May 28, 2023

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In This Edition

When I was a kid, I was always looking for a job.

At first it was working for relatives. Then about the time I was in the 9th grade, I began walking into restaurants and asking for a job. It didn’t matter whether it was as a busboy or a dish washer. I just wanted to be hired.

When the boss asked me how old I was, I would say 14 and that would end that conversation. I soon learned to say 16. In those days there were no I.D.s and I didn’t yet have a social security card.

I also learned on the job to just begin to do anything I was asked and to take on other tasks without being asked. I always tried to come early and stay late. I inevitably ended up helping the cook or chef and being promoted.

Since you worked off the books, regular rules didn’t apply. A cook once left an empty hot pan on a counter that I picked up. The boss needed to take me to the ER to be treated…no parent was ever called, and I figure he must have picked up the bill.

These were after school and summer jobs. I wasn’t working instead of going to class. Nobody I worked for expected me to ditch school. In fact, most encouraged me to study and not spend the rest of my life in a kitchen. No one mentioned culinary school. You learned by doing it and if you made too many mistakes, it wasn’t unheard of that a plate would be thrown at you by the chef.

When I was applying to college, I was asked if I wanted to work at the New York Plaza Hotel by the Food & Beverage Manager there. I said I was going to college, and he said if I wanted to wait a year, he thought he could get me into Cornell Hotel School. I decided against it and just floated from job to job while I went to school.

All these memories came back to me as I have been reading about states weakening child labor laws. Most of the laws that they want to roll back were in effect when I was a kid, but it was easier to evade them. I often worked until 2 am on the weekends. At a diner, I would work all night on a Friday or Saturday. I was using sharp knives and slicing machines, which were all against the law.

A high school kid working till 9 pm instead of 7 pm is OK with me if the kid has his priorities straight. But the reason they are changing the child labor laws in states is not because the government wants to give kids more employment opportunities. It is simply because there aren’t enough workers.

Just like when I was a kid, paperwork was a bit lax and so was the immigration status of most of those working beside me. Now in the increasingly hard-to-be-anonymous world we inhabit and the crackdown on those entering the country without documentation, only kids are left to do manual labor.

I made more money than almost any of my classmates. When I was 16, I always had a bankroll. Fortunately, I also had the right encouragement from family and employers to stay in school and put that first. I could have easily fallen for the trap that perhaps some of these kids will fall into of putting work above school.

I am sort of glad that they are relaxing some of the rules. Though parents and even employers need to make sure that kids are focused on the important things. The experiences I had working as a teen were invaluable to me but so was the fact that I received a good education and that it came first.

New Website Launch

We are getting closer to the launch date for our new site. Right now, it looks like we will still have the first edition in July, but it could change so stay tuned.

As you have noticed we have added new columnists, increased our non-profit announcements, and have added more information from our different Constitutional Officers. All of this is in anticipation of the easier to use format. That doesn’t mean we are not still looking for more varied columnists. This week we introduce Jesicca Roberts to our lineup who writes on yoga and relaxation techniques. 

Friends & Neighbors is running pieces on Facebook between publications. In that manner we can keep you informed and up to date. As to our government reporting we have noticed that commissioners have become a little careless in how they spend your tax funds. If we see that behavior, we will let you know and call it out has we have in this edition.

So, remember to sign up your friends and neighbors for Friends & Neighbors. It is free and a way for you to come on the inside of government and find out what is really happening behind the scenes.

We are getting closer to the launch date for our new site. Right now, it looks like we will still have the first edition in July, but it could change so stay tuned.

End of Watch

The Stuart Police Department hosted the annual Police Memorial Ceremony on May 15. President Kennedy in 1962 signed the proclamation creating the first National Police Week.

Each year in Martin County, a different department organizes this remembrance to law enforcement officers in Florida who lost their lives in the line of duty. This year, there were ten officers, deputies, and special agents that died while on duty.

We often will see a glancing mention of a death on the news. If it isn’t in our town or county, we often pay little mind to the incident. We may say a quick prayer or a “too bad” but move on to the next bit of news, or the weather, or sports report.

When someone in law enforcement dies, it is common to use the phrase “end of watch” to signify the death. That term has crept into use for other professions, but it shouldn’t. It should remain unique to the deaths of those in law enforcement.

Some of the deceased died by being shot, as was Custom &Border Patrol Officer Jorge Arias who was accidentally killed while instructing another agent on a range. Corporal Ray Hamilton of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s office was shot and killed on Christmas Eve while on duty responding to a barricaded suspect situation. Some died in auto accidents, traffic stops, or directing traffic. Each had a family, a story, and a dedication to a profession that is different than any other.

Most civilians are different around people who carry badges and guns. You always wonder how much to let them know about you. Even when you don’t do anything wrong, there is a bit of caution that we civilians have.

That goes the other way also. Cops tend to stick with their own. We can’t blame them. Look at all the nonsense about “defund the police” and all the other anti-police bias.

We civilians can’t understand why someone picks an occupation that requires you to purposely get in harm’s way. As we are all running away from the danger, law enforcement runs towards it. They do so not knowing whether they may die in pursuit of the bad guy or if they may have to take a life to protect others or their own.

It is both an awesome responsibility and great satisfaction. Most officers, deputies, and other law enforcement personnel do their tours and go home. What their sisters and brothers in law enforcement never want to hear are those tragic words, “end of watch.”

Communal Living

At one time, housing was much more varied in the US than it is today.

A new book, “American Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History” by Ariel Aberg-Riger, tells the tale of how America was not always a place of only single-family homes and apartments. There was a time when many single Americans lived in hotels, boarding houses, and rented rooms from families. According to Aberg-Riger most housing needs in cities were much more communal in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

Shop girls, factory workers, laborers and many migrants flocked to this type of living space because it was cheaper and more practical. Most of these “tenants” ate all their meals in restaurants. If a single or even a married couple thought they would be settled for a while, they would have investigated living in a boarding house where meals were included.

At the turn of the 20th century, it is estimated that 1/3rd to ½ of the population lived in this type of accommodation. There were many different communal units for people of all ethnicities, races, either sex, or level of incomes. The Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York allowed for well-off young women to come to the city and have a safe environment well into the 1970s. In 1960, there were over 200,000 single room occupancy units in New York that had communal baths and kitchens.

In New York and other big cities, one of the big reasons this type of housing faded away was because rent control was instituted. It just wasn’t economically feasible to have housing where some people still pay very low rents for the few units still left. According to a New Yorker article published in 2021, there is a woman who still lives at the Barbizon and pays $113 per month with maid service and fresh linens twice per week.

I am not saying that most people should return to the days when a house or an apartment wasn’t the only way to live. But for newly graduated young or single people, a furnished room could be a life-safer and an opportunity to save money. Do you really need a kitchen to eat take-out or restaurant food every night since many single folks prefer to structure their meals that way?

Just a thought. Perhaps everything from the 20th century isn’t that bad.

The Dream Commission Can't Say No

The “Dream Commission” is at it again.

Robin Cartwright and her attorney, Richard Grosso are asking Stuart Commissioners to schedule meetings to discuss a settlement of the Costco lawsuit. Cartwright has filed a Notice of Appeal of the Governor’s Cabinet decision in the Fourth District Court of Appeal. This is regarding the city winning the Costco development in an administrative hearing brought by Cartwright. Several of the “Dream Commissioners” have said yes to those individual meetings. In fact, as I write this, a meeting may be underway with one of them.

Here is the problem with any settlement that may be under discussion. The entire appeal from start to finish is on the land use that was assigned. The settlement that Cartwright and her attorney are talking about pertains to changing the approved site plan. In Cartwright’s original appeal to an administrative proceeding, the site plan was never challenged.  Therefore, it is not and cannot be part of the current proceedings.

That ship has sailed! The property owner has his site plan approval which was granted by the commission. It would not be possible for the commission to vote to rescind an approval already given.  Cartwright’s desire, in a nutshell, is to screw due process and property rights.

How long would it be before the property owner would sue the city for millions of dollars? Perhaps our “Dream Commission” doesn’t care. It isn’t their money. It is the taxpayer’s money, but the “Dream Commission” seems to have a Marie Antoinette “let the little people eat cake” philosophy.

The developer may actually prefer not to have the current UPUD designation now that the state has enacted the Live Local Act. Because if a different designation is assigned, he could build a thousand or more apartments on the site instead of a measly 370. If the UPUD designation falls, there are many denser uses the property could apply for and be granted administratively, no public hearings required. The current project is something most rational people will fine appealing…the other alternatives not so much.

If Ms. Cartwright wants a win, then it should be through the courts. She had a preliminary victory by an administrative judge that clearly misinterpreted the law and city codes. The city needs to do nothing but defend an appeal if Cartwright does indeed file a brief. For her to do that, it will require money for attorneys, and I am betting she doesn’t have it.

I would also argue that the commission doesn’t have the right to deny the site plan that they already approved at this stage. If Cartwright files and actually prevails in her appeal, then the land use designation goes away, and the site plan granted under the UPUD designation does also. That is when the commission will be forced to give a different land use with all the other problems associated with that decision including greater density.

What the “Dream Commission” can’t do is yank the present approved site plan. Therefore, no compromise can be instituted. The property owner if he was absolutely crazy, could participate in these negotiations, but what for? He is sitting in the cat bird seat.

Like many other states such as California and New York, Florida has decided to do something about building needed housing. Throughout the country, local governments have used zoning and land use regulations to discourage anything but single-family housing. We complain about the lack of housing, and then get in the way of housing being built. Land is a finite resource….no more of it can be created.  Increasing density is the only way to provide additional housing stock.

Unlike local government, the state can’t ignore these facts. I have often complained about preemption. Yet at some point, if Stuart and other local governments refuse to provide opportunities to build housing, then they should be preempted. The question that state legislators are asking is whether local government understands what needs to be done or are there more Live Local Laws needed?

Fletch's Perspective

Keith Fletcher
Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County, President & CEO

This summer, we’re teaching the kids to eat frogs first.

No, we didn’t add frog legs to the menu of protein options that our acclaimed Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County (BGCMC) culinary students serve from the Fork in the Road food truck. Nor are we reenacting some real-life variation of the classic kid book/movie, “How to Eat Fried Worms.”

Rather, we’re putting into practice recommendations from the book, “Eat That Frog.” Author Brian Tracy advises that better time management results from starting your workday by doing first the things you like least.

Over the summer, our members generally arrive at 7:30 a.m. and finish after 5 p.m. The duration of these days dwarfs the few hours we share in the afternoons during the school year. So, the staff members at our four clubs strive to make the moments count, offering an array of exciting and memorable activities.

But first, we eat the frogs. The days kick off with two hours of academic activity. Our certified teachers make sure the members continue making strides in math and science and stay on course to meet or exceed their reading levels.

Summer slide? We keep that at bay by beginning the day climbing up the rope ladder of learning. Then we have fun. Lots of it.

Scheduled field trips include visits to the Palm Beach Zoon, Sailfish Splash, Rapids Waterpark, Skate Zone and the movies. (Kinda looking forward to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse myself.)

The Kona Ice Truck shows up at noon every Wednesday. Throwback Thursday events include picnics, barbeques, building lemonade stands, and my favorite—Run Through Sprinklers Day.

Each week has a theme—including Mystery Week, STEM Week, Superhero Week and Under the Sea and Summer in the Countryside weeks. One day the kids dress up ‘70s style. The other, ‘90s style. And another, 2000s style—and no, I have no idea what those entail.

Every afternoon the sixth- through eighth graders take part in our drone program, which thanks to our partnership with Indian River State College can put them on track to earn certifications useful for future employment in this expanding industry.

Blessed with boundless energy, the kids power through all tirelessly, especially when properly fueled. Every club member gets two meals and a healthy snack and takes homes food for the entire weekend through our backpack program.

