December 17, 2023

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In this Edition

In the closing days of 2023, our thoughts and efforts are turning toward family and friends. And that is how it should be going into 2024.

Yet in this edition of Friends & Neighbors, we see that even local government hasn’t taken off yet. We have devoted several articles to the Brightline Station competition. If we have the station, it may be a big economic driver for Martin County.


We also now place Articles of Interest links on our server which means it has already been downloaded for you. It should alleviate any problems you may have had accessing the articles in the past.

Our columnists were busy writing their last columns for the year. Some wrote about the holiday…others kept it all business.

You should be able to find anything you want to know about Martin County here in our pages. And if not let me know and I will try to obtain the answer for you.

Our Non-Profit section is growing exponentially. Since we are a community, letting our readers know about all the great work being done is a service that we are glad to perform. If you haven’t looked at the section, take a moment and do so. You may even find your organization and you mentioned.

I hope you make it a habit to go to our Facebook page and check out our articles between editions. And remember we are always looking for people to write for us.

Let me take this opportunity to wish all a Merry Christmas, Chanuka, and Happy New Year.

My History With Snow

I read that there hasn’t been more than an inch of snow in New York in the past two years. Which got me thinking of snowstorms that I have experienced.

I have memories of one storm before I started going to school. It was dark out, which means it could have been 6 pm or midnight. For some reason, we were allowed to play in the street since there were no cars. That may have been the first time I ever remember experiencing total silence from street noise.

Every winter, there would generally be two snowstorms. The first day, for the first few hours, the snow would be white but then a coat of black soot from the cars and trucks and the oil and coal furnaces and apartment house incinerators would cover. By day three, most snow that remained had begun to look like tar as we awaited the inevitable melting away.

Once we became middle schoolers after our snowball fights, we would begin taking aim at buses and trucks. Every once in a while, the police would chase us. I can remember building a snow man only once in my childhood.

The first experience I can remember as an adult with a storm was walking one night with my fiancée after a snowstorm had stopped. We lived in the Chelsea neighborhood, which was once the estate of Clement Moore, the author of “The Night Before Christmas” We walked past the seminary to which he had donated the land that had once been his orchard. That night as we walked, it was absolutely true that “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

Courtesy of the Bowery

Several years later we were married and living in our home in Queens when the Blizzard of 1978 had us snow bound for almost a week. My best friend and his wife were also marooned in their home. We both had babies the following November.

Then in the winter of 2004 it seemed as if we had a storm once a week. By then I was living in Connecticut. One Saturday as we dug out yet again, the car had veered off the driveway and into the backyard as my wife was trying to pull out. It took us hours before we were finally able to maneuver back onto our stone driveway. That is when I decided we were going to move full time to Stuart.

I have only been involved personally in one more storm since moving here. That was when we were in our apartment in New York. We had the family over, as usual, but then Christman night the blizzard happened. Our flight for December 27th was cancelled, and we couldn’t get another to the 29th. It was rough sledding home to Stuart.

The airline routed us to Reagan in Virginia. We then were able to catch a flight from Dulles Airport, 30 miles and one expensive taxi ride later, to Atlanta. From there we were able to snag a flight to Fort Lauderdale where we rented a car to drive to West Palm where our own car was parked. Our motto was keep going south…and we did even overshooting our mark by a bit.

Maybe having no snow in New York isn’t such a bad idea.

The Economy Is Doing Pretty Good

I couldn’t tell you want a gallon of milk costs even though I buy one every week.

The same is true for many things I purchase on an ongoing basis. I guess I should keep closer track of the costs, but what would be the point? I am going to buy that gallon of milk regardless of whether it is a dollar more or less than it was last year.

It isn’t to say I like spending money. My wife would tell anyone that I can be very “thrifty” at times. Since the pandemic, prices for many things have climbed due to inflation after being stable for 30 years.

Even though price increases for most goods have leveled off, many Americans just don’t feel that the economy is improving. Statistics would tell me that the economy is better. Wages have kept up with prices during this inflationary period.

Housing was expensive and out of the reach of many before the pandemic. That hasn’t changed. It still can be hard, if not impossible, to find an affordable place to live.

What we can’t wrap our heads around are that things are more expensive today than in 2019. The prices we pay for milk or chicken, or beef are not going to come down. But the rate that they increase will be significantly less and more in line with the 3% inflation rate that we are now seeing.

We always remember prices from an earlier period. My first new car was a 1976 Dodge Aspen that I paid less than $4,000 for. I bought a White Castle slider in 1970 for 12 cents. The cost of a pay phone call was ten cents until about 1980.

