Westlake’s Education & Youth Advisory Board Gets Reprieve

Westlake residents came out in person and online Tuesday, Sept. 5 to voice their disapproval of a plan to eliminate the community’s Education & Youth Advisory Board.

Occurring during a marathon meeting of the Westlake City Council that lasted nearly three hours, it was a rare instance of controversy for the seven-year-old municipality.

“I believe that dissolving the [board] would be a step backward for the community,” said resident Jennifer Bermudez, a member of the group and its first chair.

Bermudez said that organizing and getting the committee into action had been like “climbing a ladder while building it.”

The board was formed by the council in June 2020 to serve as a liaison group between Westlake and the School District of Palm Beach County; to promote awareness of programs, opportunities and initiatives at local schools; to recognize and promote accomplishments of students and administrators; and to monitor school district activities and report back on anything impacting the city.

Current board members are: Chair Lisa Lariano, Vice Chair Wesley Logsdon, Julie Acevedo, Dr. Anita Kaplan, Bermudez and alternate Ashley Merola.

The board has met nine times in the last three years and four times since January 2022, official records show. According to the ordinance that created the board, it was to meet quarterly “or more frequently if necessary.” The board should have met at least 12 times since June 2020, according to those requirements.

Kaplan, a retired dean of Palm Beach State College’s bachelor’s degree programs, told the council that she was “very frustrated” about the lack of meetings, but under the state’s Government in the Sunshine law, she could not even reach out to the chair about it.

She noted that the last event that the board was involved in was creating back-to-school bags for students in September 2022.

Vice Mayor Greg Langowski, who took over as liaison to the board after he joined the council in March 2022, said he also was unhappy with the lack of meetings.

“I want to see something happen,” he said. “[But] I can’t make them meet.”

The liaison’s role is to sit in on the meetings that do occur, give input as requested and take information back to the council, Langowski said.

During the July council meeting, it was suggested that the formal board be eliminated. That would allow citizens to form an ad hoc committee without the communication restrictions required by Florida’s Sunshine law.

Doing so also would allow the committee to interact with schools outside of Westlake’s 6.3 square miles, an important factor, since students who reside in the community often attend schools outside its boundaries, Langowski said.

Alicia Torres, a Westlake resident since 2018, said dissolving the board would be “a black eye for the city” and replacing it with an ad hoc committee “just sounds like more social committee stuff.”

Bermudez said she believes that the board has become “stagnant,” but that “it has a ton of potential. It needs better direction.”

Langowski said the resolution to eliminate the board as a formal part of the municipal government was not an effort to end its existence, but a way to “remove the handcuffs” created by state laws and the city’s boundaries.

Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor agreed.

“This is all about making it better, not killing it,” he said. “We’re trying to give you an avenue.”

“Other cities have successful boards,” Councilman Julian Martinez said. “What are we missing?”

City Manager Kenneth Cassel suggested that the council needs to take a stronger hand in setting the agenda for the board.

“Goals and objectives need to be established through this council, which will provide direction to this board,” he said.

Langowski said he was going to look into how other local municipalities, such as Wellington, handle their citizen-driven boards and committees. He made a motion to table the resolution until the council’s November meeting. The motion passed 5-0.