I couldn’t be prouder of our incredible staff, which invests immense creativity and energy into making sure the long days of summer are filled with the kind of unforgettable fun that makes time fly by. Best of all, everything is free for every member—and the value is priceless for everyone involved.

The cost of starting the day by gulping down a few frogs is well worth it.

Keith Fletcher’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper

Is Brightline a Bargain?

A friend of mine and I were curious so last Sunday we took Brightline from West Palm Beach to Miami.

Now I am more confused than ever.  We drove to the West Palm Beach Station not far from the Kravis Center.  There we paid $15 for parking for the day.  Not bad, I thought.  Our tickets were purchased online for $62 each, round trip.  A little steep, I thought.   After a comfortable 1 hour and 52 -minute ride through unremarkable scenery, we arrived.

Where to go in Miami which now calls itself the “Magic City”?  I was a bit confused thinking that if any city in Florida was to call itself the “Magic City”, well, you know, wouldn’t it be Orlando?  We had done a little internet research on the way and determined to go to the Wynwood art area which looked to be only a couple of miles from the station.

My friend and I are in decent shape physically and even anticipated walking to our destination.  But after a couple of false starts and being warned by some locals that “Ubering” (Is this a new verb in our lexicon?  Humm, one “b” or two?)  was the way to go, we spent $15 including tip on an Uber.  We waited about 15 sweaty minutes for our Uber.

After enjoying a delicious albeit expensive lunch and spending a couple of hours at what I perceived to be a mishmash testimony to modern and retro graffiti, we “ubered” (another $15) back to the Brightline station ready to return to more familiar territory.

But wait.  A small complication.  We had prepurchase our tickets and we wished to depart 1 hour earlier than anticipated.  No problem, we assumed.  It should be easy to trade our tickets for the earlier train.  Here’s where Brightline lost me.  Eighteen dollars EACH to exchange our tickets for an earlier ride ON A SUNDAY!

Coming down there were only a few people on the train.  I would have thought Brightline would be offering bargains, coupons and BOGOs to get more weekend passengers.  Stubbornly, we sat at the bar and waited out the time.  Bought a $2 coffee (a bargain if compared to Starbucks) and an $8 cocktail.

The train stations were lovely, the train cars were spotless, and the attendants friendly and helpful.   But frankly, to me it just wasn’t worth it.  I like visiting Miami.

The next time I will drive.  I can drive and be there in less time.  This conclusion got me wondering just who is going to ride Brightline?

Soon, because a station is to be built somewhere on the Treasure Coast, (Brightline has assured us that they will live up to their promise to do so and who could doubt that!) riders won’t have to drive as far as WPB.  But they will have to drive somewhere and pay for parking somewhere.  Along with all the other costs associated with the trip, I concluded that using Brightline ($92 verses an estimated $29.50 in gas) doesn’t make sense for locals.  Perhaps it wasn’t meant to.  So, what about tourists?  I imagined myself a foreign visitor with kids.

Orlando, certainly.  Miami, with kids, probably not.  Even so, once they arrive at their destination, tourists must either uber everywhere or rent a car.   A city bus seems like a hassle with kids and luggage.  To end on a “Bright” (I couldn’t resist) note, according to Visit Florida in 2022 “Florida welcomed over 104.5 million travelers”.

My hope is that most of them will make the Orlando/Miami trip so that Brightline will not go the way of Amtrac which depends on $2 billion annually of federal funding even with 22.9 million riders per year.

Darlene VanRiper’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Nicki's Place

Nicki van Vonno
van Vonno Consulting, Owner

Nicki will be back in June.

Nicki van Vonno’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Hafner's Corner

David Hafner
UF/IFAS, 4-H Youth Development Agent

Kids respond to positive youth development today just as they did 50 years ago.

That is what Dr. Chris DeCubellis, Florida 4-H Youth Development Specialist, energetically told a room full of Extension Agents at the UF/IFAS Extension Symposium earlier this month.

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a tool that creates an intentional way of engaging with youth in communities, schools, organizations, and peer groups through structured activities designed to find and enhance strengths and a sense of belonging. In the Martin County 4-H Youth Development Program, PYD is at the core of everything that we do.

From my perspective, one of the biggest differences between the youth of today and the youth of my day is the level of technology that is readily accessible. No, I didn’t walk uphill to school with bread bags on my feet, but, when I was a kid, I did have to ride my bicycle miles to the library to access encyclopedias for school projects and reports. Now all that necessary information is available at any moment from our phones. The youth of today grow up in an integrated virtual/physical world.

Many say we need to get kids away from their devices, remove them from the virtual aspects of their lives, and bring them back to “how we were raised” during whichever period aligns with the speaker. But the truth is each generation has experienced the integration of new technology into their way of life at some point. Electricity, vehicles, home computers, each of these advancements led to a different way of living for the people of that time just as kids today live with the technological advancements of their time.

Children need to know how to use these new tools. Imagine disconnecting a child from modern technology and then after high school graduation sending that child out into the world. That child would be lost, completely unprepared to lead a successful life with the technological demands put on our workforce.

However, I do agree there are downfalls associated with the overuse of technology. Complete reliance on virtual communication, for example, can leave people disconnected from others and lead them to feelings of being alone and unfulfilled. Face-to-face communication is important for connecting deeply with others. It is an important life skill that better facilitates problem solving and conflict resolution.

Through 4-H we are reaching urban and rural kids. Through face-to-face interactions we are helping them find their place and we are leading them to discover their spark with hands on learning activities. Raising livestock, building robots, giving demonstrations, completing STEM projects, volunteering in the community, meeting with our elected representatives, these are all ways 4-H youth in your community are engaging and preparing themselves for a positive, successful life.

To learn more about the 4-H program contact me-

David Hafner’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Hope in Our Community

Rob Ranieri
House of Hope, CEO

Rob is on vacation.

Rob Ranieri’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Michele's Medical Moment

Michelle Libman, M.D.
Treasure Coast Urgent Care, Physician

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Type 3 Diabetes?

The prevailing theory until recently is that Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by the deposition of amyloid plaques, tau proteins and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. What does that mean? In short, the normal processes that help keep brain cells healthy go awry and abnormal proteins accumulate which prevent normal cell function from occurring.

These toxic proteins cause loss of communication between nerve cells which leads to the clinical manifestations we are all aware of-confusion, loss of memory, and eventually loss of control of basic bodily functions.  Most clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s Disease have been trying to target these proteins. The theory is that if we can get these proteins to dissolve then patients with Alzheimer’s should improve. However, most of the clinical trials relating to Alzheimer’s Disease have failed.

Recently there has been a shift in the theory behind what is causing Alzheimer’s Dementia.  There is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s Disease may be caused by insulin resistance in the brain as well as dysfunction of a protein called insulin like growth factor.  This has led many researchers to reclassify Alzheimer’s Disease as “Type 3 Diabetes.” This is still in the early stages of research and has not been completely accepted by the medical community.

Researchers have known for years that being overweight and having type 2 Diabetes is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s Disease.  We know poorly controlled diabetes can damage blood vessels, including the blood vessels in the brain. In addition, high blood sugar levels can lead to inflammation, which may also damage brain cells.

Over 50-80% of people with Alzheimer’s Disease also have type 2 Diabetes.  The other risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s Disease is carrying a gene known as ApoE4.  Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that the ApoE4 gene is responsible for interrupting how the brain processes insulin.  They also found that a high fat diet can interrupt this process as well.

The researchers found that the ApoE4 protein can bind more aggressively to insulin receptors on the surface of nerve cells compared to its normal counterpart ApoE3.  The ApoE4 gene outcompetes the normal protein and blocks the receptor. After blocking the receptor, the sticky ApoE4 protein begins to clump and become toxic.  The insulin signal processing becomes impaired and ultimately starves brain cells which causes them to die.

People who don’t have the ApoE4 protein may respond to insulin nasal spray. There are current studies showing some cognitive improvement in diabetics with dementia, although not so much in those people who carry the ApoE4 gene.

The brain has a specialized set of blood vessels known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is the specialized system of cells that line the walls of the blood vessels that shields the brain from toxic substances in the blood.  The BBB also supplies brain tissues with nutrients, and filters harmful compounds from the brain back to the bloodstream.

Another interesting fact that has recently come to light is the effect of high intensity exercise on the brain.  It has been found that vigorous exercise increases lactate levels in the blood.  In the past it was thought that lactate was harmful to our muscles.  However, we now know that during exercise the lactate that is produced by muscles is consumed by the brain and is acting as a signaling molecule.

At the blood brain barrier, lactate has been shown to be responsible for producing a molecule called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). It helps the brain grow new blood vessels and repair damaged blood vessels. This helps prevent leakage of the blood brain barrier which in turn prevents neuro inflammation.

Another molecule affected by exercise is called BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) which is a key molecule involved in memory and learning. There is evidence that the sheer force of blood flow, which as you are exercising, blood is being pumped faster and faster through the blood vessels. That shear force on the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels also produces more BDNF!

So, in summary we are always being told to exercise to help prevent cardiac events, but it appears that exercise is also very important in helping to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  In people with insulin resistance and diabetes, exercise plays an important role in keeping sugar levels within normal range and now we are learning about how it can increase production of several molecules that protect the blood brain barrier and can prevent the onset of neuroinflammation.

Michele Libman’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Martin County Real Estate

John Gonzalez
Engel & Volkers, Managing Broker

I recently attended the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Legislative conference in Washington DC.

I go because I am a Federal Representative of NAR and I generally take a group of Realtors to meet with Congressman Mast in his DC offices. This year was no different. Let me give you a few takeaways from this trip.

We met with Congressman Mast who was interested in knowing what is going on in the real estate community. We discussed with him the NAR stance on recent rule adoption that would add fees to excellent borrowers on their mortgage. He was fully aware of the rule and was working with his colleagues to have it removed.

The simple explanation of what the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) had proposed was to penalize good borrowers and subsidize borrowers with poor credit. Good news – with a push from NAR and Congress the FHFA rescinded its order and returned to its prior policy.

Congressman Mast discussed his efforts to encourage the Coast Guard to have more bridge openings by Brightline to protect property values for homeowners on the west side of the bridge.

I attended two important presentations about our current economy. The economists who spoke were Dr. Lawrence Yun (NAR) and Dr. Robert Dietz from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). Each speaker brought their research and extensive backgrounds to the event.

Dr. Yun indicated that inflation was coming down and in his opinion the Fed should not have recently raised rates. He indicated that the inflationary cycle seemed to be coming to an end. Further, the nation still lacks sufficient housing inventory to stem the demand across all regions.

Affordable housing continues to be the hardest to find. Dr. Yun also indicated that the long-term forecast for our overall economy and housing would be good for the next several years.

Dr. Dietz had some interesting data and in-depth analysis regarding the home building industry. Good news for all my friends that hate apartment construction… financing for apartment complexes is drying up and the economist sees a steady decline in new construction for apartment buildings across the nation.

This is not great news for affordable housing. The most interesting point he discussed was dear to my heart. He estimates that 25% of new housing costs can be attributed to government fees and regulations. I have thought that the largest obstacle to affordable housing is not builders and developers but the government – and this adds some credibility to my argument.

Finally, he talked about the supply chain issues that have hampered new home deliveries. He believes that the supply chain is filling back up and will not continue to hamper new homes being completed.

Here are some interesting stats:

John Gonzalez’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Palm City Highlights

Missi Campbell
Palm City Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director

The phrases “some gave all” and the “ultimate sacrifice” are very impactful. This is what we should focus on as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day. Our Veterans are to be honored and treasured each day by the citizens of the United States of America.

I had the pleasure of knowing Frances Langford and she helped foster patriotism in me. I greatly appreciate all she did for our servicemen and women, and I have vowed to do my part.

As a Kindergarten teacher for 34 years, my students adopted service members every year. We would send CARE packages throughout the school year. We were fortunate to have many of these active-duty service members visit my classes through the years.

