Forum Gives Wellington Voters A Chance To Meet Candidates

Seat 1 candidates Bob Margolis, Marcella Montesinos, Amanda Silvestri and Jay Webber.

With three of five seats on the Wellington Village Council up for grabs Tuesday, March 19, a candidate forum Monday, Feb. 12 at the Wellington National Golf Club offered a chance for a crowded field of contenders to make their case to voters.

On issues from development to schools, taxes and annexation, races have attracted a double-digit mix of experienced hands and fresh faces.

At the forum hosted by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, former Mayor Bob Margolis said discussions with his wife got “testy” about whether he should jump back into village politics as one of four candidates for Seat 1 to replace term-limited Councilman Michael Drahos.

Margolis served as mayor from 2012 to 2016, and before that as a councilman. In the end, she gave her whole-hearted support, he said.

“I believe my experience means a lot,” Margolis said. “I’m offering the village residents a chance to have someone sit on the council who has had experience, who hears about the whole community including seniors, and I want to thank everyone for giving me this opportunity.”

Margolis spoke at public meetings to oppose taking land out of the village’s equestrian preserve to allow a golf community that the council approved, conditioned on an expanded horse show. Margolis said he will not try to reverse what the current council decided but will endeavor to make sure the developers live up to their promises.

Marcella Montesinos, also seeking Seat 1, emphasized her experience as director of the honors program at Palm Beach State College and serving as vice chair of the village’s Education Committee, among other roles.

“I want to remind you that if elected, I’ll be the first person as an educator on the council,” she said. “I am 100 percent committed to students and our Wellington schools. I’ll also be one of the first elected as a Latina.”

One of her concerns with the possible annexation of land north of Southern Blvd. into the village is that it might overburden area schools. “We have to make sure our schools are not filled to the point where our teachers begin to leave,” Montesinos said.

Seat 1 candidate Amanda Silvestri, whose family runs an insurance agency, said she opposed the recent equestrian development plan.

“I know a lot of people were unhappy with the recent vote, as was I,” she said, adding that it wasn’t just equestrians. “A lot of our soccer moms were upset about this.”

Increased traffic and congestion getting to athletic fields threaten to undermine what residents, particularly young families, want in Wellington, Silvestri said.

“I will listen to every single resident with their concerns, and we will come up with a solution that works for everyone,” she said.

Seat 1 candidate Jay Webber, an attorney who represents hospitals and doctors and has chaired the village’s Education Committee for seven years, said this is a pivotal decision for voters. He pointed to his advocacy for keeping Wellington residents in top-rated village schools as Palm Beach County debated where to draw the boundary lines for a new high school south of the village.

As for annexation northwest of the village, he said if neighboring property owners vote to join Wellington, at least it means the village is overseeing development standards there. He noted that some form of development is likely to happen there, perhaps under another municipality if Wellington does not act.

“This is a very important election that’s going to guide Wellington for the next two, three, five, 10 years,” Webber said. “Wellington is the best place to live, to raise a family, to have a small business, in all of Palm Beach County. The next council is going to be tasked with making sure that remains the same, as well as making sure the equestrian community thrives, and the commitments that have been made, and the promises that have been made, are kept.”

Alec Domb of the Wellington Chamber Government Affairs Committee, moderator Christina Nicholson and mayoral candidate Michael Napoleone.

In the race for mayor, current Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone faces candidate Bart Novack, who was not present for the Feb. 12 forum. Napoleone hopes to replace term-limited Mayor Anne Gerwig.

“Over the past eight years, I believe we have made a lot of positive difference in Wellington, and I would like to be able to continue my service as mayor,” said Napoleone, an attorney and past president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association.

He said achievements by the council during his tenure include prioritizing public safety and keeping tax rates low.

“As mayor I am going to do the same things we’ve done,” Napoleone said. “We’re going to focus on keeping our neighborhoods safe, ensuring great schools, preserving our quality of life, respecting our equestrians, protecting our green space, improving our parks, managing our budget properly and addressing traffic.”

Seat 4 candidates Michael Partow, Karen Morris-Clarke, Shelly Albright, Maria Antuña and Carol Coleman.

The race for Seat 4 features five candidates seeking the council seat that Napoleone is vacating.

Shelly Albright said she came to Wellington more than 20 years ago and has been involved with volunteering in school and church roles for many years. She wants to focus on family issues, from children to seniors.

“I’m worried about our senior citizens and how they’re paying for their houses,” she said. “They’re house rich and cash poor.”

Skyrocketing home insurance costs represent a big concern, she added.

Maria Antuña said she has been in Wellington for 45 years, raising a family and working in the banking industry in roles from teller to vice president.

After retiring, she took a leadership role with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County and became vice chair of the village’s Architectural Review Board. “I’m very strong in my background in budget and finance,” she said.

Carol Coleman, a 28-year resident of the village, called attention to her roles as rider, judge and business owner in the equestrian world.

“We moved to Wellington because of horse country,” she said. “I’m also very much a part of the village.”

She has served on the village’s Equestrian Preserve Committee and chaired its Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board.

Karen Morris-Clarke, a village resident of 24 years, said her work in travel and real estate has helped her stay attuned to the needs of small businesses and families.

“I’m deeply committed to serving Wellington, and assuring its continued growth and prosperity,” she said.

For key issues on her radar, she highlights road and public safety, infrastructure, small business development and wide community engagement with local government.

This is candidate Michael Partow’s first time running for office. As a horse farm owner, he is concerned that village leaders are not always connecting with what residents want.

His background in engineering and construction, he said, can help make sure promises are delivered on development plans and proposals crucial to the equestrian community’s future in Wellington. “That is going to be a huge challenge,” Partow said.

In answer to an audience question passed along by moderator Christina Nicholson, all five Seat 4 candidates said they would vote against any future proposals to remove more land from the Equestrian Preserve Area.