Four ballot initiatives went to referendum Tuesday in Palm Beach Beach County’s western communities and three got the majority support needed to become part of the town charters.
Wellington’s initiative was the biggest landslide. The village asked voters if they wanted to eliminate the appointment process for council vacancies, replacing it with a special election if more than 180 days remained on the term.
The charter change would give the voters more power, but it would come at a cost. Officials estimated that the special elections could cost as much as $35,000.
But the voters resoundingly said they didn’t care.
The referendum passed with 83 percent of the vote, according to unofficial numbers from the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections.
Two of the current council members initially were appointed to their seats.
Vice Mayor John McGovern was appointed in 2014 before being re-elected to finish the term without opposition. Most recently, Councilwoman Tanya Siskind was appointed to the seat left vacant by Mayor Anne Gerwig when she left to run for her current position.
McGovern said there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the appointment system. He thinks it produced some good results, but democracy is ultimately about putting these choices in the hands of the people.
“I think that it is always good when the voters directly choose their leaders,” he said.
The referendum was initially suggested by a task force that was brought together to look at the village’s charter to see if it needed to be updated. The thinking behind the change was to give the voters more power and to make the system uniform with a mayor vacancy, which already required a special election.
In Loxahatchee Groves, two less controversial referendums passed while a third was shot down by a significant margin.
About 3/4 of the voters were fine with making changes to the canvassing board and just over than half gave the green light to including specific language about qualifications and duties for future village manger contracts.
But about 2/3 of the voters would not support the third question, which would have allowed the Town Council to go into debt without sending a referendum to the voters.
Officials said this change would have allowed the town council to vote to fix roads or buy property without having to wait and go through a long process. Most municipalities, like Wellington, can already do this, but the Loxahatchee Groves charter doesn’t allow it.
The town will still have to send out future referendums and get 50 percent support from the people if it ever wants to borrow money.