At the same time, televisions were luxury items until we began importing them from Japan. We had television repair men because it actually paid to have them fixed. Now when a TV goes down, we replace with an even cheaper and bigger model.

Our memories control what we think we should pay for something. Unfortunately for President Biden, he is taking the heat for an economy that has weathered the past few years remarkably well. Our discontent is in the memory of a price from the past.

Currently, there is no unemployment. The stock market is purring along and just hit a new high. Yet we have a dread that the other shoe is about to drop. It will take some time for that feeling to go away.

Government In 2024

What is going to happen in 2024 is anyone’s guess. But it will be a change year no matter what outcomes there are.

On the national scene, we have the presidential election with all that entails. There are many unknowns and like a good cliffhanger, who will be the president and in control of Congress will most certainly be close.

Our own state’s problems seem to be intractable. Florida needs to get a handle on our insurance mess. People won’t continue moving here if they cannot procure or afford insurance. Without insurance, buyers cannot obtain a mortgage. The condo market is becoming unaffordable for many people because of the common charges which are rising exponentially because of increased insurance cost.

There is also the problem of home and apartment prices being out of reach for many. Our entire state tax structure is predicated on new residents and snowbirds. Once someone has their homestead exemption, tax increases are meaningless because of the 3% cap on increases per year.

In Martin County, our once-vaunted schools have had problems. The school population has become more diverse, and many students are learning English as they go. This is bound to bring down scores and increase costs.

Martin County is not building enough new homes even to replace existing houses that have served their useful lives.  Last year, there were fewer than 500 new building permits in the county. I wonder how many of those issued are affordable to the people working here. St. Lucie County is building thousands of homes, but the cost to buying in that county have risen substantially. 

There are problems in Martin County and the Treasure Coast. If we don’t stop thinking that we are still in the 1960s, those problems will not be solved. Residents have grown accustomed to having top notch municipal services but want to act as if we aren’t urban even though 90% of county residents live in an urban area. That forces the county commissioners to think like village and city commissioners.

The other alternative is to form more municipalities to provide the desired expensive urban services. The services that Jensen or Hobe Sound would want to receive and perhaps are not needed in more rural areas. At the same time, the county could begin to act as a basic county again which would result in less taxes on the county level.

This will not happen, but it is constructive to think about solutions not just problems. Most of our residents want to bury their heads in the sand and yell. If enough of them yell, commissioners back off and make believe the problem will go away. What happened with the recent sewer expansion in Port Salerno is a good example.

Next year will be interesting not because of any change but because of a lack of change. The same fights will occur on the state and local levels. At some point, Florida’s growth will slow down because everything that contributed to it will be different. Then we may see an outflow of people?

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

The Florida Republican Party Chair, Christian Ziegler, is embroiled in a scandal. He is accused of sexual assault and is under criminal investigation. Even with intense political pressure, including from Governor DeSantis and Senator Scott, he has refused to step down.

And here is the interesting part. The married Ziegler, who purports to be a paragon of conservative Christian values, has countered the allegations by saying the sex was consensual. The unnamed woman states that she declined to have sex with Ziegler after she found out that Mrs. Ziegler would not be joining them. The accuser claims that Ziegler came to her apartment and then sexually assaulted her.

Upon questioning by police, Mrs. Ziegler admitted to earlier participating in a sexual encounter with the woman and her husband. Mrs. Ziegler is a Sarasota school board member and a co-founder of Moms for Liberty.  She campaigned for the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” that prohibits teaching anything to do with L.G.B.T.Q. in schools. For her devotion to conservative Christian values and campaigning for adoption of the bill, DeSantis rewarded her with an appointment to the board now overseeing Disney.

Perhaps if she had taken just a rudimentary lesson in what L.G.B.T.Q. was, she would have noticed that the “L” stands for lesbian and “B” for bi-sexual. Having a sexual encounter with another woman is definitely not what she purports to be all about. You can understand how people would call her and Mr. Ziegler hypocrites for behaving in a way that is inconsistent with the very ideas and points of view that brought both to prominence in state politics.

And Ziegler claiming the sex was consensual doesn’t excuse the fact that as a supposedly devout conservative Christian, he has broken his marriage vows by committing adultery. So too has Mrs. Ziegler.

Now I really don’t care who you sleep with. As long as everyone is an adult and consents to the plan, what happens behind closed doors is your business, not mine. But as a parent, grandparent, Christian, and Libertarian, I have a problem with people trying to impose their views on me and my family in the name of protecting my children, using Christian values, and trying to impose a certain morality, all of which these two hypocrites don’t even believe in.

If Ziegler forced himself on the woman, it is rape. A very unchristian action that is also illegal. If rape then the hypocrisy turns into a crime.

