As Palm Beach Gardens continues to grow, a new City Council will need to solve traffic issues and improve transparency, candidates said.
Nine candidates are seeking three seats on the Palm Beach Gardens City Council in Tuesday’s election. Council members are elected at-large, meaning voters get to vote in all three races, choosing one candidate for each seat regardless of where they live.
Marcie Tinsley, Eric Jablin and Bert Premuroso are not eligible to run again because of term limits, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2014.
Mark Marciano, a 46-year-old optometrist, will face Michael Paolercio, the 65-year-old retired co-founder of Michael Anthony Jewelers, in the Group 1 race.
Marciano, a 17-year resident, has served on the city’s budget oversight committee since 2012. He lost a Florida House District 83 race against Pat Rooney in 2010.
Marciano received campaign contributions from developers and their professionals but said that would not influence his decision-making. Not accepting their money is equivalent to telling them he doesn’t want to work with them, he said.
“At the end of the day, those that do business in the city are the one who are going to help the candidates who are going to listen to their issues,” Marciano said. “No, that’s not going to have any effect on my independence.”
Regarding traffic, Marciano said planners should slow down approval for a new Interstate 95 interchange at Central Boulevard and changes to interchange at Northlake Boulevard. He also said he believes the requirement for Avenir to build commercial space before it builds homes will help capture traffic from the west.
Paolercio, a full-time resident of the city since March 2007, said he wants to ensure studies of Northlake and Central boulevards used by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization are accurate before any decisions are made.
The Beeline Highway should become a route for growth out west, he said, as should the proposed extension of State Road 7.
Paolercio blames Marciano for council members’ pay, which increased every year since at least 2014.
“I’m actually appalled at the current compensation in the budget for current City Council members,” Paolercio said. “He’s as guilty as they are for allowing this to happen.”
Marciano said the City Council is considered “general employees” because of a measure passed many years ago, so when non-union employees get a salary increase, they do, too.
The council did not offer any raises to those employees from around 2008 to 2009 to 2012, he said. Once the economy stabilized, officials increased salaries to make up for lost time, which was “the right thing to do,” Marciano said. Council received the raises, too, he said.
Each council member’s salary is $28,449 per year, with the mayor earning $31,037, according to the city. Additional benefits such as pension and insurance bring each council member’s compensation package to between $51,800 and $64,400, according to the city.
Running for the Group 3 seat are Ron Berman, a 60-year-old businessman and attorney; Kathryn “Katie” Gettinger, a 45-year-old homemaker; and Matthew Lane, a 62-year-old family law attorney.
Berman unsuccessfully ran for Florida Senate District 30 in November. He said the city needs to have workshops to discuss projects.
“I think transparency has been a problem with the council in the past, and I think that needs to be addressed,” he said.
The planned widening of Northlake west of Florida’s Turnpike near Avenir should help with traffic as thousands of new homes are phased in, he said.
However, he said he doesn’t like FDOT proposals for changes to the Northlake interchange, because they’re “expensive, disruptive,” and displace residents and businesses.
Points in Lane’s plan for alleviating traffic include fixing traffic signal timing, using reliever roads and having a travel lane for buses on Northlake.
Lane said significant campaign contributions from developers and their professionals would not unfairly sway his decision-making.
“You get the facts. You make the best possible decisions,” he said. “I’m going to call the shot based upon what I think is right, just like a judge would.”
Gettinger said she’s heard several ideas for improving the Beeline Highway. Proper timing of traffic signals would also help. The city will need strong representation on the Metropolitan Planning Organization and needs to work with FDOT to start solving traffic problems, she said.
Gettinger said she intentionally decided not to collect campaign money.
“I didn’t want to be influenced by developers, or the mall, or anyone who might try to influence my decision-making if elected,” she said.
Seeking the Group 5 seat are Rachelle Litt, a 61-year-old pharmacist; Joe Russo Jr., the 27-year-old executive director of Palm Beach Tech; Kevin Easton, a 62-year-old retired senior engineering technician at Pratt & Whitney; and George Wicker, a 73-year-old retired businessman with Lockheed Martin.
Litt said the council needs to do a better job communicating with residents, especially those in non-gated communities.
“We need to reach out and not wait for them to hear secondhand,” she said. “We also have to do workshops in conjunction with the City Council meetings whenever there are major issues.”
As for traffic, officials need to work with FDOT and the MPO to make sure they’re “looking at everything from a regional approach and not just one interchange at a time,” Litt said.
More reliever roads similar to the 6-mile connector through Avenir linking Northlake and the Beeline could help, she said.
Wicker said the new council will need to form working relationships with Palm Beach County and the new city of Westlake where much of the western growth is happening to manage the traffic.
Diverting traffic to the Beeline and creating a new interchange there would help, he said. Adding stores, personal services and city recreation facilities out west will capture traffic, Wicker said.
Wicker said the council should use email and electronic media more to communicate with residents. A workshop once a month would give residents a chance to air their views, he said.
Russo said having workshops for large projects would prevent meetings from running late into the night when people have gone home.
Russo collected significant campaign money from developers and professionals but said it wouldn’t affect his decision-making.
“Every project to me is going to be exactly the same. I plan to talk to every single person and be open about every single issue,” he said.
Russo is the son of longtime Councilman Joe Russo, who could not seek re-election last year because of term limits. Russo said his father didn’t ask him to run.
“First and foremost, my father is to me a father. He is a dad,” Russo said. “I want to use my father’s public service as a guiding light, but there are things I agree and disagree with him on.”
To deal with traffic, the city should implement a mobility plan and a mobility fee, which it has already started working on, he said. A mobility fee would allow money developers pay for road projects to be used for recurring costs such as buses, sidewalks and bike lanes, he said.
Easton said officials need to work with Westlake and Palm Beach County to capture traffic and keep it out west.
“It’s only going to get worse at this point, and we need every municipality to jump in here,” he said.
He said he opposes FDOT’s plans for the Northlake Boulevard change, which could require homeowners and businesses to move. Easton lives in a neighborhood off Northlake that was annexed into Palm Beach Gardens in 2002.
Easton fought with the city for years, urging officials to bring pavement and water lines. They agreed in 2014, with the stipulation that 61 homeowners pay special taxes of $2,000 a year for 20 years.
Easton also ran for City Council in 2011 and 2016.
- One in a series about the candidates in Palm Beach County’s municipal elections of March 14.
- Series runs through Monday.
- Get all The Post’s municipal election coverage at PalmBeachPost.com/munielections
- Read The Post Editorial Board’s endorsements in 15 cities’ races, PalmBeachPost.com/endorsements