Sometimes they were members of a student’s family and other times they were local former students. This was a fabulous experience for the children and the families in my classes. I would take a big box covered in drawings by 5-year-olds and stickers to the post office to mail. Many times, a stranger would ask about the box and then pay for the postage. A wonderful unspoken acknowledgement to our soldiers.

As an adult, I have had the opportunity to participate in Southeast Florida Honor Fight three times. If you haven’t had the chance to do this, I highly recommend it. This is a lifechanging experience for you and your veteran. I feel as though I welcomed three additional grandfathers to my life.

My first veteran, Seymour Hoffman, served in World War II and is currently living in Boynton Beach. We celebrated his 100th birthday at the Palm City Chamber of Commerce Gala in February 2022. He turned 101 this past January 17th.

The second veteran I was blessed to meet was Charlie McCarthy. Charlie served in the Korean War and was a kind-hearted man once you got through his tough exterior. Sadly, Charlie passed away in 2021. I still stay in contact with his wife, Sally.

I had the chance to go on Honor Flight again with Guy Macchia in 2019. Guy and his wife, Anne, live out on Hutchison Island. They are a lovely couple, and I was glad to spend time with them.

I share these experiences because it is very easy to make the life of our service members special. Afterall, they are defending us and giving up their freedom and family time to protect ours. Take the time to thank a veteran. Visit the grave of a passed veteran. Be a guardian for Southeast Florida Honor Flight and enjoy a day that will change your life.

Our United States Veterans deserve our respect, support, and appreciation every day.

Missi Campbell’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Fishing Tips

Paul Sperco

It’s May 22 and it is definitely a transition month along our local beaches.

If you were waiting to try and put a few pompanos in the freezer this spring you may have waited too long. The smaller throwback pompano, 6 to 10 inches have shown up and that’s usually the indicator that lets us know the large schools have moved up to the north. Friends of mine in Daytona, Melbourne, St Augustine, and Jacksonville have been catching lots of pompano the past two weeks as these fish head to the Carolinas for the summer.

The good news is the summer species of whiting, croaker, catch and release snook, tarpon, palometa, and jacks will all be showing up as the water warms and the glass minnows, greenies, and pilchards will be down our way for the summer. I consider this time of year the ” funtime” fishing as light rods, 7 foot or less, 3000 sized spinning reels, and 12 lb. monofilament line are all that you will need to put some great tasting fish in your coolers.

As far as I am concerned the whiting and croaker are the best tasting fish in Florida, and they are all you need for a great summer fish fry. Snook will become plentiful in that first trough along our beaches, 10 to 15 yards off, but remember that the snook season closes on June 1 and this becomes a catch and release fishery.

Always bring a little bit bigger rod with you if you want to play tug of war with a snook during the summer. A live croaker free lined on that heavier rod will bring you big bites from the snook all during June, July, and August. Please pay attention to the storms that come up quickly during the late afternoons and the first sound of thunder or a visual of a lightning strike in your area that you are fishing get off the beach. Play it safe, you can go sit in your vehicle and wait for the storm to pass or come back the next day.

If you can time your trips around the high tide mark do so and the species that I listed above will always be more active in the summer during the low light periods, 6:30 to 8 am and 6 to 8 pm. It is a great time to get the grandkids, nieces, nephews, sons, and daughters into trying to catch a fish from the surf as they will be plentiful and well within a short cast from the edge of the surf.

As far as bait is concerned small pieces of shrimp, fresh or frozen, and Fishbites in the Bloodworm scent in either chartreuse or red will be all you will need. All the local tackle stores sell premade whiting and croaker rigs so a quick trip to pick up your bait and terminal tackle and you will be in business. Keep the casts short as these fish will be right at your feet.

Good luck and catch em up.

Paul Sperco’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

On Education

Victoria Defenthaler
Retired Martin County Principal & School Board Member

At the recent school board meeting during Open to the Public many of the comments were about the controversy surrounding book removals.

Let’s look at what is really happening. One parent can request a book be removed by filing a form indicating why they think it is inappropriate. They may not have even read the book!! The district indicates they are protecting teachers and staff, who can be charged with a felony for not abiding by the very vague and confusing law, by saying “air on the side of caution”.

What does that mean? Well, it means that even if a principal has reviewed the book according to procedure, the book is still being removed. Even if 20 parents read the book and object to its removal, it is still removed. There is absolutely no way, in the current process, for a book to be brought back once removed!!!

Thus, we have 92 books banned in Martin County.  Again, with current procedures, there is absolutely no way to get a book back on a shelf when a single parent says it needs to be removed! One parent can infringe on the rights of many other parents. Where is the Parents’ Rights law in that?

The school board is correct that it is the law, and they reap many praises from some for following the law, but the board certainly should be making sure procedures were followed so that decisions are fair to the rights of all parents. At the special school board meeting on May 2, 2023, there was much discussion around having a policy and procedure for the public to know when a book is being challenged and, while ensuring the law is followed, for reconsideration for books to be returned to shelves.

Only one board member was interested in considering these reasonable requests in an effort to have all parents’ views considered.  One has to wonder why there is so much bickering. Well, perhaps if both sides were represented fairly, there could be more open discussions.

The board contends that it is the governor’s office that needs to be contacted. True, but there are things that can be done locally. They have also said that if it was within their political agenda, they could take it up, but it is not, and they don’t have time. Well, isn’t it their job to represent all their constituents?

We need to get back to all people having their voices heard and being able to discuss and reach consensus, so we are doing what is in the best interest of all children and not have one person fill out a form and take something away from all of our children. Yes, this is about Parents’ Rights, but it is the Rights of all Parents, it’s not about a small vocal group of parents infringing on the rights of others.

Victoria Defenthaler’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Arati's Advice

Arati Hammond
Keller Williams, Senior Real Estate Specialist

Financial Conversation with Aging Parents


Just like with reading or acting, the more familiar you are with a subject, the more comfortable you will be and the more realistic things will sound. You don’t want to get too emotional, but you don’t want to be a robot, either.


Have a normal conversation. Act like yourself. You don’t want to heighten already-high emotions.


It’s a great icebreaker that provides a segue into deeper conversations:

  • When do they want to retire?
  • What does their end-of-life care look like?
  • Do they have a trusted advisor or attorney?


“If you changed nothing about what you’re doing right now, what is the probability that your long-term plans will be successful?”

“What can we change now to improve your probability of success so that you can reach your goals?”


Fiduciaries, as opposed to brokers, are legally bound to put your loved one’s best interests first.


When meeting with a fiduciary for the first time, have everyone present from the very beginning to assure that everyone is on the same page along the way.


Here is some, but not all, of the information you will need:

Remember that if your family is communicating, has a plan and is aware of your loved one’s health or financial issues, things are in far better shape and everyone is ready to act quickly when needed. The key is to avoid tremendous amounts of emotion, headache, heartache and stress. If you’re working with a fiduciary, let that advisor be your quarterback as you work to protect assets and plan ahead.

  1. Usernames and passwords
  2. Bank accounts
  3. Retirement accounts
  4. Proof of ownership (for example, a car or boat title and registration)
  5. Marriage license
  6. Insurance policies
  7. Personal financial statements (including any outstanding debts owed)
  8. Will – Someone will need to be appointed to serve as executor
  9. Advanced directives, such as a living will and durable power of attorney for health care
  10. Durable power of attorney for finances – Someone will have to be named as the legal authority to manage the property
  11. Update all information as needed

Arati Hammond’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness- Experience the Moment

Have you ever been driving and begun to think about something else?

Your kids, a work assignment, dinner tonight? You suddenly realize you’ve missed a turn, gone a couple miles down the road, passed the bridge, and you don’t know how you got there? Kind of like you were on auto-pilot – and I don’t mean the Tesla kind.

Most of us have had this experience. Our mind and body have the ability to do things without us, like a computer. The brain, running a program, the body in motion. What’s missing when this happens is our attention, and we miss the experience, completely.

How often do we think, where has the time gone? How did I get here?

Life often goes by without our being present and experiencing it.  This happens to varying degrees as our minds are drawn in different directions, and in our modern world there is no shortage of distractions from things and ideas. Many of us find our minds in overdrive just trying to make sense of it all.

However, there is a solution: mindfulness – slowing down and bringing our full attention to the present moment and fully experiencing it. It is a skill that can be learned and improved through practice, and the practice is well worth the effort as studies show a long list of associated benefits.

The National Institutes of Health have reported that “Mindfulness-based treatments have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. There’s also evidence that mindfulness can lower blood pressure and improve sleep. It may even help people cope with pain.” Mindfulness has also been shown to improve attention, memory and decision making.

Learning how to slow down, to become aware of your present state, will have an immediate and positive impact on your mental and physical well-being and health. You can give it a try, right now.

Mindful Breathing Exercise

Take a few, slow, comfortable breaths – in through your nose, out through your nose or mouth; simply observe the experience – the physical sensations of your body resting in your seat, and notice where you feel the breath moving your body, feel the temperature of the air as it moves in and out, tune in to the sound of your breath, observe the pace and rhythm of your breath. Experience breathing, completely. Then pause, and notice how you feel?  Perhaps you feel more peaceful, or self-aware, or a little lighter.  That is the power of just a few moments of mindfulness practice.

Throughout the rest of the day, try to take time here and there to slow down what you are doing, and pay more attention to the experience of doing it. Take a few deep breaths and try to keep your attention focused in the moment. Mindfulness can be applied to any activity that way.

Peace and health to you!

Jesicca Miranda Robert’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Becker's Slant

It sounds a little absurd to make an association between comprehensive planning and poetry.

Yet over the last three years working to advance the Rural Lifestyle land-use amendment and Atlantic Fields project—which we sincerely believe will soon prove among the most positively impactful planning achievements in recent Martin County history—I found myself recalling a line from the well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

“And sorry I could not travel both

“And be one traveler, long I stood

“And looked down one as far as I could”

Earlier this week Florida’s Administrative Cabinet confirmed that the Rural Lifestyle amendment complied with the Martin County Comprehensive Plan, affirming previous opinions by the county commission majority and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. This upended the recommended order by an administrative law judge who—when presiding over an activist’s legal challenge—took issue with the definition of a small store located within a private community.

The cabinet ruling clears the way for us to now create something incredibly special with Atlantic Fields and hopefully pave a path for other high-caliber projects. The amendment—which incentivizes landowners to help preserve as much land as possible for agriculture or conservation—will protect Martin County’s rural character and create a hedge against the kinds of development patterns seen across South Florida.

That last goal is what put us on that divergent path referenced in the Frost poem.

You see, we’d originally planned to introduce Atlantic Fields—an exclusive community by Discovery Land Company of only 317 homes on 1,500 acres at the Hobe Sound Polo Club property—as a standalone.

As a standalone we planned to seek zoning from one unit per 20 acres to one unit per 5 acres, matching nearby 5-acre ag ranchettes. We also wanted to serve the site with water and sewer, protecting the nearby headwaters of the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee rivers.

Our property is a former citrus grove where my two brothers and I grew up working as third-generation farmers before canker and greening—whose spread the 2004 hurricanes accelerated—decimated our crops and later the industry countywide.

We sought a minimal footprint, lots of open space and numerous public benefits, including:

  • Placing the 800-acre Becker Tree Farm in permanent agricultural preservation;
  • Restoring a 125-acre wetland for improved flood control;
  • Donating our equestrian center to the park service for public enjoyment;
  • Creating access to the southern portion of the Atlantic Ridge State Park;
  • Donating and relocating the original Hobe Sound Train Station within town for a museum of local history.