It is time for parents to be responsible for their children without the aid of false prophets so to speak. The Zieglers give morality a bad name because they don’t practice what they preach and try to impose their supposed beliefs on the rest of us. Let each of us decide what our moral code is, not conniving politicians who practice the “do as I say not as I do” philosophy.

As Appeared In Medium 

Fletch's Perspective

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

Confession: I was starting to feel the need for a few silent nights.

It’s so easy to get caught up in making our lists (and checking them twice), rushing to meet both professional and personal obligations so we can achieve that elusive peace of mind and finally rest and reflect with our loved ones over the holidays.

Yet the real joy of the season comes when we sideline our agendas and prioritize others—which I was reminded of recently.

Last week, we transformed our Hobe Sound Boys & Girls Club into Santa’s workshop for our annual Operation Merry & Bright. Staff and volunteers wrapped toys, readied meals, and filled backpacks, ensuring hundreds of local children and families in need will enjoy bountiful holidays. The next day we joined the Martin County chapter of the NAACP for Miracle on 10th Street—a massive community mobilization that serves all the trappings of the holidays to East Stuart families in need.

Both events are as fun and exciting as they sound, testifying to the truth that giving is better than receiving.

Right now, the need is particularly intense. The high cost of household essentials is exacting an especially heavy toll on the most vulnerable, which make up the majority of families we serve. So, seeing the genuine joy, gratitude and, frankly, relief on their faces when given the gift of a holiday experience is beyond uplifting.

Looking ahead, the New Year holds tremendous promise. Our long-held resolution to create a flagship Boys & Girls Club in Stuart is gaining major momentum. One month ago, we completed the slab, which encompassed 1,378 cubic yards of concrete and required 138 trucks to pour. Now, many of the exterior walls are up. We’re preparing to install air conditioning units and finalizing quotes for the kitchen equipment.

Hopefully, by the start of next school year we’ll be welcoming local children to enjoy the gym, workforce labs, healthy foods, culinary training, citizenship lesson plans, homework help from certified teachers and more.

August sounds like a long way off. Considering how quickly 2023 raced by, surely this milestone will arrive quickly. Each passing year reminds us of our elders’ wisdom about the speed of time. It’s even more true when you’re having fun working with amazing people committed to something worthwhile and meaningful.

Yet for now, we savor this moment of peace, faith, hope and love—deeply grateful for our generous community and so blessings too numerous to count. Happy Holidays, Martin County!


Keitch Fletcher's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper

The Math Doesn’t Work, Between a Rock and a Hard Place or No Room at the Inn…

At a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting, a local developer was explaining that the affordable housing solution attempted by the government simply doesn’t work in today’s world.  The government applies a formula to qualify people for “affordable housing”.  The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is involved by providing figures to Florida’s Housing & Finance Corps (FHFC) Income Limits and Rent Limits table. 

Martin County’s own Comprehensive Growth Management Plan (COMP) is also at play.  Three layers of government… federal, state, and local do not necessarily play well together.  Mike Dooley, a resident of Martin County since the ‘70’s and the developer of Tradewinds, a 177-unit apartment building in Hobe Sound, explained the deal. 

If a developer builds an apartment building, he gets a waiver on density if he promises to set aside a percentage of those units for “affordable housing” (49 units for Tradewinds.)   That the units are truly being offered under the guidelines is monitored by the local government.   The problem is the formula used in the guidelines. According to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation rent plus utilities must not exceed 30% of the burden…bankers call it “debt to income ratio”.  The same applies for our local County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan (COMP) guidelines. 

Perhaps that was achievable before Covid and inflation.  And before what feels like half the country decided they want to live in Florida causing our diminishing housing supply to inflate housing prices.  Mr. Dooley who was looking forward to helping young professionals such as nurses, cops, teachers secure housing laments that “as the county calculates the rent limits now, there is never a time that the math works in any category.” 

Median income in Martin County which is calculated to be $84,800 for 2023 doesn’t qualify anyone if we use this formula.  Mr. Dooley gave the example of a single mom earning $85,800 annually.  If 30% of her income equals $25,740 which becomes the amount she can spend on rent and utilities meaning $2,145 per month, the chart tells us that she only qualifies for a 1 bedroom!

One Commissioner took the hard line and quipped that the project was approved for a certain percentage to be affordable, the developer knew this and took advantage of the loosened density restrictions, now he must do his part and supply the affordable housing.  Enough said… 

But that was when a gallon of milk was $3.05 and not $4.09, when a dozen eggs was $1.40 and not $6.36.

