequently made a motion to approve the original resolution, which carried 4-1 with Maniglia opposed.