Frankel to push for FEMA to forgive counties’ storm debts

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel

MDN1-FRANCES_MULCH_DEBRIS09A bill that gets Palm Beach County out of most of a $3.28 million federal tab for hurricane cleanup has passed the U.S. House and is on its way to the Senate, U.S. Rep Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said late Monday.

The amount owed by the county government, and other local entities within the county, totals $14.1 million of the total $35 million owed by entities in Florida, Frankel said.

Potentially off the hook besides the county: the cities of Boca Raton: ($4.7 million), Lake Worth ($3.8 million) and Palm Beach Gardens ($351,000); and Jupiter Christian School ($90,000.)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management had given more than $120 million to the county to help recover from 2004’s hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, and 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay. The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part, later did an audit, leading to the calls for repayments.

In January, Palm Beach County Commissioners agreed to give back $341,858 of the $3.28 million and appeal the rest.

The current legislation, introduced in the House by Frankel, who was West Palm Beach mayor from 2003 to 2011, gives the feds a 3-year window to recoup claims, except in cases of fraud.

“This provision will give FEMA the necessary time to review grant awards while providing certainty for communities so they can plan their budgets accordingly,” Frankel said in a release. It quotes Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger as saying. “It is unconscionable for FEMA to propose de-obligating previously awarded disaster funds for projects that have been certified complete by the State.”

Palm Beach County to move deputy public safety director to top spot


Palm Beach County’s Deputy Public Safety Director, Stephanie M. Sejnoha, has been tabbed to take the top spot, replacing Vince Bonvento, who retired Monday after 44 years in county service.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker wrote commissioners Monday afternoon to ask that at Tuesday’s meeting, they ratify Sejnoha’s promotion.


Sejnoha, a graduate of Florida State University, started in the county’s financial sector in January 2001 and later was director of finance for the Public Safety Department in 2010 before being named its deputy in June 2015.

In the last year, she’s been a key player in talks to work out how to regulate Uber and similar app-based ride services, and determine how they compete with traditional for-hire vehicle services. She also worked on a recently-enacted set of rules for home caregivers.


Ethics panel: Sheriff, Clerk, others not subject to our scrutiny


Elected constitutional officers such as Clerk Sharon Bock and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw aren’t subject to the scrutiny of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics in their roles as members of the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission, because they don’t come under the jurisdiction of the ethics panel at all, its executive director says.

Bradshaw and Bock are mandatory members, but they have missed most meetings. They cite their busy schedules and the fact that their membership on the commission creates potential conflicts with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.

Bradshaw also has said attending opens his constitutionally independent office to the scrutiny of the county Inspector General and the ethics commission.

Bradshaw and Bock are among 11 members of the panel who hold county or state posts, plus four federal representatives, who are not subject at all to the ethics commission, executive director Mark Bannon wrote justice commission’s new executive director Kristina Henson.



The memo, responding to Henson’s request for an advisory opinion, is in the agenda package for Thursday’s ethics commission meeting. It’s a draft, the wording


of which is expected to be approved without discussion in the panel’s “consent agenda.”


“Those persons who are required by ordinance to be a member of an advisory board of commission,” Bannon wrote, “do not meet the Code’s definition of an official” for the ethic’s commission’s purposes. He said that’s because they’re not appointed by the county commission.

Bannon said two members of law enforcement associations plus the head of the county’s Legislative Delegation might already be subject to the ethics panel by virtue of their regular jobs.

Palm Beach Post analysis published Dec. 7 found that six members of the Criminal Justice Commission, including County Clerk Sharon Bock and Sheriff Rick Bradshaw, have missed about 87 percent of the meetings since 2007.

Palm Beach County Attorney: Don’t ban comment at workshops


Don’t ban public comments at Palm Beach County Commission workshops, County Attorney Denise Nieman has recommended.


Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger had made the suggestion on Nov. 17, right after being selected and sworn in for the mostly ceremonial mayor’s post. She also had suggested eliminating the two regular commission meetings a year that are held at night.

Both ideas drew opposition and on Dec. 15, commissioners put things on hold while they asked Nieman to research the ideas.

Nieman wrote commissioners late Thursday to say she’d planned to bring both to next Tuesday’s commission meeting for debate and possible action.

But, she said, on the comment part, “as I attempted to wordsmith an amendment to ensure that the (commission’s) desire for public participation and efficient and effective meetings were both addressed, it became obvious that there are too many scenarios that may be difficult to reconcile with absolutes defining Workshop days. For example, there may be a time when a motion during a Workshop is desirable, at which point public participation may be legally required.”

She added, “my recommendation is to leave the Rules as they are as it pertains to public comment.”

Nieman said the commission can drop the night meetings with a simple vote Tuesday; and “should this or future Boards want to resume evening meetings, a motion is all it would take to make it happen.”

Horse bedding recycling firms seek locations in Palm Beach County

At least 11 firms have expressed interest in operating a horse bedding recycling business in Palm Beach County. But finding the right spot for such an operation has proved difficult.

The County Commission was set to discuss the issue during a zoning meeting today, but the discussion was postponed because Commissioner Melissa McKinlay’s return flight from Washington, D.C. was delayed. McKinlay, who was in Washington for a National Association of Counties conference and to discuss issues related to Lake Okeechobee, represents the western areas of the county where equestrian pursuits are popular.