The debt-to-income ratio formula must be revised to reflect the new reality.  ESPN South Florida reported that “The average Floridian looking to buy a new home will likely be 13% over the debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and therefore be unable to qualify for a home loan.” +

The Motley Fool stated that “Although 30% is the gold standard for rent-to-income ratio, it's really just an arbitrary figure that came about as a metric enacted by Congress in 1981 to curtail rent increases in public housing. Ever since, investors have been using this metric, but it doesn't make sense for everyone. Try running the 30% figure by folks in expensive cities like San Francisco, and they'll get a good chuckle, as it's common for renters in expensive cities to pay closer to 50% of their monthly income on rent.” **

It’s a sad state of affairs when the reality of a problem further burdens those you are attempting to help.  It is equally regretful when good intentions are made null.   Now let’s see if big brother will leave family out on the street.

+ Florida Residents Can’t Afford Their Homes Based On Income and Home Prices by Joe Winner Aug. 29, 2022

** What is Rent-to-Income Ration and Why Should Landlords Care?  By Laura Agadoni – Updated Nov. 10, 2023

Darlene VanRiper’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors nor the Martin County Taxpayers Association's viewpoint.

Nicki's Place

Nicki van Vonno
van Vonno Consulting, Owner

Stuart’s Love Languages

I love Christmas. I thought I was over it, but then my daughter came home for Thanksgiving and we arrived at the Christmas tree just as the Stuart Main Street organizer pulled up with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Wearing my thrift store Buddy shirt: I was Buddy,  screaming SANTA!!!

My last column was on the language of love: verbal affirmations, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and giving gifts. The City of Stuart practices all five. As a public service to our new residents, I thought I would share my Welcome Wagon tips so you too can enjoy our good nature, like a local.

Stuart is a river and train town,  floating in a watery world, close to sea level, and moist wetlands. We have dark skies.  We are fierce protecters of our paradise. Don’t rain on our parade, and don’t throw trash out of your car.

Need a selfie with your best bud? Stuart has perfect backdrops. It hosts wonderful events like the Market on Main and the Riverwalk Concerts.  Photo spots are scattered throughout downtown so you can pose and share your visit.

Stuart is a walkable town. Stuart has sidewalks, roundabouts, and a confusing corner. That means when I cross the street in a designated crosswalk, the driver is required by law to stop for me. The jurisdiction has signs that state this law. So, stop already. At least,  I get to misquote Travis and yell “Hey, I’m walking here!”

Oh, and about all the honking. It’s noisy and it’s rude. Your gorgeous truck is not going to get across the train tracks any faster because you started honking when the light changed. 

We are not rude. Well sometimes we are rude. We have a good nature, but we are crabby. We complain about the newcomers, the traffic, the construction, the train, and how much money we spent to fight the train. Don’t worry: you will complain too.  We complained all the way to court and back and sometime soon our happiest seaside town will get a Brightline stop.

We say hi, good morning,  have a nice day when we pass you on the street.  We come in all sizes, shapes, and skin tones. We are a multi-cultural community,  especially among our younger age groups. Stuart built a great accessible playground and close by are the electric charging stations. It’s ok to smile back. Say hi.

So go hang out downtown. Smile. Eat in the restaurants, shop local. Smile. Donate some toys and food. Give the bell ringer a coin. Don’t forget that cute selfie #paradise.

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

I feel like we are in a pattern to rush through Christmas, go through the motions, sip the eggnog, and then move swiftly into the new year. Can we slow down and put more meaning into the holiday? I have been to a place that does just that and it was amazing. Let me tell you about it.

After the turkey leftovers and fall décor are packed away, we begin decorating for Christmas. Once the decorations are hung and the star tops the tree, we spend the rest of the month watching holiday movies, driving by decorated neighborhoods to ooh and aah, attending holiday parties, and exchanging gifts. Christmas Eve and Day are spent with family and friends, and then it’s basically over. Around January 2nd the decorations come down and are packed away until the next year’s celebrations.

In Puerto Rico they celebrate for quite a bit longer. I visited in January and when I arrived, I was surprised to see the Christmas decorations were still up. It looked as if Christmas had not yet come. I asked my driver about it. He explained to me that in Puerto Rico Christmas Day is just the beginning of the celebrations as they celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas.

My driver continued to explain to me that on the 12th Day of Christmas- known as Epiphany or Three Kings Day- there are celebrations island wide. Three Kings Day is celebrated as the day the Magi (or the wisemen) visited Jesus when He was a baby. What luck, I arrived in Puerto Rico on January 6th- Three Kings Day. Fireworks, music, singing and dancing. It was an amazing celebration!

