The race for Seat 1 on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council features two-term incumbent Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia challenged by longtime resident Robert Sullivan, making his first foray in local politics. The election will be on Tuesday, March 19, held concurrently with Florida’s presidential preference primary.
The Seat 1 race is one of two council races on the ballot. The other is Seat 3, with Councilwoman Marianne Miles being challenged by former Councilwoman Anita Kane. Former Councilman Todd McLendon, who had initially filed to run for Seat 3, withdrew from the race last month. Both seats are for three-year terms.
Maniglia, who has frequently clashed with other council members on the dais, said her primary goal is representing the taxpayers. “I believe in absolute transparency, even when there are mistakes made,” she said. “I feel that the residents and taxpayers need to know.”
Sullivan said that he would like to help the town move forward while also maintaining its unique character. “I would like to see Loxahatchee Groves stay true to who we are, which is a beautiful, rural town, and not try to be like some of our neighboring cities,” he said.
Maniglia has served six years on the council. “Prior to that, I served on the ULDC Committee,” she said. “I work full-time as a residential Realtor while serving the town, so I am very involved in understanding the increases in our land values over the past 10 years.”
She is also proud of her work making the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District a dependent district. “That rid us of a second board,” Maniglia said. “The two boards were consistently fighting each other.”
While there have been clashes on the council recently regarding changes to the town’s RV ordinance, Maniglia noted that she was a key supporter of the initial ordinance.
“I suggested that we put an RV ordinance in place years ago, in 2015, when we discovered that we had several illegal trailer parks in the neighborhood,” she said. “I also suggested that the Miami Dolphins put a Trauma Hawk pad on their property. That helped with concerns regarding emergency services in the northern parts of the town.”
Maniglia added that she has insisted on visioning sessions encouraging resident input.
While Maniglia supports paving town roads where residents want them paved, she is not in favor of how recent projects have been done.
“I believe that we need to reevaluate our infrastructure because the hasty paving of the roads with a two-inch surfacing did more damage to our canals and is costing us approximately a half-million dollars in repairs,” she said. “We need to make sure when we spend money, we are doing it responsibly.”
Maniglia said that she is running for re-election because, “I am committed to the town, and I want to leave it better than I found it.”
In her campaign, and during town meetings, Maniglia has been sharply critical of several other council members, who, in turn, have accused her of being disruptive during meetings. It is her viewpoint that “it is not a level playing field for everyone sitting on the dais at this time.”
“I believe very much that the council should absolutely listen to the input of the public,” Maniglia said. “I do not have a personal agenda. I am one of the few council members who do not have any ethics violations and/or code enforcement violations. If you are sitting on that council, you should set an example.”
As for her accomplishments, Maniglia pointed to the Trauma Hawk pad, as well as the town becoming a state-designated rural community. She also claims credit for “stopping the council from turning Okeechobee Blvd. into a commercial corridor, shoring up our borders and protecting our agricultural rural lifestyle.”
She would like to see more residents serving on committees and more road improvements for those who wanted paved roads.
“We need to complete the paving program for the folks who are still waiting, who pay the same taxes in this town as people with paving,” Maniglia said. “That needs to be done properly with drainage, engineering and fiscal responsibility.”
Her vision for the future is to maintain the town’s unique nature.
“I think we are a gem. We are not just an equestrian community. We grow food here. We have people who are stewards of the land,” Maniglia said. “I think that if we embrace the residents and landowners who love this town, we need to stay five-acre buildable and protect our lifestyle.”
To protect the town against growth going on around it, she wants to “shore up the border and not reduce our five-acre designation, or we will disappear, just like Davie, Plantation Acres, Southwest Ranches, Redlands and Jupiter Farms.”
While she has concerns about canal maintenance, she is hopeful those issues will get better.
“Our town manager has now hired a public works director and team that is going to address the maintenance of roads, canals and all infrastructure that has been ignored for several years,” Maniglia said.