After consultation with many smart and accomplished people we realized our offering posed the framework to help preserve large tracts of rural lands through private-sector involvement rather than reliance on taxpayer dollars. With the input of conservationists and slow-growth advocates, we memorialized safeguards into the amendment:

  • Limiting the property applicable to minimum 1,000-acre parcels;
  • Granting one-unit-per-5-acre zoning only if a separate parcel half the size of the site proposed for development—at least 500 acres—is set aside for permanent preservation;
  • Ensuring preservation by placing the land under control of three entities—landowner, local government and established conservation nonprofit;
  • Committing the developer to paying all land management and water/sewer costs;
  • Limiting service strictly to the site using the Rural Lifestyle amendment;
  • Requiring an economic study—reviewed by third-parties—that validates the proposed project’s overall positive economic impact.

We did that with Atlantic Fields, which is projected to generate more than $20 million a year in annual tax revenue. Those 317 homes of mostly seasonal residents will generate the revenue of “8,000 homes,” as one county commissioner stated.

Should other projects meet its high threshold, Rural Lifestyle will help place under permanent preservation land that would otherwise cost taxpayers dearly.

Skeptics may doubt those claims. But now, with the obstacles removed, speculation isn’t necessary, as we’ll all soon get to see.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

“I took the one less traveled by

“And that has made all the difference.”

Tom Hurley’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Clerk of the Court & Comptroller


Martin County Clerk and Comptroller, Carolyn Timmann, today announced the release of the third edition of Martin County Tides, our County’s Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) for the Fiscal Year ended September 30, 2022. The goal of this report is to provide a condensed version of some of the financial and demographic details in our award-winning Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, which provides an in-depth review of the County’s finances.

Recognizing value of this report to our residents, the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Popular Annual Financial Reporting to the Martin County Clerk of Court and Comptroller for our Popular Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2021. The Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Annual Financial Reporting is a prestigious national award recognizing conformance with the highest standards for preparation of state and local government popular reports.

The Popular Annual Financial Report features an overview of our county, local economy, government-wide financial statements, a concise review of the government fund, general fund, capital assets, ongoing county projects, the county’s debt, and cash and investments. The PAFR was developed to be used as a tool to help the public in general understand how the county’s public funds are being managed and spent. Additionally, this report has been submitted to the Florida Government Finance Officers Association Award Program, which follows strict review and reporting rules.

“As Martin County’s Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Internal Auditor, it is my goal to ensure information about the County’s finances is accessible and transparent to our residents,” said Clerk Carolyn Timmann.

The Martin County Clerk encourages all residents of Martin County to view this report for a better understanding of the County’s finances. The PAFR is available electronically on our website under the Finance & Budget Tab Annual Financial Reports | Martin County Clerk (

Carolyn Timmanns’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Supervisor of Elections

Supervisor of Elections Announces Winners of 2023 Patriotic Contests!

Martin County Supervisor of Elections, Vicki Davis, is pleased to announce the winners of the annual county-wide school patriotic art competitions.

Through a partnership with the Martin County School District, the annual patriotic art competitions seek to involve school-age students in the elections process by placing a spotlight on our local talent and promoting arts education.

This year the Elections Office conducted three art contests: “Future Voter” sticker contest for fifth grade students; a middle school poster contest sponsored by Chick-fil-A; and the 2024 “I Voted” sticker contest sponsored by Gary Lesser, Managing Partner of Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith, PLLC.

Tami Conrad, Mikayla Campbell, and Gary Lesser

Multiple creative, colorful, and artistic patriotic entries were submitted for each contest. Winners for each category are as follows:

The winner of the inaugural “Future Voter” sticker contest is Samuel Castro, a fifth-grade student from Felix A Williams Elementary School. Samuel’s bright and colorful sticker, earning the first-place title, will be given to each child who comes to the polls in 2024 with their family.

The first, second and third place winners of the middle school art competition sponsored each year by our local, Stuart Chick-fil-A, are from Hidden Oaks Middle School. Chick-fil-A will display the artwork in the Stuart restaurant throughout the 2024 elections. This year’s winners are: Olivia Fields, Jon-Michael Tillet and Madison Twinley.

The winner of the second annual “I Voted In Martin County” sticker is Mikayla Campbell, an 11th grade student from South Fork High School. Her original and creative design will be the official “I Voted” sticker in 2024.

“Congratulations to each of the students who were selected as finalists, and many thanks to each student who submitted an entry. The artwork submitted for the Patriotic Art Competition allows students to be a part of the elections process and is a testament to the artistic ability and talent of our students, while highlighting the importance of arts education,” said Vicki Davis, Martin County Supervisor of Elections.

The awardees were selected by a diverse panel of judges: County Judge Kathleen Roberts, Nancy Turrell, Executive Director of MartinArts, Melinda Brault, owner of Geminye Design Group, and Gary Lesser, Managing Partner of Lesser, Lesser, Landy and Smith, PLLC.

Vicki Davis’ opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Martin County Property Appraiser

Attention New Homebuyers!

Searching for a new home using one of the major real estate listing websites like or can be an exciting endeavor. So much data and information packed into just a couple of simple and easy to navigate websites. You can peruse photographs of the property, see mortgage estimates, review basic house features, and view the applicable school district.

However, be cautious when reviewing the property tax estimate. Florida property tax laws are complicated, and any website using the previous owners’ taxes as an estimate of the future tax burden is oversimplifying and inaccurately advertising the true tax liability a new owner can expect to inherit.

The property tax estimate displayed on these websites is usually based solely on the seller’s property exemptions and Save Our Homes benefit, and not necessarily what a new buyer may expect to pay. Whenever there is a change in ownership, the assessed value of the property may reset to full market value, which may result in higher property taxes.

The taxes are based on the value of the home as of January 1st, and consequently will be reflected on the tax bill that is sent out in November.  When a buyer purchases a home after January 1st, they will see a first-year tax bill that is based on the previous owners’ benefits. This can reinforce the false notion that the tax burden will be similar to the previous owners’ taxes. It is not until the August of the following year that the new buyer will receive their first Notice of Proposed Property Taxes (TRIM Notice) that will display their updated tax assessment.

This is concerning in a market where property values are rapidly appreciating because assessment limitations increase the Save Our Homes benefit on homesteaded properties. The Save Our Homes benefit prevents homestead property owners from being taxed out of their homes by limiting the amount their assessed values can increase. So, when someone buys a home, from that point forward, even if their market value appreciates 10% in one year, their assessed value cannot increase any more than 3% or the consumer price index, whichever is less, each year (not including new construction such as a new swimming pool).

Over time, there is an accumulation of “non-taxed” assessed value called the Save Our Homes benefit. The more tax savings that is built up for a previous owner the more misleading their tax bill can be if it gets used as an estimate of the next owners tax liability.

This illustration is an example of a seller that has lived in the home and had the homestead exemption for 10 years. As you can see, they have accumulated $280,119 in “non-taxed” Save Our Homes benefit. This tax benefit will automatically come off the year after they sell the home. That equates to more than $4,000 in property taxes currently being displayed on real estate property listing websites for potential buyers.

That is why when buying a home, you should not assume that the property taxes will remain the same. Currently, a proposal is being filed by Senator Hooper and Representative Anderson to amend 689.261, F.S. that will implement stricter guidelines when it comes to websites displaying “estimated” taxes. The proposed legislation can be viewed here.

The Property Tax EstimatorNew Homebuyer Timeline Handout, and the New Homebuyer Educational Video are resources available to educate and assist new homebuyers when estimating their own property taxes before they make the purchase, so they may prepare for the financial impact.  All three resources are available on our website at under the “Quick Links”, “Printable Handouts”, and “Educational Videos” sections of our website.

We are launching a new initiative this year by mailing letters to new homebuyers that purchased a home in 2022 from a seller that had a significant Save Our Homes tax savings benefit. This letter will explain how to use these tools to better estimate the tax liability of their new home. This estimated tax liability can be communicated with their mortgage company much sooner instead of waiting until November when the mortgage company receives the tax bill and doesn’t have enough in escrow.

If you have any questions or concerns, please know my professional team is available whether in person at our three office locations (Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown), over the phone (772-288-5608), by email at,  or with our live chat feature on our website.

Non-Profit Notices

House of Hope and Children’s Services Council Launch

Family-Centered Coaching

 House of Hope and the Martin County Children’s Services Council are partnering in an initiative called Family-Centered Coaching to help House of Hope clients become stronger, more independent, and better advocates for themselves and their families.

“This approach has the potential to be transformative for our organization and for the whole community,” explained House of Hope CEO Rob Ranieri. “It puts the participants in the driver’s seat and helps them learn how to make the best choices for themselves.”

The Children’s Services Council has been looking for a program like this, according to CSC Executive Director David Heaton. House of Hope, with its mission of empowering its clients, seemed like a natural match to pioneer the program locally.

“We see this as a paradigm shift in how we approach the process of helping and empowering people,” Heaton said. “It assumes they are creative, capable, and resourceful. It positions staff as ‘coaches’ instead of ‘fixers.’ That difference in language and approach between saying ‘This is what we offer’ to ‘What do you need?’ creates an environment that makes change possible.”

More than 120 organizations in 32 states have already adopted the approach of Family-Centered Coaching, a program of The Prosperity Agenda. Amber Wilson, a regional Partnership Manager, described the empowering effects that other organizations have witnessed. “When people recognize that they have strengths and expertise of their own, they become problem solvers on their own behalf. They become better able to care for themselves and their families, and ultimately better able to be productive members of the community.”

House of Hope staff will spend the next year learning how to incorporate the spirit and language of Family-Centered Counseling into every aspect of their work, from feeding the hungry and growing fresh produce to offering clothing and rental assistance, counseling, classes, and internships.

The program launch is set for the end of May. “We consider this CSC program award a true gift to our organization,” Ranieri said. “It will be a lot of work, but it’s a great opportunity for our staff, our clients, and the entire community.”

It Rained Baby Items at Helping People Succeed’s “April Showers”

Thrivent and Helping People Succeed celebrated the end of another outstanding month-long “Baby Showers” event on April 29 with a catered brunch at the nonprofit’s Jensen Beach headquarters.

For many years, the community-wide event has collected baby necessities for families in need who are served through Helping People Succeed’s Healthy Families program, which offers support and services to families who may be experiencing stress in their lives that makes parenting more challenging. Businesses “host” a shower box throughout Martin and Okeechobee counties.

Robert and Amy Whitlach, who generously sponsored this brunch through Thrivent, were on hand to show their appreciation to generous donors. Amy said, “Thrivent allows clients to be wise with their money and live generously – and this is a perfect example of that.” Added Robert, “Helping People Succeed does so much in the community. When we help our community, everyone wins.”

Guests enjoyed a wonderful repast from Jan’s Place. A highlight was the awarding of three prizes to people who came closest to guessing the number of pacifiers in a jar.

Jose Vallicello won the first-place prize of a $100 gift certificate to Kyle G’s, Chef Todd Tetreault won the second-place prize of a $50 gift certificate to Manatee Island Bar & Grill and Ann Mehling won third-place, a newborn gift basket.

Helping People Succeed is a local nonprofit organization that has been serving the Treasure Coast for more than 59 years. Through its diversified, effective program services – Helping People Succeed serves, on average, 8000 children and adults per yearHelping People Succeed’s mission is to transform lives by realizing potential, creating hope and building futures through education, counseling, training and employment.

Niki Norton Elected 2023 President of Treasure Coast Builders Association

 Niki Norton, President and Owner of n2 architecture + design, has been elected President of the Treasure Coast Builders Association (TCBA) for 2023.

Her presidency in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field comes as the TCBA is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Norton is the first woman to hold this position on the Treasure Coast, taking the leadership position.  She has been active locally in green and sustainable design for commercial and residential developments for more than twenty years and has earned a reputation for professionalism, teamwork, attention to detail, and a finished product that exceeds her clients’ expectations.

Norton is an accredited professional in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and a Licensed General Contractor, with a degree in architecture from the University of Tennessee. Recently appointed to Martin County’s Local Planning Agency, Norton has been active in the Treasure Coast community, serving as President of the Palm City Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Lyric Legacy Society, Chair of the Martin County Historic Preservation Board, and a member of the United States Green Building Council and the Florida Green Building Coalition. She is currently serving her second term as President of CREW Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, part of a national organization devoted to the promotion and success of women in commercial real estate.