After Three Kings Day the party still was not over. We then entered the eight days of Las Octavitas- an extension of Christmas celebrations that ends with Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián (the San Sebastián Street Festival). I was told even after Las Octavitas ends, some Puerto Ricans continue the Christmas celebration until Lent and the beginning of the Easter festivities.

I don’t know if this country is ready to extend Christmas a few more weeks. But I do know that the gift we were given- Jesus Christ- is worthy of the extended celebrations. Maybe we don’t need to include Las Octavitas. Maybe we don’t need to celebrate the full 12 Days of Christmas. Maybe we can just take time to remember that the gift giving we do on Christmas symbolizes the greatest gift ever given and we can take time to be grateful.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:11-14

I wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours, and a happy, healthy new year for us all.

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

Carl's Conclusions

Carl Frost
Kai Kai Farms, Owner

Farm Team Members-Cause For Celebration

Before I created Kai-Kai Farm I did not consider the human element required for food production. The closest I came to that realization were the grocery store employees, the butcher, and the fish monger. I took food for granted.

I never gave a thought about individuals who toil growing, packing, shipping, and selling our nutrition. To celebrate the holiday and the importance of families and relations we share with those we work with, Tom, our distinguished and tireless leader of Friends & Neighbors, suggested a different essay which would have a human element. I gravitated toward something which is close to my heart and that's the Kai-Kai Farm team members who have become 'family'.

We have matured and overcome challenges together. Kai-Kai Farm relies upon local full-time employees. The farm does not employ H2-A imported labor as do our larger peers. And there is nothing wrong with imported labor, it's just a matter of practicality in our case to hire locals. We are a small family of growers, about 18 give or take. All our employees have been with us for many years but here are two representatives who have interesting back stories of overcoming hardship toward achieving success while spending a third of their life at Kai-Kai Farm.

Pedro Jose grew up in the mountains of Guatemala. It was a hard scrabble subsistence existence with crops grown on the wooded mountainsides in a village without running water or electricity. During the 1980s the Guatemalan Civil War terrorized these remote villages with demands from leftist rebel groups for food and shelter. Non-compliance often meant execution so the villages shared what they could.

Over time villagers grew tired of the exploitation so violence increased. Pedro was just 15 and when a dozen relatives in his village were executed in 1987, he made his way north, struggled across the Mexico desert, crossed the border into the United States and settled at Immokalee Florida where his cousin worked in vegetable harvesting of peppers, tomatoes and eggplant.

Due to Pedro's refugee status, he was able to obtain work papers quickly. By 1989 he was in the citrus industry and eventually ended up working for Consolidated Citrus near Indiantown where he settled and purchased a house, got married and had four children, three of which have careers with the fourth still in school.  When citrus declined Pedro joined Kai-Kai in 2009 as our first employee. He spoke a little English then and his tractor skills were perfect for the needs of a startup vegetable farm where precise and safe operation of heavy equipment is critical for success.

While Pedro lacks formal education his smarts are what we call 'the Mayan Way' meaning very practical and direct problem solving. Pedro is an excellent example of how the immigrant community contributes to all our wellbeing. In contrast to Pedro's life story, is my second example, Diana who has overcome a significant health crisis during her years at Kai-Kai Farm.

Diana Avellaneda began her employment at our farm after high school. She didn't possess any specific office skills but there was something about her which we admired in 2015; so, we began a journey together as I had to assist Diana's education in office and internet technology. Thank you Bluestream Fiber! We appreciated Diana's bilingual skills and personality well suited for explaining to our customers how community supported agriculture works.

She became the intermediary between our Latinx team members and human resources needs. Diana needed a full-time career while studying under two scholarships (Allemall and Loxahatchee foundations) at Indian River State College (IRSC).  A few years ago, Diana was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease. Her health deteriorated as her kidneys began shutting down. She lost one kidney; then the second was near the end.

Those were difficult days while searching for a kidney donor. Then cancer of the thyroid required a thyroidectomy complimented by peritoneal dialysis. Lucky for Diana her best friend offered herself as a kidney donor! Due to the necessary medications for autoimmune survival Diana's gall bladder required removal. Fortunately, the medications arrested the lupus. She has resumed a reasonably normal lifestyle with some dietary modifications.

During this ordeal Diana studied and completed course work at IRSC all the while making numerous trips to medical experts in Michigan and California. Remote learning was a big help. Diana just graduated from IRSC with a Bachelor of Healthcare Administration, missing honors by three hundredths of a point. She is continuing her studies and is considering graduate school. Diana represents the spirit of success in overcoming her personal crisis while contributing to Kai-Kai Farm's growth and development. We are so proud of her.  

