Gardens will annex area west of Ibis; voters reset council term limits

Palm Beach Gardens voters redefined how City Council members are elected and how they’re affected by term limits when they decided two ballot questions Tuesday.

In a separate vote, residents of a 1,300-acre unincorporated pocket west of Ibis agreed to join the city through annexation.

READ: Complete results for all races, referenda

Palm Beach Gardens voters decided term-limited City Council members can run again after they sit out for three years and that candidates should be elected by plurality rather than majority.

“I’m happy with the results. I look forward to the city saving some money by not having a runoff,” Mayor Maria Marino said. “Both of these questions are good for the city.”

RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

Electing candidates by plurality — meaning the highest vote-getter wins — eliminates the need for runoff elections, which each cost the city more than $80,000. Previously, candidates needed to have more than 50 percent of the vote to win. Historically, the same person won the runoff as the regular election.

Opponents said switching to plurality also makes it easier for a nominal candidate to siphon off votes, helping an incumbent to get re-elected.

There has been a disagreement over how long term-limited council members must sit out under the current rules, which the other question on the ballot was intended to address.

Opponents said term limits voters approved in November 2014 ban term-limited council members from running again for life.

City Attorney Max Lohman has said term limits affect current and prior council members differently under an appeals court’s ruling in 2016. That could leave the city open to a lawsuit.

According to Lohman, former council members may never serve again if they’ve already been elected to two consecutive, full terms. Current and future council members, however, could serve again after sitting out for only a year. The three-year sit-out period that voters approved will apply equally to everybody.

Vice Mayor Mark Marciano said the question clears up the ambiguity.

“I wanted to see definition,” Marciano said. “There’s no question as to what you can and cannot do once your term is over. Now it’s going to be perfectly spelled out and defined.”

Sid Dinerstein, a former Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman who challenged the questions in court, said voters did not understand the question. He will decide soon whether to pursue further legal remedies.

“We know they didn’t understand it. The council chose not to explain it in a way that people could make an intelligent decision,” Dinerstein said.

Voters have been paying attention and understood the question, Marciano said. There didn’t seem to be a lot of confusion on the language, he said.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge G. Joseph Curley tossed two other ballot questions the city wanted to put to voters. He found that the questions didn’t adequately inform voters what they were deciding.

In other news, residents of 500 homes on the western edge of Palm Beach Gardens will become part of the city after approving annexation Tuesday. Homeowners in Bay Hill Estates, The Preserve at Bay Hill Estates and Rustic Lakes grappled with whether they wanted to pay more in taxes in exchange for better services and recreation perks.

People saw the long-range picture over a marginal increase in property taxes, said Bay Hill Estate’s annexation committee chairman Reg Miller.

“We look forward to enjoying the many benefits the city offers, as well as being associated with what may be the most financially stable and forward-thinking city in Florida,” he said.

The vote pitted neighbor against neighbor in rural Rustic Lakes, where 60-some homeowners were outnumbered by the 450 homeowners in the Bay Hill communities. The annexation was an all-or-nothing proposition.

“At the end of the day, it is what it is. We’re not happy with it, of course,” said Bill Stone, a member of the Rustic Lakes Property Owners Association board. “We’ll look at our options tomorrow and moving forward. We are still opposed to being funneled into this procedure.”

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