“As a mom, small business owner, leader in local organizations, and a champion of sustainable development, I’m proud and excited for what the TCBA can contribute to our community’s quality of life during my tenure and



United Way of Martin County installs 5th Born Learning Outdoor Trail at Kiwanis Park to promote early childhood learning and family fun

Learning happens everywhere a child goes, but parents, grandparents and caregivers may not always know how to support that learning.

That won’t be the case at Kiwanis Park, where over a dozen volunteers painted the park “read” to promote literacy.  Local artist, Lynne Barletta of the Visionary Art’s School, and her students painted the beautiful sailfish that will welcome all that visit Kiwanis Park.  United Way of Martin County, in partnership with the City of Stuart and local philanthropists Polly and Tom Campenni, created this addition to the already amazing Kiwanis Park to enhance the outdoor interactive learning opportunities to help parents and caregivers turn excursions into fun learning moments.

The Born Learning Trail is a fun, easy way for parents, grandparents and caregivers to use outings to build learning critical for school readiness. A series of signs offering educational games (approved by experts) guide adults on specific ways to create learning games outdoors and suggest tips to use at home.

“This Born Learning Trail has significant meaning for myself and my wife Polly,” said Thomas Campenni, local long time resident, philanthropist and volunteer. “Children are our future and we know that what happens in a child’s early years matters for success in life and for school readiness.”

According to the most recent data, only 51% of Martin County students are reading on level by third grade, lower than the state average of 53%.  Additionally, only 57% of Martin County children are considered ready for kindergarten. The Born Learning Trail is designed to help adults interact with children to boost language and literacy development.

Kiwanis Park joins the other installed Born Learning Trails in the City of Stuart at Flagler Park, Shepard Park and the Guy Davis Sports Complex, along with the Martin County New Monrovia Park.

For more information about the Born Learning Trails, visit or


Helping People Succeed’s Art for Living Calendar and Call for Artists

What would the holiday season on the Treasure Coast be like without Helping People Succeed’s Art for Living Calendar? The festive and fabulous fundraiser has been brightening homes and offices for almost a quarter of a century.

Area artists are invited to submit examples of their original art work through July 10, 2023 for inclusion in the perennial favorite. There’s a welcome mat out for new artists who would like to apply.

Thirteen artists will have their entry selected for inclusion in the 2024 Art for Living Calendar, all proceeds of which benefit Helping People Succeed.

All guidelines, criteria and responsibilities, as well as an application, can be found at

Helping People Succeed is a local nonprofit organization that has been serving the Treasure Coast for more than 59 years. Through its diversified, effective program services – Helping People Succeed serves, on average, 8000 children and adults per year. Helping People Succeed’s mission is to transform lives by realizing potential, creating hope and building futures through education, counseling, training and employment.




The Board of Directors of The League of Women Voters of Martin County presented Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis an award from the Florida League of Women Voters for her office’s work in conducting Martin County elections and making sure that every voter in the county can cast their ballot.

Vicki first elected to be our Supervisor of Elections in 2004 has been a member of the Martin County League of Women Voters for many years. Deputy of Outreach Kherri Anderson is also a long-standing member of the league.

Local Letter Carriers Collect More Than 68,000 Pounds of Food to Stamp Out Hunger

 US Postal Service workers usually drop off items, but on Saturday, May 13, they picked up items—-more than 68,000 pounds of non-perishable items—from mailboxes throughout Martin County.

Stamp Out Hunger is an annual tradition across the country. It was started in 1993 by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) and has helped feed millions of American over three decades.

Each May, local letter carriers willingly pick up the bags of items that residents leave by their mailboxes and transport them back to their post office branch. From there, dozens of House of Hope volunteers helped unload the bags and put the items in bins. Additional volunteers pick up the bins in trucks and transport them back to House of Hope’s main office.

“We can’t say enough good things about our local letter carriers,” said House of Hope CEO Rob Ranieri. “In addition to their real jobs of delivering the mail, on Stamp Out Hunger Saturday, they also gather, lift, and transport cans and boxes of food to help their friends and neighbors in need. We’re grateful to them and to every resident who donated.”

House of Hope continues to see more and more families and individuals who need food assistance. “Between the after-effects of the pandemic and the rise in the cost of basic items like food,” Ranieri said, “our services are more in demand than ever.”

The food collected during the Stamp Out Hunger drive will be used at the House of Hope service centers in Stuart, Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound, and Indiantown and will be shared with House of Hope food bank partners.

Letters from Readers

I urge those who are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to TOM CAMPENNI or fill out the form on the website.

Letter from Julie Marshall

Dear Tom,

 I read your most recent newsletter and I am quite dumbfounded as to where you came up with the majority of your representation on the book challenge for Anne Frank’s Diary:  The Graphic Adaptation.  Did you even get a copy of the challenge submitted to MCHS?  By reading your column, I would have to guess you did not so it seems that you fabricated this entire story.  

I am attaching the actual book challenge submitted.  Nowhere in this challenge does it mention anything about female nude statues.  I am assuming you either dreamt this or you read a headline in a news outlet about another challenge somewhere else.  

 The book was challenged because it is in violation of FL Admin Code R61-1.094124(3)(b) which states topics must be factual, objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events.  This book distorts the diary and minimizes the Holocaust which is inconsistent with the State Board approved standards.  Not only that, it is not a true adaptation as the author admitted that it only encompasses 5% of the diary.  

 As also stated in the challenge, the School District of Indian River County’s Curriculum and Instruction met with The Community One Initiative, a local organization that is dedicated to Holocaust Education. During this meeting, the graphic adaptation of this book was shared with the organization and they were in agreement with the decision to remove this book from school libraries.  I value their opinion. 

Please see the following:

This is a book report on this book which was not included with the challenge, but will give a few details on it:

This article gives a very detailed breakdown of the adaptation:

 The picture that you admit you could not find of Frank walking through the nude statues which, again, was not part of the challenge:     

MCSD has many copies of the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank along with over 30 titles about her and 200 copies of these titles.  MCSD also has a large multitude of books on the history of the Holocaust.   Therefore, I do not believe there should be a book in the MCSD libraries that’s title is deceptive as to what the book actually is and does not meet State Standards.  


Julie Marshall

FYI – The term is also ‘err’ on the side of caution – not ‘error’.  

Here is a link to the actual request from Julie  here


Friends & Neighbors Response:


I will print your letter with photo and attachment. 

It is too bad you did not remain as a monthly columnist after the election. I would always welcome you back if you want.


Letter from Gina May

Interesting to see that now the Town of Ocean Breeze is going to interfere with how warranty items with DR Horton, the same way they interfered with Sun Communities. I had hopes that the new board (mix of Sea Walk and Ocean Breeze owners) would discuss REAL town issues, but it looks as some of the problem (which I suspected all along)  is that Terry O’Neill (a contracted employee for the Town) continues to create work for himself so that he can bill for his time. Where is the Town attorney in all of this? Why doesn’t he stand up and say these items are NOT the Towns responsibility? Where are the grownups in the room?

Martin County Taxpayer Association



Martin County commissioners have their very own funds which are raised in their

districts by taxing their constituents. The funds are to be used by the district

commissioners to pay for or enhance projects for those districts.

In tax parlance it is called a district MSTU (Municipal Service Taxing Unit). The MSTU is

only raised and can be used in the unincorporated parts of the commissioner’s district.

For instance, Indiantown which is in Harold Jenkins district does not pay nor does it

receive these funds.

Under Florida State Statute 125.01(q), the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has

the power to establish Municipal Service Taxing Units (MSTU). The legislation reads as



(q) Establish, and subsequently merge or abolish those created hereunder,

municipal service taxing or benefit units for any part or all of the unincorporated

area of the county, within which may be provided fire protection; law

enforcement; beach erosion control; recreation service and facilities; water;

alternative water supplies, including, but not limited to, reclaimed water and water

from aquifer storage and recovery and desalination systems; streets; sidewalks;

street lighting; garbage and trash collection and disposal; waste and sewage

collection and disposal; drainage; transportation; indigent health care services;

mental health care services; and other essential facilities and municipal services

from funds derived from service charges, special assessments, or taxes within

such unit only. Subject to the consent by ordinance of the governing body of the

affected municipality given either annually or for a term of years, the boundaries

of a municipal service taxing or benefit unit may include all or part of the

boundaries of a municipality. If ad valorem taxes are levied to provide essential

facilities and municipal services within the unit, the millage levied on any parcel

of property for municipal purposes by all municipal service taxing units and the

municipality may not exceed 10 mills. This paragraph authorizes all counties to

levy additional taxes, within the limits fixed for municipal purposes, within such

municipal service taxing units under the authority of the second sentence of s.

9(b), Art. VII of the State Constitution.


What is Millage? Millage is a tax rate defined as the dollars assessed for each $1,000 of

value; one mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.


The Board of County Commissioners MSTUs are not the only MSTUs in the county. The

Florida Legislature passed enabling legislation to fund four other entities in the

county/region. They are the South Florida Water Management District, the School

Board, the Florida Inland Navigation District, and the Children’s Services Council. These

add another 6.6119 mills to the taxes levied county wide. The total county wide tax

totals 13.1678 mills, which translates to $13.17 for each $1,000 of assessed property



Municipalities have their own taxes. They do not pay county MSTUs unless the

municipality elects to buy a municipal service from the county. An example would be

Ocean Breeze paying the MSTU for fire.


County Government alone has 9 MSTUS: five of which generate 9.9637 mills in taxes.

The Martin County Board of County Commissioners consumes 63.54% of dollars

collected; Fire Rescue takes the next largest portion at 25.52% of the pie; Stormwater

takes a smaller slice at 5.73% and Parks and Recreation with a 1.78% slice takes

enough to get us to 99+% of the tax dollars levied by the Martin County Commission.

It should be noted that under the umbrella of Martin County BCC falls the Public Works

Department, Public Buildings, Utilities, Solid Waste, CRA’s, Library, Public

Transportation, Airport, Constitutional Officers including the Sheriff, and Coastal; hence

the reason why it consumes slightly less than two-thirds of the tax dollars collected by

the BCC.

What makes up the difference between the 99+% and 100% of the BCC MSTUs?

The county also has the prerogative of creating other MSTUs, which the BCC (Board of

County Commissioners) did to provide additional revenue, and according to the county

budget, did so for “projects which are not captured within the other departments of the

County. They are localized by design and primarily benefit the taxpayers within the

specific MSTU”. The BCC sets the tax rate for each of the MSTUs based upon the

commissioner’s recommendation who represents that district. It should be noted, “As a

result of the economic downturn, beginning in FY 2010, the Board of County

Commissioners elected not to levy taxes in the Commissioner District MSTUs. For FY18

the Board approved reinstating these taxes for District One, District Three and District

Five.”  In FY2020, the taxes were reinstated for District Two. In FY 21, the taxes were

reinstated for District Four. Commissioner Heatherington was newly elected in

November of 2018 and deferred reinstating the tax until she saw a need. Commissioner

Heard deferred reinstating the tax until 2021.

MCTA took the opportunity to speak with each one of the Commissioners about the

“Commission MSTU” for their district. All the Commissioners were generous with their

time to explain how they viewed the MSTU and how they used the tax dollars of their


The Commissioners felt that the MSTU for their district was a benefit that enabled them

to address items which may not have been included in the county budget, either

because the item was not addressed, had fallen through the cracks, or the timing

required the item to be addressed before the county budget could. As an example, the

county staff begins preparing the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget eight

months before the start of the fiscal year which runs from October 1 st to September 30 th .