PBC Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
PBC Commissioner Melissa McKinlay

In October, the Commission turned down a request to create a special zoning district where a horse bedding recycling facility could be operated.

That request had drawn concerns about the possibility of the facility being operated in the Agricultural Reserve, a farming zone located west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. The request did not include plans to operate a bedding recycling facility in the Agricultural Reserve.

Bedding recycling facilities could be located in areas of the county zoned for industrial businesses. But because of the possibility of foul odors, those locations aren’t deemed to be a good fit – hence the effort to find a more isolated spot in the county that can be re-zoned for a bedding recycling facility.

Much of the manure in the county is spread over lands owned by U.S. Sugar. But as the equestrian industry grows in the county, illegal dumping of manure is becoming more of a problem.

McKinlay has said she does not want to repeat the Commission’s October discussion. She said she does want the county to work toward a more permanent solution.

The Commission could discuss the issue at its next zoning meeting in March.

Abrams: I’m sizzling mad over “meatless Mondays” proclamation



At least one county leader is broiling mad over a planned declaration of “meatless Mondays.”

The commission is set to issue the proclamation at next Tuesday’s meeting. It urges people to reduce meat consumption to cut back on the environmental impact of raising animals for food.

Abrams says he won’t sign it.

“The public doesn’t need the county commission to tell them when and what to eat,” Abrams said Thursday in an actual official press release from his office, titled “Abrams has cow over meatless Mondays.”

“Our constituents are smart enough to decide on their own,” Abrams said. “‘Ice Cream Sundays [sic],’ yes, ‘Meatless Mondays’ no.”

While the subject matter would seem light-hearted, Abrams told the Palm Beach Post Thursday it’s consistent with his political leanings as a lifelong “less-government” Republican.

He also said nobody can remember the last time a proclamation was anything but a formality.

“This is a directive from the board and it has policy issues attached to it,” he said. “It’s not the typical “cancer prevention week.'”

Long lines at Palm Beach County tax collector? get used to it

TaxCollectorLogoAt the Palm Beach County Governmental Center, lines to get into the county Tax Collector’s office snake through the main lobby and, on some days, out the door and into the courtyard.

Welcome to the new normal. A car wreck of circumstances means you can count on lines longer than they’ve been in past years, although some relief is expected on March 1, when the last of discounts for prepaying property taxes ends, and April 1, the drop-dead deadline before getting hit with fines and penalties, tax collector’s spokeswoman Karen Clarke said.

“This has become the new normal for down there. Especially the first and last part of the month and Mondays and Fridays,” Clarke said. She also said busiest times are the obvious ones; start and end of day and lunch hour.

None of this sits well with County Commissioner Shelley Vana, who sees the lines when she comes to her office.

“It’s ridiculous. It has never been like this before,” Vana said. “These poor people are coming from all over the place. People are not happy.”

Click here to read more.

(Staff writer Joe Capozzi contributed)



Palm Beach County gets $1m USDA small business grant

Untitled-1Palm Beach County’s Department of Economic Sustainability has received a $1 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide low-interest loans to small emerging businesses in rural parts of the county.

Palm Beach County was one of just six local governments, and the only one in Florida, to get the grant from the USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program, Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque told commissioners Tuesday in an email.

She said the county’s sustainability department has given low-interest loans to 32 local small businesses, resulting in the creation of about 1,540 local jobs over the last five years.


Cultural groups pressing for money from possible sales tax increase

Officials from theaters, museums and other cultural institutions have renewed their press to get a cut of the possible $2.6 billion that would be raised over 10 years from an increase in Palm Beach County’s sales tax.

Pro-sales tax emails are again popping in the in boxes of Palm County commissioners, who, along with the county School Board members, are considering a one cent on the dollar increase in the sales tax to raise money for school equipment and upgrades to roads, bridges and buildings. A sales tax increase would have to be approved by voters through a referendum.

Arts and culture groups argue that directing some of the money to their organizations would allow them to grow and enhance the quality of life in the area.

The Palm Beach County League of Cities is considering the newest proposal today, which has the backing of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County and Rick Asnani, who has overseen several successful ballot initiatives over the past dozen years.

Check with later today for more on this topic.

Cultural Council President Rena Blades
Cultural Council President Rena Blades

Palm Beach County: give Uber two more months

020115-UBER-3UPDATE: March 1, 9:40am: At the start of today’s Palm Beach County Commission meeting, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the proposal has been changed to end the temporary operating agreement not at the end of September but to instead extend it just another two months to the end of April.

Palm Beach County Commissioners are set at their next meeting, March 1, to extend for another six months the operating agreement with Uber app-based ride program and similar outfits that already is approaching a year and a half.

Palm Beach and other South Florida counties, and the entire state, have been wrestling with rules for Uber and other operations. Taxi and limo firms have said a person’s in just as much danger getting into a stranger’s private car as a taxi and that the app-based firms’ drivers should have the same background check and insurance rules. Uber argues it’s a different animal.

Uber wasn’t helped by this week’s shooting binge by a Michigan Uber driver that left at least six dead. Uber has said the driver had no criminal past and had passed background checks.

The county commission set the 1-year temporary deal in September 2014. In September 2015, it voted to extend it to March 31 or until the Legislature passed uniform statewide rules for such providers. But the Legislature still is wrestling with proposals; thus the commission’s proposed stopgap.