Santamaria: No regrets about skipping last Palm Beach County Commission meeting

Jess Santamaria says he has no regrets about skipping his final Palm Beach County Commission meeting as a commissioner Tuesday morning.

Reached at his Wellington home late Tuesday afternoon, he told The Palm Beach Post, “There was really no purpose for me to be there.”

It was a meeting full of the unusual. Besides Santamaria not showing Commissioner Shelley Vana was elected county mayor in a surprise move described by Commissioner Paulette Burdick as “petty’’ punishment for her growth-management stances. And Santamaria’s successor, Melissa McKinlay, was sworn in by her friend and ally, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, instead of Clerk of the Court Sharon Bock, who swore in commissioners Paulette Burdick and Steven Abrams, who won new four-year terms this fall.

Santamaria’s absence was noted by several commissioners during their mostly positive remarks at the start of the meeting.

“I wish he’d been here in person so we could express our sentiments to him personally,’’ Commissioner Hal Valeche said about Santamaria, whom he referred to as “our missing colleague.’’

Valeche said Santamaria “and I disagreed quite a bit but it was all in the spirit of producing a better result for our residents.’’

County Administrator Bob Weisman held up an appreciation plaque he intended to give Santamaria.

“It has been an interesting experience to work with Commissioner Santamaria over the years — challenging, but challenging in a good way,’’ Weisman said.

Santamaria, though, said, he was content to watch the meeting on TV, and he didn’t detect an outpouring of affection from the other commissioners.

“I don’t think there was any real compliments other than Paulette Burdick and Bob Weisman,” he said.

“For me to just sit there and hear all of the comments from the incoming commissioner and the incoming mayor, I did not feel it needed my half-hour drive to and from West Palm Beach,” he said. “Mine was a minor role that really did not warrant my presence.

“You know and I know that I don’t get along with most of the county commissioners and they don’t like me,” he said.

Santamaria, who served since 2006, had to vacate his seat because of term limits.

At one point in the meeting, two county workers showed up at the dais to remove Santamaria’s nameplate and replace it with a new one bearing McKinlay’s name.

They were shooed away, postponing their work until the commission took a short break.

In the other major surprise of the meeting, commissioners voted 5-2 to elect Vana mayor instead of Burdick, who had been vice mayor and was in line to succeed Priscilla Taylor as mayor. But Taylor nominated Vana.

“Obviously, I thought Shelley Vana would do a better job,’’ Taylor later told The Post when asked why she didn’t nominate Burdick.

Abrams, who nominated Burdick for mayor, voted against the Vana nomination with Burdick.

Burdick later said she prepared a statement because she had a sense that she might be passed over as mayor, but then decided during the meeting not to read it in public. But she gave a copy to The Post.

“It is apparent that there is a majority on the board that is pro-development to a fault,’’ the statement said. “This is their petty way of showing their disapproval of anyone that does not go along to get along.

“Sometimes someone has to stand up and say, ‘The emperor has no clothes.’’’

Commissioner Mary Lou Berger was elected vice mayor.

Vana was the commission’s chairwoman in 2012 before Commissioner Steven Abrams became the first county mayor in 2013 after the commission decided to change the name of the ceremonial post from chairman to mayor.

The mayor post was intended to be rotated every year among the seven commissioners. But Taylor said that was never a set rule.

In the past, the mayor/chairperson mirrored whoever was chairperson on the Solid Waste Authority board, which is made up of the County Commission.

This year, Burdick replaced Taylor as SWA board chairperson, a move that suggested Burdick would replace Taylor as county mayor.

After the votes Tuesday, Taylor tried to pass the gavel to Vana, who sat three seats down. But Burdick, who sits next to Taylor, refused to take the gavel and leaned forward so Commissioner Hal Valeche could reach behind her back to take the gavel from Taylor and hand it to Vana.

McKinlay, who won a three-way race for Santamaria’s District 6 seat, asked that Aronberg swear her in instead of Bock. Bock swore in Abrams and Burdick, who both won new terms this fall.

“You know what they say about politics,’’ Aronberg said before delivering the oath of office: “First you get sworn in, then you get sworn at.’’

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