It goes through several iterations of prioritizing and refinement before it is presented to

the BCC in late summer. If an item does not make the budget, it may have to wait

eighteen months or longer to be addressed. The Commission MSTU can move much


However, the money is not there to be spent at the sole discretion of the Commissioner;

there is a process.  It first goes to the Budget Office in the County to determine if there


are funds available. The next step is the County Attorney’s Office to determine if the

request meets the requirements of the law. The final step is the Clerk of the Court’s

office for approval that all the boxes have been checked and that it will benefit the

taxpayers in that district. However, this process is much speedier than the county

budget process.

For example, Commissioner Heatherington had a street in her district that was not due

to be resurfaced for several years yet the need was there now to put down new millings

and add traffic calming. She was able to address this for her constituents and residents

of Myrtle Street quicker than the resurfacing schedule of the Public Works Department.

As mentioned previously, the Commissioner did not reinstate the tax in her district until

2020 since she had carryover funds (which will be discussed later) from Ed Fielding and

did not see an immediate need.

Commissioner Smith pointed out that in his district, Rio has a CRA that can address

items for the beautification of Rio whereas, Jensen Beach had less dollars and he has

used the MSTU to enhance the Jensen Beach Library (the old post office) and the

repairs of the Jensen Beach Christian Church on Church Street which is a historic

structure. In his tenure, the commissioner has used these funds to pave 12 miles of

sidewalks in District 1, roads that were not a priority on the county’s Capital

Improvement Budget and maintaining parks that are not maintained by the Parks and

Recreation Department.

Although the MSTU taxes are used for a variety of projects, each of the commissioners

has an interest that comes through in the use of funds in their respective districts.

For example, Commissioner Jenkins has an interest in preserving the history of his

district. The original train station, which is now at the Polo Club, is being refurbished.

Once completed, it will be relocated near its original site and opened to educate the

public on the history of Hobe Sound.

Other projects included The Presbyterian Church near Zeus Park, which was built in the

1920s. The church needed the steeple refurbished, the curbs painted, and some

shrubbery planted. Another example is the remodeling of the fire station on 714 that will

be converted into a civic center. The Commissioner has also used MSTU taxes for other

projects such as banners on Bridge Road and to assist the Banner Lake Club in

establishing the Teen Center, to name a few.

Commissioner Heard has an interest in enhancing public spaces in her district to make

the areas more livable. Although she was the last commissioner to reinstitute the tax in

her district, she used the money to purchase additional land adjacent to Maggie’s

Hammock Park in Rocky Point.

The owner was asking for $1 million for four acres and after being on the market for a

protracted period of time, Commissioner Heard was able to purchase it for $450,000

and add to the park. She also used funds to construct the Port Salerno Community

Center and facilitate the development of Butterfly Gardens. She believes land is an

excellent investment for the community and currently has her eye on a piece of property

in the Port Salerno CRA.

Commissioner Ciampi believes that most citizens will use the library and the parks and

recreational facilities.  He has used the funds from his district to put a walking path

around the pond between the fire station and Dr. Sentell’s Palm City Animal Medical


Center.  Dr. Sentell liked what was being done by the CRA and Commissioner Ciampi

and he donated the Mainstreet Clock placed near the pond.

The Commissioner also used MSTU funds to fund the I-Zone program at the Peter and

Julie Cummings Library, which has since been rebranded as the Idea Labs and adopted

at all the county libraries. Another use has been to have bumpers installed at the Palm

City boat ramp using old firehoses. The Commissioner has also used MSTU taxes for

traffic safety. For example, putting the blinking school zone signs on the opposite side of

street of the Public Works signs, a speed table near SW Martin Highway and Berry

Avenue and a traffic light on Murphy Road.

There are six Community Redevelopment Areas in our county and the Commissioners

have worked with the CRA’s to augment the work of the CRA’s in their district to various



In conversations with the Commissioners, different philosophies emerged. However, all

believed that there must be a legitimate need, that it must benefit the taxpayers of the

district, and that the project either could not be handled through the CIP process or

could cut through the red tape and deliver services in a timelier fashion. Commissioners

do not challenge the decision making of their colleagues and occasionally collaborate

on projects. For example, Commissioner Ciampi and Heatherington collaborated to put

the flags on Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.


Differences of opinion also emerged among the Commissioners. Some believed that

money should not be used for non-profit organizations and that they should be able to

raise money among their supporters to carry out their programs. Others believed that if

the project served a legitimate need, in their opinion, augmenting a fundraising shortfall

qualified.  Another area of divergent philosophies is the “rollover” of unspent tax money.


Currently, if the MSTU Tax is not spent, it can be rolled or carried over to the following

year or indefinitely.  If a commissioner is not re-elected, whatever is not spent is credited

to the incoming Commissioner. At the end of the FY 2022 budget year, there was

$2,194,869 unspent.

Some felt that there should be a “use it or lose it” and that rollover of unused tax dollars

should be returned to the taxpayers. The countervailing argument is that if there is not

enough money to fund a project in a single tax year, by carrying over unspent tax dollars

larger projects can be accommodated.


In discussing how the Commissioner’s prioritized requests for assistance, to a person,

they stated that this had not been a problem as the requests are sporadic. All judge

requests based on the number of residents served on the improvement of the quality of

life in their respective district, and if there is not another funding source.

Commissioner Jenkins pointed out that it is difficult coming up with projects for rural

areas even though they are subject to the MSTU tax. The tax rate for his district is the

lowest of the five districts. As real estate values have increased in the county, the

Commissioners have reduced the MSTU tax rate in their districts. In essence, the dollar


amount collected has remained steady as the decreasing millage is being offset by the

increase in appraised real estate values. The chart below depicts the millage rate by


In conclusion, the Commissioners have been good stewards of the tax dollars collected

and dispensed on behalf of the taxpayers. However, when one looks at the carryover

amount, of $2.19 million, there is merit to the argument of capping the amount allowed

to be rolled over and reducing the millage rate.

Martin County Taxpayers Association’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Martin County


When the Sailfish Sands Golf Course restaurant opened, the Parks & Rec Department decided to have a private vendor run it. But it recently became clear that it didn’t work. The question is why!

Did the vendor have a menu that was too ambitious for the venue? Was it solely the vendor’s fault or did the county push the company into bad choices to satisfy unreasonable requests from the commissioners and staff? Apparently for it to fail so spectacularly so quickly, things were dreadfully wrong from the start. That includes the selection process. The restaurant only opened last fall.

At that time, I was on the county’s Parks & Recreation Board. I went to a pre-opening and thought the food was good. We toured the facility including the Top Golf Bays. Everything looked great from a public perspective.

I liked the restaurant so much that I ate there a couple of times. Service was not terrific but that was to be expected with a new restaurant. The first time I was there, the golf bays were all filled. By the second time I was the only table booked, and the bays had many fewer people.

Then in March we attempted to reserve a bay when we had friends visiting. We were told to try again in an hour because everything was down. Other people have told me they had the same experience. Did the vendor suffer because the equipment that was supposed to be part of what would draw patrons to the restaurant didn’t work? Could the rent at $45,000 per month ($1500 per day fixed cost before any other expense) have been a large contributing problem?

The vendor only paid partial rent for the first month of November. It appears the lease gave him generous payment terms. November rent wasn’t due until December 1st. It was paid January 4th. He paid $20,000 on January 30th and then never paid another dime. Mr. LaMattina, the vendor, left owing the county $250,000 plus.

The county intends to reopen using a menu like the beach cafes have. No liquor…only beer and wine. The county will run it as they do the cafes.

Will they look for another vendor? Knowing our commission, I wouldn’t bet on it. They seem to enjoy operating businesses.

Maybe this was set up to fail all along. There was only one bidder. That should automatically tell you that something is amiss. Taking care of hitting bays is not in the purview of most food and beverage people.

I have also heard from golfers that it is too expensive to play golf there. They don’t accept cash and a reservation is required to play. All things that are fine in the private sector but perhaps too much for a public government course. Fewer golfers mean fewer restaurant customers.

I place this blame where it belongs…on the backs of the commission. Each commissioner was responsible for the bad judgement that gave us failure because they each supported it. They couldn’t just have a place to have a sandwich and a beer…they had to have a pasta bolognaise and a prime steak.

The commission needs to recognize what a parks and recreation department should be doing. Staff will need to identify where the funds will come from to fill the $250,000 shortfall since that revenue is going to be used to fund other expenses at the course. That would apply to the loss rent of $45,000 per month that no one is paying going forward.

It would not surprise me to see that either deep cuts must be made and/or taxes increased this budget cycle. What is the county’s philosophy toward parks and the other services it must provide? There are many more needs other than giving money to an air show or other deserving non-profits. The commission has put in place staffing expansion in public safety which will cause spending to escalate to unsustainable levels.

I don’t blame the private sector company for this as much as I do the public sector. Mr. LaMattina’s company seemed undercapitalized. I could not find a security deposit anywhere. The proof that this opportunity was not viable for a restauranteur should have been clear because there was only one bidder. It should have foretold this story. And it sort of did.

As Published In Martin County Moments



Bob Berman, who is currently on the board, has changed his tune recently regarding what is acceptable behavior for landowners.

For the past two years, he has said repeatedly that cars, trucks, and other 4-wheel drive vehicles are perfectly fine in PalMar. He believes that they can’t be restricted, and access should be provided. That is a far cry from what he said a decade ago.

Public Records show that a memo dated March 31, 2010, written by Berman as president of the Palm Beach Heights Landowners Coalition to the board instructs the board that many restrictions apply:

RE: Suggested/recommended access permit requirements/restrictions

  1. Applicant must produce evidence that they are a property owner in Palm Beach Heights
  2. Must produce a survey showing the location of the land including GPS coordinates
  3. The land must be physically marked by a surveyor and certified as to the location
  4. If it is determined that there is direct physical access to the land, the applicant will be eligible for an access permit for a vehicle. Otherwise, access is limited to pedestrian
  5. If a vehicle access permit is issued, the permittee shall have the obligation to keep Pal-Mar Security informed of the vehicle make, model, year, color and tag number prior to access.
  6. Permit will have a expiration
  7. There shall be a separate permit for each lot owned by the Some lots may be vehicle access and others pedestrian only.
  8. Permit shall specifically prohibit random travel within the District


For applicants eligible for a permit the following should apply at a minimum:


  1. Permittee shall notify Pal-Mar security in advance of the intention to visit the property
  2. Person must produce a copy of the permit and photo identification for entry
  3. Approved permittee must accompany all other guests or family No admittance to anyone unaccompanied by the permittee
  4. The permit shall identify the shortest and most direct route to the land and there cannot be any deviation
  5. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on all canal banks for any reason
  6. Any firearm on person or in vehicle must be securely encased and not readily available for use for all travel until arrival at the permittee land
  7. All alcohol shall be unopened and sealed until arrival at the permittee land
  8. Any animals must remained leashed or caged unless on the permittee land
  9. An indemnity clause for any travel while within the boundaries of the Pal-Mar

This is a far cry from Berman’s last statements regarding access.

Here is a letter from Berman as president of the Palm Beach Heights Landowners Coalition to landowners:

October 6, 2013

To whom it may concern:

I wrote in September regarding Florida Statute 704.01 because there was this ridiculous notion that this statute somehow applied to the Palm Beach Heights subdivision lots. As I explained last month, this statute is irrelevant for the Palm Beach Heights lots and does not apply.

It has also come to my attention that there are individuals that think that the property is not posted and therefore it is somehow O.K. to trespass on other people’s property.

That is also ridiculous.

First, the entire perimeter of the Pal-Mar (Palm Beach Heights subdivision) is clearly posted with no trespassing signs. These signs are everywhere and clearly visible prior to entering the area. The entire perimeter also is fenced with KEEP OUT signs.


But attached is a copy of Florida Statute 810.09 which the Trespass law for the state of Florida. The law is clear. Notice to prohibit trespassing can be EITHER posting OR actual communication.


This letter is being delivered to you as ACTUAL COMMUNICATION according to F.S.

810.09 (1)(a) 1.


