The Lake Worth Democratic Club held its city of Lake Worth municipal Commission Candidate forum last Thursday. A lot of people attended - I would say close to one hundred or so - which really made that room feel crowded. Due to the shape of the room, the candidates were placed against the south wall. The sound system, if you can call it that, left a lot to be desired and it was difficult to see at times due to the lighting and distance involved. It goes back to the need for space in this city where we can assemble a large group of people - comfortably - and where there is a decent sound system. That being said - a hearty thank you goes out to the LW Democratic Club for holding the event and I hope those that were there helped support Brogue's in the hosting of it. The Lake Worth Democratic Club meets every second Thursday of the month in this location, so try to put that on your calendar.
Barbara Aubel, resident of the Downtown Jewel neighborhood and long time member of the club, performed the duties of Mistress of Ceremonies. She did very well, even given some of the oddly worded questions that were put together for the candidates.
As you can see from the pictures, candidates in each of the two races were grouped together at the table. It wasn't clear visually what race they were in - you really had to either know or ask questions. I don't remember Barbara introducing each candidate individually at the beginning - that was left to the candidates themselves, if they chose to. More on that later.
I wasn't taking copious notes during the debate so this is not supposed to be or does it pretend to be anything close to a "transcript" of the proceedings. It's more about impressions and thoughts that I had during the time there and what I have thought about afterward.
I'll go down the row, starting with Commissioner Cara Jennings. Commissioner Jennings introduced herself, dressed uncharacteristically in a tailored suit - I am sure intended to make her look as Commissioner-esque as possible. She immediately boasted that she had won her election back in 2006 by a "landslide." These are the results from her race in 2006:
If you look at the two vote columns, the one on the left is the general election where Commissioner Jennings came in with the second highest percentage of the vote, but almost 15% points behind the largest vote-getter. Between the general election and the run-off election, some scurrilous stories came out about Commissioner Jenning's opponent. These were widely published by the Palm Beach Post in the week before the election. At the time, Commissioner Jennings distanced herself from the revelations and said that she didn't condone such information being released and expressed her disappointment with it being used at all. However, the results are the results you see above. Whether or not sanctioned by Commissioner Jennings, the canon had been fired by someone or some group with the intent to affect the results of the election. Thus you see the wide swing in votes to Commissioner Jennings in the run-off election. It should be noted too that Commissioner Jennings run-off election drew less voters than our last run-off election in 2007. Almost 600 fewer voters came out which means that there are some people that lost in the 2007 election that had more votes than Commissioner Jennings - hmmm. So, that is the real story behind Cara's "landslide" victory - that and the fact that she had an army of foot soldiers going door to door - some of which were bused in from all points of the compass.
During her responses to the questions, Commissioner Jennings made a big deal about her "open door" and that she is at City Hall more than other commissioners and that she returns all of her phone calls - then she corrected herself and says that she responds to 90% or 95% - forget which. I guess I am in the 5 or 10 percent that don't get the returned calls or e-mails. Hmmm. In fact, with all my e-mails I have sent to the Commissioners - about lighting at the boat ramp, 431 N. L Street - she has never responded. I have only received responses on those issues from Mayor Clemens and Commissioner Vespo. I remember having a meeting scheduled with Commissioner Jennings once and she did her best to make herself unavailable and the meeting never happened. I do remember talking to her on the phone once. Remember, I supported Commissioner Jennings in her initial campaign.
As for her accomplishments, she rattled off the following as she made her final statement:
- Partnership with FAU on generating energy from the ocean. Commissioner Jennings commented that we have a unique opportunity as a city since we have our own electric utility and that we have a beach. Commissioner Jennings put those two things together to conclude that we are in a unique position to generate renewable energy from the ocean. She mentioned a contract the City has with FAU, who is researching the technology - does anyone know when that came before the Commission and could someone forward a copy to me? Listening to Commissioner Cara Jennings, she made it seem like there are machines that are just waiting to be delivered to our beach so that we can start getting our electricity from whatever equipment will be used to harness the power of the mighty Atlantic. Note to Commissioner Jennings: Better look at the future land use designation and zoning for the beach - I don't see anything about allowing "power generation equipment" there. You might want to put forward a Comprehensive Plan amendment so we can have that on our public beach, whatever form it turns out to be once it's perfected as a technology.
- Opposing the Dredge and Fill project proposed by "Palm Beach island." - The credit here goes to Tom Wranke of the Surfider Foundation. This was a unanimous vote - note exactly due to the work of Commissioner Cara Jennings. Also, what is this "Palm Beach island" term? Commissioner Jennings would be correct in referring to it as the "Town of Palm Beach."
- Increasing monetary contribution from the CRA to support police functions. - This is more about Commissioner Cara Jennings abdicating her responsibility to fund and support the police appropriately through the general fund. Yes, she did appear before the CRA - one of my first meetings - and asked that we vote for the extra money for the police. Note to Commissioner Cara Jennings: We did it anyway and not due to any action on your part.
- Securing the Public Health clinic on "F" Street. - This is more about Commissioner Cara Jennings attempt to block this as a possibility for the "employment center" as she refers to it. Commissioner Jennings, it's better to call it what it is: a "Day Labor Center" that will now be housed in the shuffleboard court building due to your driving efforts. My suggestion would be to take ownership of that decision and vote - tell the voters what it is and not call it something perceived to be more palatable to the voting public. Leaders do not back away from their actions by obscuring the facts.
- The city signing on to the Kyoto Protocol. Nice thing to do, but how much impact that had locally cannot really be measured. What can be measured? Commissioner Jennnings talked about the large binder with a stack of paper about 4 inches high that comes out before every regular City Commission meeting - twice a month or twenty four times a year. That turns out to be a stack of paper 8 feet tall every year for each Commissioner and the Mayor. That's a stack 40 feet high for just those elected representatives on the dais. Commissioner Jennings should lead the way in making sure that Commissioners get any written information in digital form and dump the 4 inch notebook. This can eventually be duplicated (interesting choice of words) for other city boards. I already get my CRA packet in digital form - exclusively.
Now on to the other candidates.
Dr. Rene Varela
Commissioner Dave Vespo