The Palm Beach Post endorsements for West Palm Beach.
Much like the dynamic city it oversees, the West Palm Beach City Commission is currently a work in progress. Members tend to disagree with one another openly on the dais. There are precious few unanimous votes. And watching its growing pains can be, well ... painful.
But the key word here is "progress." The city is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar construction boom. Crime is down. The tax base is growing at a healthy clip. But most importantly, there is an effort to make sure all of that newfound largesse is distributed fairly around the city.
To that end, the city has placed on the March 17 ballot a parks bond issue referendum "not exceeding $30 million" to revitalize, repair, and bolster programs at, 17 of the city's 56 public parks and community centers.
The Palm Beach Post supports the proposed bond, which is actually a replacement of an expiring $20 million bond issue from 2000 as it will help the city address one of its greatest needs and residents' greatest wants.
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James is correct when he says that parks "are a major economic driver and amenity for the city. I see them as critical to the value of our neighborhoods."
We agree. It will be good to see Currie Park, which is slated to receive the biggest block of money from the bond issue, finally get the attention it has so long needed so that it can become the waterfront asset the city's North End deserves.
Plans for the bonds also include $3 million to expand and renovate Gaines Park, $2.5 million for the Howard Park Tennis Center, $2 million for the South Olive Park Tennis Center and $1.3 million to replace Phipps Park concessions, bathrooms and walkways.
Residents may be feeling a little "tax fatigue" from the last few years of referendums, but West Palm Beach leaders are smart to propose the bond issue now, while rates are low and before the previous bond completely sunsets. Responsibly, the city has promised to follow through on transparency by allowing the advisory commission overseeing the one-cent sales tax revenue to do the same for the bond issue.
Two commission seat races are also on the ballot. The Post endorses first-term Commissioners Kelly Shoaf and Christina Lambert to retain their seats in District 1 and District 5, respectively. (Commissioner Richard Ryles forfeited his District 3 seat to challenger Christy Fox when Ryles inexplicably did not qualify by the filing deadline.)
The Post Editorial Board has been critical of Shoaf’s and Lambert’s positions against the State Road 7 extension, and for the Okeechobee Business District. And their glaring absence from a special city commission meeting on a controversial $8 million no-bid contract was embarrassing.
But Shoaf, who is once again facing minister and community activist Martina Tate-Walker, has worked hard to bring and keep attention on the oft-neglected North End. She has kept public safety and economic development "for everyone" at the forefront, throwing her support behind new Police Chief Frank Adderley and, more recently, new CRA Director Giovonni Moss. And Shoaf, 36, is a forceful advocate for much-needed affordable and workforce housing in the city.
"We've made some headway," she told the Post Editorial Board, "but West Palm Beach can certainly do more."
Lambert, 40, is learning on the job as well most importantly, with regard to community engagement. Last fall, to the chagrin of her district’s residents, Lambert voted to support a two-lane bikeway on South Flagler Drive. Weeks later she was forced to reverse her vote after more than 100 residents objected to the project.
To her credit, Lambert admits that she and the city needed to "do a better job of outreach." She is now one of the commission’s biggest advocates for improving response to residents’ concerns and connecting them more easily with the right city staff.
"The No. 1 concern that I hear from residents is ’no response from city hall,’ " she said. "We need to change that."
One of those South End residents, Palm Beach Atlantic University associate professor Stephen Sylvester, 59, is challenging Lambert for the District 1 seat.
We’re mindful of Lambert’s limitations in her first term, but are hopeful that she will be more responsive to her constituents in a second term.