You are hereby prohibited from trespassing on any privately owned property within the Palm Beach Heights subdivision that you do not own. If you are trespassing and are armed with a firearm or other dangerous weapon, you will be guilty of a felony. Hunting is prohibited on all privately owned lots that come under the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach Heights Landowners Coalition. Hunting and trespassing are also prohibited on all lots owned by the South Florida Water Management District or Martin County.


Ownership of a lot in the Palm Beach Heights subdivision does not allow anyone to trespass on another lot PERIOD. Very few lot owners have any physical access to their lot. If you do not know the exact location of a lot that you own, please feel free to contact me. This Coalition has an extensive and detailed inventory of ALL lots in Palm Beach Heights. We will be happy to locate your lot and tell you if you have access or not.


Please do not be a criminal. There will be no further warnings. Anyone caught trespassing and/or hunting in Palm Beach Heights will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.


Bob Berman, President


If the individual landowners were acting that way now, then Trailside would have no problems with being their neighbors. Then on June 6, 2014, Berman wrote the board complaining about hunting:


June 6, 2014


Board of Supervisors


Ladies & Gentlemen:


I own, control or represent the owners of approximately 5,000 acres of land within the Pal-Mar Water Control District. The acreage is comprised of several thousand individual parcels. Each of these parcels is encumbered by easements for ingress/egress, drainage or both. There are additional easements for utilities etc.


Many of these easement areas are dedicated to the Pal-Mar Water Control District. Some of the easement areas have been improved and are included in the approved water management plan for the Pal-Mar District. That plan includes many canals and levees. However, it does not include any roadways.


In the past several years there has been significant deterioration of the perimeter levee located on the eastern boundary of the Pal-Mar District. This damage has occurred because there are owners of lots in the Palm Beach Heights subdivision who mistakenly believe that the levee is a roadway.


Prior to the hiring of Mr. Mansell, no truck/car access was allowed along the perimeter levee without contacting the Pal-Mar security officer at the time. There was a gate on SR711 that was locked at all times. Mr. Mansell and others acquired lots in the Palm Beach Heights subdivision at tax deed auctions in approximately 2004 with the express intentions of that ownership allowing them access to the entire Palm Beach Heights subdivision for hunting. To this day, I believe that Mr. Mansell does not understand the fallacy and illegality of that intention.


Worse than that, Mr. Mansell has instigated, promoted and encourage others to do the same thing. I don’t know the exact number but my estimate that there is now over 30 individuals engaged in this illegal activity within the Pal-Mar District.


These individuals use of certain Pal-Mar District levees has caused the wash-outs and pot-holes in the levee that now need to be repaired.


I respect the rights and authority that the Pal-Mar District has contained in their easement areas. However, the Pal-Mar District has not done enough to ensure that the levees and canal easements are not used for other illegal purposes including trespassing.


I intend to provide private security for the lots that I represent. I am proposing a cooperative effort with the Pal-Mar District to eliminate the illegal use of the levees. In some cases that will include erecting fences or gates that will restrict access. Pal-Mar District access for maintenance will remain unrestricted. Public access will not be denied, however the use of the canals and levees as “roads” needs to be immediately terminated.

I look forward to working with the Pal-Mar District to resolve this very serious issue.

Robert A. Berman



What happened? Who knows except Bob Berman over the past decade has sold the land he owned in the district to Zach Gazza of “Be A Man Buy Land” and maybe others who promote the place as a free-for-all club where you buy your lot and can use the entire place to do whatever you want. The last of the wilderness.


I have been told that Berman has sold the rest of his property. He probably won’t remain on the board. When money is involved, the tune you whistle changes.


You can see these documents and others here




“Oops I did it again” is a song Brittany Spears made famous.


Administrative Law Judge Francine Ffolkes understands those lyrics well. She has now been overturned twice by the Governor’s Cabinet regarding land decisions in Martin County. When you cannot get anything right you usually are sent back down to the minor leagues. That may be her fate, but for right now, Discovery Land should be just celebrating the victory.


Throwing out the rural life-style land use designation because of the inclusion of a private convenience store for the use of the residents in a gated community was always a stretch. When do the NIMBYs hang it up and stop complaining about every use of former agricultural land in the county?

Just like the Costco project in Stuart, Discovery will help preserve open space… not destroy it. You can’t bring back citrus to Martin County or for that matter most of Florida. We were the pineapple capital 130 years ago but that faded. Should we have tried to preserve those plantations instead of concentrating on other industries?

Costco is on the site of an old farm and apparently a private dump by what the developer has had to remove. For years after the farming ceased, the past owners dumped cars, trucks, boats, construction materials and other debris on the site. Illegal ponds were dug to irrigate and divert water. That site is as pristine as the old Stuart landfill.


Discovery was more recently agriculture and ranching. Becker Farms, the owner, was a good steward of the land. Why wouldn’t they since it is and was their livelihood.


Now a choice has come to Martin County. Will we have a development catering to the very wealthy which will result in $30 million in taxes, keep most of the property green, and another 800 acres will remain as an existing tree farm in conservation for perpetuity. The other choice is going to be thousands of homes, new commercial development to service those homes, new schools, and other county roads and infrastructure. That type of development would bring in much less revenue than Discovery and it would cost thousands in additional taxes for the new permanent residents living there.


That type of developmental sprawl (which has nothing to do with the recently enacted Live Local Act) would probably be stopped for a few years because of the magical, mystical comp plan. In the end, given the pressures to provide new housing in Florida, subdivisions will sprout with a devastating impact on the environment and demand for services.


Here are the ultimate choices for Martin County and one of the choices is not to do anything.


As Published In Martin County Moments

City of Stuart

If Mike Mortell is chosen by the commission as city manager, then before too much longer, a permanent city attorney will be needed.

The duties of the city attorney can be found in Sec. 3.06 of the city charter. It reads as follows:

The city attorney shall be admitted to the practice of law in the State of Florida, and shall be the legal advisor to and attorney for the city. The city attorney shall prosecute and defend all suits, complaints, and controversies for and on behalf of the city, unless otherwise directed by the commission, and shall review all contracts, bonds and other instruments in writing in which the city is to be a party, and shall endorse on each approval as to form and legality. The city attorney shall be appointed on merit and fitness alone and without regard to political beliefs.

 A city attorney is appointed by and reports to the city commission. Yet it clearly states that the city attorney is Stuart’s attorney and not the commissions. While the job description as outlined in the charter is short, it is comprehensive.

Sometimes commissioners seem to forget that the city attorney is not their attorney. The client is Stuart and not themselves. The attorney’s responsibility is meeting and advising the commissioners, but the attorney should be available to meet with Citizen John Doe also. The attorney is doing the job on behalf of the citizens of Stuart.

It becomes difficult at times because the board appoints the attorney. All sorts of things can happen if commissioners forget what the attorney’s real responsibilities are and to whom he is accountable.

That is why it was so naïve when one of the commissioners told me that the interim city attorney was communicating with him by email when the attorney was away for several weeks. What about the citizen who just wants to speak to their city attorney. Without regular office hours and the ability to sit down with staff, service providers, and regular citizens aren’t we being shortchanged.

The bulk of the job is everyday lawyering. Things like drafting and reading contracts. Looking at development orders and making sure that orders are filed. A city attorney spends much more time reading agenda items than legal briefs or reading insurance and labor contracts rather than preparing for upcoming litigation.

Stuart has been lucky for the past decade because its city attorney is a certified civil litigator who is not afraid to go all the way instead of settling as would probably happen if outside council had been used. Remember the city wasn’t paying Mortell by the hour, and therefore could hang tough instead of settling. Most times, the government settles because of the cost of winning.

Going forward, the person in that position will seldom if ever go into court. They will do what most city attorneys do…counsel and go to meetings. There isn’t enough time to be in court and perform the city attorney’s regular duties. If the commission believes for just a second that the next city attorney could possibly litigate environmental claims against the Feds, then that would be a big mistake.


 During commissioner comments, Campbell Rich wanted to discuss hiring a legal firm to determine in an opinion whether there is any cause of action for litigation regarding the river. The discussion then evolved into what type of city attorney they should be looking to hire. Surprisingly, Chris Collins said it doesn’t necessarily have to be an environmental lawyer but someone that has some litigation experience.

I never thought I would say this, but Collins made sense. Any city attorney should have some litigation experience under their belt. What Rich wants also makes sense. There needs to be some finalization about what the city’s options really are in this regard. Mortell will bring back a plan for an environmental law firm to give an opinion, and about hiring a permanent city attorney. The latter is the important one.

Public comment was all about the money. One group that wants to lay claim to the $500,000 ARPA funds still available is Family Promise. There were several speakers that told compelling stories about the homeless families that the money would help.

Cher Fisher, the Director of Development and Community Engagement, spoke first. I asked and she provided her prepared remarks:

Family Promise of Martin gets calls daily from families, elderly, single parents, etc. needing housing. 

We are unable to assist with all the many requests.  Even with other nonprofits helping certain segments of the homeless –Mary’s Home for unwed mothers, Compassion House for moms with children (boys only if 12 and under) and SafeSpace (women experiencing domestic abuse), Martin County simply can’t keep up with the demand. 

Granting of the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) $$$ to Family Promise of Martin County will help us assist more families and allow us to partner with other nonprofits working with the homeless segment.  We have a property in mind (10 units) and the owners are working with us to help us achieve our goal of offering housing to those in need.  We offer a hand-up, not a hand-out, to families in our program.  They rotate from congregation to congregation with shelter, and with extensive case management, are able to “graduate” from our program and enter into transitional housing—housing in which we assist with monthly rental payments—they pay a percentage of their salary, and we cover the rest.  This is the housing we plan to offer with the ARPA grant and the property we are considering.

To receive a first-hand understanding of the issues we face, I invite you to spend some time at our family center and answer the phones. You may receive a phone call like I did last week from a 24 year old single mother of a six year old. She’s making $2000 a month and she and her child are sleeping on her bosses couch. She has no vehicle and no home and no hope.

 Or you might answer a call from a woman in her early 70s like I did a month ago who was just been evicted from her rental home of over eight years. The property had been sold to an investor and the rent doubled   With a trembling voice, she asked me what she could do. I told her our nonprofit currently only worked with children and their families experiencing homelessness, and there was nothing for her in our county as an elderly individual needing housing. LAHIA could offer her food and shower and laundry facilities and maybe give her a tent. The Kane center would have some options, but not for housing. 

 This solution we propose won’t resolve the issue of homelessness in Stuart and Martin County, but it will be a very real solution for ten families at a time!

 That’s the real world for many of our citizens and it’s heartbreaking. 

 Every speaker had a compelling narrative. And if I thought with my heart and not my head, I too could believe that this was a good way to use those funds. My head tells me it is a dumb idea.

So, the premise is the City of Stuart should hand over a half million dollars to an organization to house ten families. That favored nonprofit will pay one private owner that has gone through no bidding or vetting process. And this is their plan! It is once again a way to funnel tax money to friends or friends of friends.

Are the families even from Stuart? What happens when the funds run out in a few years? Are whatever families that are living there thrown into the street?

If the money was going to purchase or help purchase a brick-and-mortar building, then I would feel differently. Does the government have an obligation toward providing shelter? I believe the answer is yes. The state and federal governments do but not a city of 17,000. Stuart should be using these federal funds to help the city fund long needed infrastructure projects or programs that benefit the entire population.

Florida has just passed a massive housing bill with hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for affordable housing. And though the “Live Local Act” does strip some local control from the commission, it also has the promise to bring more attainable housing that will be built by developers using the provisions of the act. Here is where groups like Family Promise and the Housing Coalition should be teaming up with  the private sector to provide long term relief not a handout similar to giving  a beggar on a street corner.

Everything on the agenda was on consent until Collins pulled three items. One was the interlocal agreement between the city and Treasure Coast Planning Council. It authorizes staff to spend up to $30,000 in any one year for the council’s help.