The farm has been a story of collaboration between peoples of diverse origins and demographics. We have learned to work and prosper together, maturing along the way while feeding our community. That's a cause for celebration this holiday.

Carl Frost'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

The Holiday Blues

Usually, the holidays are a time people look forward to celebrating, despite the stressors of travel, meal planning, and gift giving. But for some people the holidays bring on feelings of despondency

A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of people felt their stress levels increased during the holiday season. Stress can lead to an increased risk of illness, substance abuse and higher rates of anxiety and depression.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with preexisting mental illness reported that their conditions worsened during the holidays. This can be due to the increased social interactions, increased responsibilities one has during the holidays or due to complicated memories of the past or anxiety about family gatherings.

Aside from the holidays many people experience something called Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal pattern. Seasonal Affective Disorder is clinical depression that tends to appear in the late fall and can last until early spring. It’s known to be linked with changes in light during the wintertime, so it is more common in northern climates. The limited exposure to natural sunlight can affect our body’s rhythms and neuro-chemical balance. It can change your perspective when the days seem shorter, darkness lasts longer and we spend more time indoors.

Research shows that clinical depression with a seasonal pattern affects as much as 6% of the population. It’s also common for people who don’t normally struggle with depression to experience it temporarily during the winter months.

When someone isn’t feeling happy or cheerful and they can’t be with their loved ones over the holiday the apparent cheer surrounding them can make them feel even more down and often alone with their feelings which can deepen symptoms of depression. Other times it is the financial stress of feeling obligated to buy gifts or it is someone’s first holiday without a loved one. There is also the feeling of being let down if your holiday gathering didn’t live up to your expectations that is often portrayed in movies or on social media. In addition, with Covid there are concerns about gathering safely especially if you have elderly family members.

People who do not view themselves as depressed may start showing stress responses which include insomnia, excess drinking, overeating, headaches, irritability, and trouble concentrating.

Some ways to help reduce the stress of the holidays include:

  1. Set realistic expectations.
  2. Pace yourself. Don’t try to do too much at once.
  3. Learn how to say no.
  4. Practice self care.
  5. Talk to a health care professional.
  6. If you are lonely volunteer to spend time helping others.
  7. Limit your drinking since excessive drinking will only worsen your depression.
  8. Don’t put all your energy into just one day.
  9. Look toward the future with optimism.
  10. Keep track of your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills start to arrive.
  11. Make a list of tasks that need to be completed - this can help make things more manageable.

If you do suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it has been found that phototherapy is an effective treatment. This includes exposing yourself to 30 minutes of artificial sunlight daily.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy holiday season!!

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 am looking at all the statistics for 2023 … year to date (see below). The last year has been somewhat normal for the seasoned Realtor, in Martin County. We have had a smaller but healthy number of properties on the market. They sold on average within two or three months from the listing date and around 97% of the asking price. The market is like the traditional markets prior to the COVID rocket ship.

My personal observations are that buyers and sellers are a little less likely to negotiate than in the past. Sellers believe the market is thin and their home commands a strong sale price. Buyers (especially cash buyers) believe the market is weak because interest rates are high, and demand seems low. The buyers submit low offers thinking that they are the only qualified buyer for that home. The truth is somewhere in between. I am seeing reasonable buyers and sellers negotiate a fair price - just like the old days.

I recently had a seller make a “strong” counteroffer to a low offer from a buyer. The buyer rejected and went away. My belief is if both parties come to the table … a deal that is beneficial to both parties will be found. I hope all buyers and sellers have Realtors striving to find common ground by working together to get the buyer and the seller to a fair outcome in a very special transaction - buying a home.



To ramble a bit … all I want for the New Year is:

  • The Governor's Everglades funding requests get fully funded or enhanced.
  • Residents fully embrace the valuable concept of property rights - here and throughout our country. It is a principle that sets us apart from so many other nations.
  • Our local citizens will sit at tables and discuss new development and the arriving residents with civility and with the rights of all kept in mind.
  • Our local elected officials listen to us, and we listen to them. Discussing issues and arriving at solutions is better than name calling and creating disinformation.
  • Florida finds a solution to the current insurance crisis. (Could we have a huge fund that would reinsure the reinsurance companies?)
  • Brightline builds a station in downtown Stuart.
  • Costco begins construction on their new store.
  • Finally, I hope the world finds peace and all of us are filled with joy.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year

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 Giving Season

Here we are in the middle of the holiday season, which truly should be called the Giving Season. Friends and family from everywhere are trying to come up with that perfect gift when it really is right in front of us all, the gift of time.

