The Palm Beach County Commission changed the guard Tuesday with laughs, hugs and tears. It also made a surprise pick for its mostly-ceremonial mayor’s post, selecting Paulette Burdick.
In a room filled with a “who’s who” of area government and business leaders, the panel Tuesday said goodbye to Shelley Vana, out by term limits, and Priscilla Taylor, defeated for reelection in August.
Retired Circuit Judge Edward Rodgers then swore in former state representative Dave Kerner, who won Vana’s seat, and 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Jonathan Gerber swore in former Delray Beach City Commissioner and former state representative Mack Bernard, who replaces Taylor.
By tradition, recently-reelected commissioner, and outgoing vice-mayor, Hal Valeche was next in line for mayor. But Valeche, hospitalized for weeks in late October and early November, said Nov. 9 he would not stand for the post, citing his health.
Next up would be Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, the current vice chair of the Solid Waste Authority’s board. But only Burdick and Abrams were nominated Tuesday. McKinlay later was unanimously picked for vice mayor. She said later she hadn’t sought the top post and was happy with her pick.
The panel selected Burdick 4-3, with Kerner, Bernard, McKinlay and Burdick herself favoring her over colleague Steven Abrams, who got his vote plus those of Valeche and commissioner and outgoing Mayor Mary Lou Berger.
Abrams had been the first mayor in 2013 when the panel switched to the title from “commission chair,” and Kerner said later he voted for Burdick because she hasn’t held the post yet.
In 2014, Burdick, who as vice mayor traditionally would be next in line, was passed over for Shelley Vana in a move she later called “petty” and blamed on her growth-management stances. Burdick said Tuesday that was in the past and she was ready to take on her new duties, saying, “You let it go and you move on.”
The two departing commissioners thanked their colleagues and constituents.
“It has been my honor to serve the people of Palm Beach County,” Taylor said. And Vana told her fellow commissioners, “You have such a good heart.”
And the two new panelists called for faith and cooperation.
“My god is awesome and he truly blessed me,” Bernard said. He choked up as he described his parents abandoning him as an infant and his coming at age 10 from Haiti for a new life in Florida. He later would graduate college and law school.
Bernard also drew attention to reports that both the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections and the county State Attorney’s office were looking this summer into reports of mail-in ballot irregularities in Bernard’s commission race and the State Senate District 30 race eventually won by State Rep. Bobby Powell.
“So many people fought for the right to vote,” he said, “and for them to have to be ridiculed and for the voters to be harassed, that should never happen.”
And Bernard asked the commission to consider holding off on all contracts of $1 million or more until the county finishes its study on disparity in the awarding of county business.
Kerner repeated a comment he made in his campaign that while it’s easier to hide in the bushes when you’re one of dozens of legislators, being one of seven county commissioners is something different.
Former commissioner Burt Aaronson spoke, saying Vana and Taylor brought “nothing but joy and knowledge.” And he drew smiles when he said, likely with tongue implanted in cheek, that when term limits oust Berger in 2020, he’ll run for his own seat; “I’ll be only 92!” he quipped.
McKinlay also noted Tuesday the commission, formerly 5-2 female, now is 4-3 male.
The Palm Beach County Commission took the following action Tuesday:
Westlake: Approved changing the boundaries of its Municipal Service Taxing Unit for fire-rescue to include the new city of Westlake.
Cancer Treatment Centers: Approved $357,500 in local incentives for Boca Raton-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which will spend at least $14.5 million to buy and renovate an existing building for its corporate headquarters.