This continuing services agreement states that the Council will help finish up the code for the Creek and East Stuart. I thought we had already and if there was any tweaking left to be done, staff could do it.

Collins pulled the item having to do with a transportation grant for the trams. He took exception to the fact that the elected and appointed boards need to disclose their members sex and race. I agree with him that it is more federal silliness even though there is not a thing that can be done.

More interestingly the agenda item led me to believe a policy with this information needed to be implemented before a grant could be received. The city already received a grant, but this policy was needed for the audit of a past grant. There was nothing attached to the agenda item with any information about the audit. How much was the grant originally? The commission passed the policy that was lacking a complete explanation on a 4-1 vote with Collins voting no.

I hope Mortell can get his hands around all this nebulous stuff floating around Stuart government. The items being presented have less and less full substantiation.

Lastly, they were going to renew Main Street’s agreement for the green market for a year. Instead, the commission did it for 3 years and four months. No RFP, no need to involve the citizens. Another sop given to a favorite charity that isn’t a charity.

The contract for the Flagler with below market rent and Main Street’s $70,000 welfare payment will come up for renewal October 1st. It looks to me like they will continue to give away tax dollars. As a resident of Stuart and a taxpayer, I really resent that this is paid out.

Stuart Main Street uses a paid private vendor to run every event it puts on. There is a little-known department in the city called Community Services. Why aren’t they doing these things instead of paying Main Street who then pays an event planner. Because it is the government and nobody, including the commission, cares about tax dollars.

At the last meeting, the commission voted unanimously to spend $1600 of tax dollars so that the commission could buy a table at a Main Street shindig. The commission can spend taxpayer money for them to have a good time. How many of us could afford to have that good time at $200 a pop for a dance at the Flagler.

One item and one item only that stayed on the original consent agenda was approval of increasing the interim attorney’s work schedule from 40 hours a month to 108 hours. At $200 per hour, he is now receiving $21,600 per month, nearly $260,000 per year. No need to pull and discuss that amount. I wonder if this will be paid to him during another vacation period later in June.

Mortell was earning $185,000 per year and was doing most of the litigation. He worked an average of 50 hours per week and some weeks more. More and more in my mind the fiscal judgement of the commission is in question.

It shouldn’t be whether you like a person, or he is a friend but rather are the taxpayers receiving value for their investment by paying taxes in the city. I don’t care why you elected a commissioner but if they are cavalier with the use of the city’s funds then you voted for the wrong person. Every city expenditure should be treated as if the money were coming out of a commissioner’s own pocket. This commission is not doing this.

And maybe they aren’t because there is no downside. It is up to the taxpayer to provide the downside…how you vote.

Martin County School Board



In the last newsletter, I wrote about what was presented at the school board meeting regarding books being removed from school libraries. Julie Marshall wrote an email stating that what I said was wrong. Her email is printed in the “Letters” section of this edition.


During the staff presentation to the board, they mentioned that currently Martin County High School’s principal was deciding whether “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Edition” should be removed from the library because of a challenge filed by Julie Marshall from “Moms for Liberty.” I stated in our last publication what was presented by the staff explaining board policy.  During the presentation they mentioned that a drawing of female nude statues in a park setting was in the book.

I also said that I could find no reference to any nude statues in my research. Ms. Marshall has provided the drawing with her letter where clearly there are classical nude statues in a park setting. I also went on to say that even if my research was incorrect, then is there anything wrong with nudity as portrayed?


And here is the main point of this dilemma. If I still had children in school, I wouldn’t care if they saw and read the book in question. Ms. Marshall apparently does. I respect her right as a parent to have that book not available for her child. I would like to be accorded the same right and give my child the option to read or look at the book.


And that is what is wrong with the entire argument about removing books. It appears neither side wants to afford the other the same right they claim for themselves. It is the shame of this entire episode. I understand that I will never convince Marshall and she should understand the same about me.


In their current form, libraries are obsolete. Printed books should no longer be the reason that libraries exist. We live in a digital world. Books should be available digitally to students. Then it becomes quite easy for school librarians to make sure that standing orders from parents can be instituted and obeyed.

Almost every book can be provided in that format today. Instead of buying hard copies and putting them on shelves, the library buys digital copies and allows students to borrow them in that format. Parents are firmly in control of their child’s content, but not the reading material for anyone else’s child.


The ability for people to remove books making them unavailable to all students is a bad law. It isn’t a sign of freedom but one of repression. Parental rights are for every parent even those with whom we disagree.




The first hour of the meeting was spent recognizing the awards and celebrations of teachers, students, and programs. That was what school board meetings have always had. The second and third hours were for public speakers, both pro and con, regarding books being banned, removed, prohibited or any terminology one cares to use to mean the book is gone or should be.


Julie Marshall of Moms for Liberty spoke regarding what she considers my wrong interpretation of the last meeting. You can read about it above. One thing I will say is that she was civil in challenging me, and I appreciate that. I hope she believes the same about me. The person who behaved entirely inappropriately was Liz Bernstein who was speaking out against books being removed.


Bernstein refused to relinquish the podium when her turn to speak had ended. The deputies had to remove her. I don’t know whether she continued to be disruptive outside the chamber, but I understand that the sheriff issued a trespass warning. How long until she can come back to the school board meetings is unknown.


She is a passionate believer in her cause regarding the removal of books, but there is no excuse for her behavior at this meeting. If you claim to be an education advocate, you also need to be a role model for children. In no way, shape, or form was Liz a role model at this meeting or in recent ones.


Board Member DiTerlizzi said a few things that should be mentioned. He stated the board and district are following the law. What does that mean though? Aren’t they more interpreting the law since each school district is coming to different interpretations of what books to remove. The question becomes is the interpretation true or not to the law?


Another thing he said is some are trying to compare guns and violence to books being removed. They are two separate and distinct issues and should be kept that way. The gun laws have nothing to do with what the district and board oversee.

Amy Pritchett correctly stated that it wasn’t the board that gives kids electronic devices. So, to say books should not be available because the students can just pull up the material is a false equivalent. Parents provide those instruments…not schools.


DiTerlizzi also said that the board was following state law. That they were given very little room to maneuver by Tallahassee. He suggested that people who were concerned about what was happening at the local level should talk to their state representatives.


At some point as a citizen, you must ask why we are spending money to have elected boards if they are preempted from making decisions. As Tallahassee takes more and more power away, there is less and less of a reason for their existence. That should give us concern.


As an example, for decades there was little, if any, controversy surrounding what children read in school. There has always been parent involvement…why suddenly has this become a problem? Could it be our heightened political world? Are parents alarmed more than necessary?


Right now, one side is in ascendancy. They pass laws to further their political objectives. What happens when the pendulum swings to the left…will the legislature pass laws mandating teaching just as objectionable material to the other side?


In both cases, local authority and control will be isolated. If all school board members are allowed to do is follow the law as directed from state-level authorities and have little discretion, then why are they there? Local control of things kept matters civil. That has gone away with Tallahassee mandates.


There has been a request by the new MCEA president to have the same deal as the past president. She was the full-time union president but was being paid and employed by the district. The district was then repaid by the union. Chair Powers asked how the board felt about that.


Pritchett wanted to know if according to the existing contract the request had to be made by March 25th. Powers said yes and Pritchett then said it is too late and didn’t want to entertain it further. The board agrees here, as I do.


If someone wants to work for the union, they should be paid by the union. The next hurdle is that there is a new law that does not allow the union to automatically have dues withdrawn from members’ pay. Without the checkoff, will they fall below 60% of the employees being members? If they do, the district no longer bargain with them.

Town of Sewalls Point


It was a short meeting.

Manager Daniels told the commission that he wanted to bring back a storm water fee outline for their consideration. He did not want to prepare the item if they were not interested in going forward.

Mayor Tompeck said that a fee would be nothing new. It had been brought up in the past. Mayfield thought it was prudent to have a financial plan on how to pay for the upkeep of these improvements.

Campo didn’t have a problem but what he wanted to stress was that he was not interested in paying for a study or other engineering reports. He wanted to see tangible infrastructure improved or maintained. Fender doesn’t like fees but preferred to budget it in the ad valorum.

Kurzman wanted to hold off until the budget was done and then see whether to include the expense there. Mayfield thinks it should be used only for maintenance with an advanced plan.

The problem with including it as part of ad valorum revenue is that there is no guarantee after the first year whether the infrastructure will be maintained or not. A storm water fee could only be spent for those purposes. It couldn’t be forgotten by future commissions because there is a dedicated funding source

Village of Indiantown

We will report on the May 25th meeting in the next edition.

Town of Ocean Breeze

The next meeting will be June 12, 2023

Town of Jupiter Island

The next meeting will be held June 13, 2023

Final Thoughts

The Memorial Day Weekend is more than just an extra day off, a barbeque, or a sale.

The purpose is to remember all those who died for the nation defending our freedoms and Constitution. What it is not and should not be is a political football about which political party, race, or ethnic group loves America more. We have had all too much of that recently.

I always hated faux patriotism. You know the kind where people shoot off their mouths about how the U.S. is superior to all other nations and peoples. Americans do have it good. Yet we don’t need to be chauvinistic when we celebrate ourselves or denigrate other nations in touting superiority.

To me, being patriotic is not saying the pledge or singing the “Star Spangle Banner” but just getting on with it. To volunteer at a non-profit or read a story to a kid. That says more about being an American than all the talk about what a great country we have. It is the small acts that we do every day to help our fellow countryman that is important and “American.”

Some Americans decided to join the service and ultimately sacrificed everything for the rest of us. That is the purpose of Memorial Day…to remember their sacrifice.  It isn’t the day off, the sales, or the barbeques, but the sacrifices made by the men and women who did not come home.





Friends and Neighbors of Martin County is your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.

Tom Campenni 772-341-7455 (c) Email:

Supervisor of Elections

Tax Collector



Don’t Leave Home Without it

Florida recognizes license plates and parking permits displaying the international symbol of accessibility that has been issued by any state or foreign country.

However, if the permit or plate does not display one of the international symbols of accessibility, visitors must obtain a state of Florida temporary disabled person parking permit. The temporary parking permit fee is $15.

Individuals applying for a disabled persons parking permit must apply in-person or by mail at a tax collector’s office. The following documentation is required for issuance:

Completed form HSMV 83039, signed by the customer and the certifying authority (see below). Incomplete forms cannot be accepted. Out-of-country visitors may provide a copy of their current parking permit issued by their country of residence.

Acceptable forms of identification include:

A valid driver license or ID card, with photo, issued by the state of residence;

A valid passport or passport card; or a valid driver license or ID card from any U.S.Territory;  American Samoa, Guam, Marianas, Puerto Rico or U.S. Virgin Islands. A secondary permit cannot be issued for a temporary parking permit. Temporary permits are nonrenewable. Customers must re-apply for new temporary permit upon expiration.

Certifying medical authorities include:

  • A physician licensed under Chapter 458, Chapter 459 or Chapter 460;
  • A podiatric physician licensed under Chapter 461;
  • An optometrist licensed under Chapter 463;
  • An advanced practice registered nurse licensed under Chapter 464, under the protocol of a licensed physician as stated above;
  • A physician assistant licensed under Chapter 458 or Chapter 459; or
  • A similarly licensed physician from another state if the application is accompanied by documentation of the physician’s licensure in the other state and a form HSMV 83039 signed by the out-of-state physician verifying his or her knowledge of this state’s eligibility guidelines.

If you have any questions concerning  disabled parking permits, please contact Martin County Tax Collector’s office at 772-288-5600  or the FLHSMV Customer Service Call Center at (850) 617-200

Property Appraiser

Did you know a change in your marital status can affect your property tax exemptions? Today we launched another educational video which explains what happens when you get married, divorced or are a widow/widower. Click here to watch this brief video:

Clerk of the Court Comptroller

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