I find that this special gift is necessary in all walks of life. This gift is one-size-fits-all if you put some thought into it. Most of us enjoy spending time with our family and friends, so concentrate on ways to accomplish that this season.

Experiences and time together benefit the person giving the gift as well as the one receiving it. It may seem like something difficult to wrap but that is untrue. You can wrap up a piece of paper in a box that entitles the recipient to time with you doing something you both will benefit from.

We are very fortunate in Martin County to have so many places to visit where you can create memories that will last a lifetime. A trip to the Elliott Museum, the Oceanographic Society, a show at the Lyric or Barn Theaters, the House of Refuge, or a picnic at one of the many beautiful parks or beaches, can fulfill your goal of quality time together. Creating your own traditions of baking cookies, watching a movie in your pajamas, or driving around to see the many decorated houses can also be fun.

If you want to be more adventurous, try hiking or biking at Halpatiokee Park or Jonathan Dickinson State Park. Rent kayaks or paddleboards for a few hours and enjoy the local waterways. Charter a fishing boat and take a group fishing.

If you want to travel a little bit further there are many locations nearby. Our neighboring counties have museums, live theaters, ballparks, parks, and gardens available for quick day trips.

There are so many ways to enjoy our community and one another. These experiences don’t have to be expensive, just important to the people partaking. So, as you’re trying to think of the perfect gift, maybe look in the mirror and you just might realize that the perfect gift is time with YOU!

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

Fishing Tips

Paul Sperco

It is Monday December 11th, and the holidays are upon us.

This is the last column of the year, and you have to wonder, where did the time go? I always reflect on the beautiful part of the country we live in at this time of year with the warm weather, beautiful beaches, palm trees, and great fishing that is available to all of us.

All that being said, if you look at the weather forecast this week you are going to get upset with Mother Nature. Winds up to 40 mph, huge waves, and unfishable conditions will be the story of this week. As far as the surf report for this month is concerned, I am happy to report the pompano started to show last week and I guarantee if the weather did not go downhill this week the fishing would have been great.

The Spanish mackerel showed last weekend and Pecks Lake was loaded with medium, large, and jumbo Mackerel. My son Randy and I caught some big pompano Saturday and Sunday on South Hutchinson Island at Beachwalk Pasley beach access right here in Martin County.

I spoke with a bunch of friends who caught them from Fort Pierce to Jupiter. Along with the pompano, big whiting, mackerel, bluefish, and a few croakers were also caught. The pompano and big whiting were holding 75 to 100 yards off the beach so those fishing the long rods were the ones that were successful.

As far as baits were concerned EZ Flea, Electric Chicken, and Powerlime Crab were the go-to baits. Frozen Sand fleas tipped with these Fishbites also produced. As we enter the wintertime surf bite the key will be to use the long rods as the pompano will hold around the offshore sandbar that is located 70 to 100 yards from the shoreline.

If we get a high tide early in the morning that will be the time to target your trips to the beach. As the water cools during January and February our local surf fishing will be pretty darn good as the remaining schools of pompano that have been holding to the north move down the beach to our warmer waters. The bottom line to the last report of 2023 is you are lucky enough to be in the Martin County area of our great state during the holidays then you know this is the place to be whether you are surf fishing, casting a line off one our bridges, trolling for sailfish off of our coast , or just sitting on the beach enjoying the sun.

This is paradise so I hope everyone enjoys it. I wish everyone Happy Holidays and a safe, happy, and healthy New Year  Let’s hope 2024 is a great one for everyone.   

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

Attending this year’s Stuart Christmas Parade brought back many wonderful memories of evenings spent with parents and community members brainstorming ideas around the theme, designing the layout, gathering materials, and building the float under the covered play area.

This gave students the opportunity to view the creation of the float from one day to the next with excitement mounting each day. For the adults who volunteered many hours of their time each evening there were countless moments of laughter, camaraderie, and friendship as they worked together. Our float represented school spirit and community pride

Today many parents and students do not feel the same sense of school and community pride. Our world is experiencing turmoil due to worries about the economy, conflict around the world, and the culture wars locally and around our country that have caused heartbreaking division between politicians, citizens, and even families. During times like these people feel isolated and alone. However, it is in times like these that it is more important than ever for people to feel connected to others – family, friends, and community.

For the sake of children, their education, and their future, it is important for our community to work together to ensure they are receiving a high-quality education. One way to do this is for our community members to learn about and help advocate around education issues. Educators are looking to leave the profession because they feel they are constantly under attack, not respected, and that their professional decisions are being questioned daily. The damaging effect legislation has had on student achievement will not be evident for years to come, and when legislators meet in the new year, they will be targeting education once again.