She does not support Wellington’s proposed annexation on the north side of Southern Blvd. and hopes that Palm Beach County is successful in its attempts to stop it. She gives high marks to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in keeping the town safe.
“I think they are doing a fine job,” Maniglia said. “We already pay in our Palm Beach County taxes, and we pay additional fees for these services, so I would expect them to do nothing but a good job for our community.”
She noted that she is the only council member who lives on less than five acres, and she aims to represent the interests of others who live on smaller lots.
When it comes to the other race on the ballot, Maniglia is supporting challenger Kane against incumbent Miles. “Anita Kane has consistently served the residents of this town in a volunteer capacity and continues to do so as chair of the FAAC [Finance Advisory & Audit Committee],” she said.
Maniglia is very proud of the people who live in Loxahatchee Groves.
“I know quite a percentage of the folks who live here,” she said. “They moved here because they love nature. They love being able to have some green space, growing food, growing animals, and they love this town. It’s all about the people.”
A native of South Florida, Sullivan moved to the western communities in 1981 and to Loxahatchee Groves in 2003. However, his parents have owned property in the town since the early 1970s.
“I have been coming to Loxahatchee Groves since 1972,” he said. “I love it out here, and I will never go anywhere else.”
High school sweethearts, Sullivan has been married to his wife Mary for 45 years. They have three children and six grandchildren. “We hold all our family gatherings out here in Loxahatchee Groves,” he said.
After serving in the U.S. Navy for four years, Sullivan worked for 42 years in the elevator industry as a technician and in management before recently retiring.
“Since I have been retired, I took some time off,” Sullivan said. “My dad was very active in the community before it was a town. Now that I’m retired, I have the time to do it.”
He is very proud of his military service, noting that it runs in the family, with his grandfather and father serving, and his son currently serving in the military. Sullivan feels that he is following in the footsteps of his father, John Sullivan, a veteran who was active in the community and fought for the rights of landowners and to protect the rural lifestyle of Loxahatchee Groves.
Asked why he is the best person to serve on the council, Sullivan said, “I think it is up to the voters to decide who is best. If they pick me, I look forward to bringing my years of experience to fixing problems in the Town of Loxahatchee Groves.”
In his campaign, Sullivan wants to “keep our rural lifestyle and lower taxes.” His top priority on the council will be protecting the community for future generations.
“First and foremost, I want to do what is best for our town,” Sullivan said. “I want to preserve our rural lifestyle, which I love. I would like to keep Okeechobee two lanes. We don’t need another Southern Blvd. running through the middle of Loxahatchee Groves.”
He also wants to see more multi-use trails on canals for horses, “but we must not overspend more than we can afford.”
While he said that “growth is inevitable,” Sullivan wants to make sure that the community works together to protect itself and “go in the right direction.”
Sullivan is supportive of the recent road paving projects undertaken by the town.
“I think the improvements that have been done are long overdue, especially speaking as someone who has lived out here for years and driven on washboard, dustbowl roads,” he said. “I would see this process continue as funding allows.”
He would like to see the community keep a sharp focus on canal maintenance.
“I look at the canals as they are part of our infrastructure,” Sullivan said. “They need to be maintained to do the job that they were designed to do in the beginning.”
When it comes to Wellington’s proposed annexation just west of the town’s borders, he noted that Palm Beach County has taken up the fight against it.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks,” Sullivan said. “We will just have to see how the system works. Palm Beach County is fighting it, and Wellington wants it.”
He is supportive of the job being done by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in keeping the town safe.
“I do like the presence of the sheriff’s department in our town,” Sullivan said. “I have not had any issues. I like the idea that they have unlimited resources backing them up should there ever be a dire emergency and we need those resources.”
All in all, Sullivan is proud of the community he has long called home and how it has evolved since incorporation.
“We have been able to keep our rural lifestyle,” Sullivan said. “A lot has happened since incorporation in November 2006. So far, so good.”