Candidate to replace Santamaria says county officials playing politics

Palm Beach County Commission candidate Andy Schaller is accusing county administrators of trying to block his chances of winning the District 6 race by inappropriately giving his opponents information about a road project that could affect voters in his neighborhood.

County Administrator Bob Weisman said Friday he authorized county managers to alert all of the four candidates who have announced they are running for term-limited Commissioner Jess Santamaria’s District 6 seat about a community meeting held Tuesday to discuss the road project.

Weisman said he also authorized County Engineer George Webb to send candidates a copy of a community letter distributed to 400 residents that could be affected by the project.

If Webb had not sent the candidates the information, Schaller would have been the only candidate to receive the letter sent to neighborhood residents.

County commissioners on Tuesday are expected to discuss the project, which could extend Lyons Road through the Palm Beach Ranchettes neighborhood, which sits between Lake Worth Road and Forest Hill Boulevard just south of Wellington. The extension is part of the county’s five-year road plan, but under the most recent proposal, there is no money allocated for construction.

“We felt since this was an issue that would continue into the next term that it would be worthwhile for the candidates to be alerted,” Weisman said. “It is an issue of countywide, or at least regional, importance.”

But Schaller, who owns a home in the Ranchettes neighborhood, questions the decision to notify candidates. He has asked what the county’s policy is regarding county employees’ activity in political events and elections.

Weisman says the county has a policy on political activity by employees, but the notification doesn’t violate it.

“I don’t believe the county has any place whatsoever, other than to respond to information requests,” Schaller said.

Schaller, who has fought for years with county officials over road issues in the Ranchettes, unsuccessfully ran against Santamaria in 2010. During that election, Schaller said county administrators never notified him of projects that could affect the district.

He also questions why county officials haven’t notified candidates of other big projects in the area, including a new plan to develop the 3,800-acre Callery-Judge Grove site.

“I definitely feel like it was a move to equalize my presence in this community,” Schaller said of the county’s decision.

Schaller regularly attends commission meetings to discuss road and drainage projects in the Ranchettes.

“I think you have to been under a rock not to know that I have been involved in this issue,” he added.

Weisman said the county has notified candidates about similar projects in the past, but could not point to a recent example.

Weisman said the community meeting with residents of the Ranchettes was “unusual.”

“We thought it was fair,” Weisman said of the county’s notification. “To me, I just don’t see where it is a problem.”

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