During the Martin County School Board workshop on November 14, 2023, district staff conducted a presentation around teacher retention. The following are some of the findings: over the last four years, the Martin County School District lost 456 teachers of our current 1,087 instructional positions. This is an unprecedented number of teachers leaving Martin County and is nearly 50% of the entire teaching staff. Of the 456 who left, 122 teachers were within their first year in Martin County. There were 54 teachers within their second year and 44 teachers were in their third year. 25% of the total amount of teachers who left were in their first year and 50% of them were within their first three years in our district. This does not include the number of teachers who left after their third year of teaching so it is not a complete picture. However, this data alone is alarming.

Teacher retention is affecting student achievement and their social/emotional well-being. Having qualified teachers who are trained in their subject areas and who have received professional development to address the social/emotional needs of students is critical for student success. I encourage parents and community members to find ways to be informed by not only serving on school committees, but also by attending and/or watching school board meetings and workshops.

Pay particular attention to teacher qualifications, curriculum, resources, and materials being used, the district’s budget, and what community members share during the “Open to the Public” segment of school board meetings. Another way to learn more is to follow public education advocacy groups on social media such as:  Connected Martin – Education and/or Reconstruct-ED on Facebook. It is critical that our students, their families, and the educational staff feel that school and community pride again.

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

Lower Your Retirement Debt

When retirement looms, financial stability is a gnawing concern for most people. Have I saved. enough? What will inflation do to my nest egg? Will Social Security remain solvent? What are

the health wildcards I hadn’t planned for. As such, it’s wise to slash expenses and debt as much as possible, with the idea of entering retirement debt-free.

For some, that means paying off the mortgage by accelerating their mortgage payoff. If you’re able to afford to put extra cash toward your mortgage, doing an early payoff can be a powerful strategy that not only cuts interest payments but lightens the financial and emotional load during retirement, bringing peace of mind, more money for hobbies, vacations, and funds for healthcare and long-term care expenses.

Still, before deciding, you must take a complete look at your financial picture to be sure that a

faster payoff is the best way to achieve your goals and to understand the potential sacrifices

and downsides of such a move.

Here are nine considerations:

1. Understand the risks. If you have a relatively low mortgage rate, could you miss out on

higher returns on your money by putting the extra toward your mortgage? Will you miss out on

mortgage interest deductions? By devoting money to your mortgage, you’re lowering your

liquidity. Will that lack of liquidity adversely affect your other long-term goals or short-term

needs? For example, are you hoping to give a chunk of money to help a child with a down

payment or planning to pay some of your grandchild’s college costs?

2. Examine your debts. If you have credit cards, personal loans, and other obligations, paying those off is better before accelerating your mortgage payments. First, pay off debts with higher

interest rates than your current mortgage because consumer debt typically carries higher interest rates than mortgages. 

3. Understand your mortgage agreement. Read your agreement’s fine print and talk to your

lender to be sure there aren’t prepayment penalties and that you’re allowed to make extra


4. Calculate your savings. How quickly do you want to pay off your mortgage? Can you afford to shave five years or ten years off your mortgage? Use an online mortgage calculator to see how much principal you must pay every month or year to pay off a loan in a certain number of years and how much you’ll save with an early payoff. The savings can be significant. 

5. Develop your repayment plan. Will you make an annual lump-sum payment or extra

payments monthly or bi-weekly? One advantage of spreading the additional payments across

the year and making bi-weekly payments is that you lower your principal balance each month,

creating a smaller balance on which interest is calculated. 

6. Look at your budget. How much extra money can you afford to put toward your mortgage?

Where can you cut back? Also, consider the sacrifices you’ll need to make and decide if missing out on a vacation or cutting back on hobbies is worth it.

7. Don’t sacrifice retirement savings. Have an adequate emergency fund before shifting money

to speed up your mortgage payoff. Also, be sure you’ll still be able to max out all your retirement vehicles like 401ks, Roth IRAs, and Health Savings Accounts and make catch-up


 8. Pay the right way. Be sure to tell your mortgage holder that your extra payments will be

applied to the loan principal, not the next month’s mortgage payment.

9. Talk to experts. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach with finances, so get

advice from financial pros—your accountant and financial planner, for example—to understand

the risks and the impact an early mortgage payoff would have on your other goals.

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

Legal Corner

Gene Zweben
Founding & Managing Partner at Zweben Law Group

Stay Safe on the Road During the Holidays: Essential Auto Accident Tips

With gifts, parties, and the hyper-busyness of the holiday season, more people are distracted and in a hurry. Roads are jammed with delivery trucks trying to keep to a tight schedule. People tend to drive as if their vehicles have auto-pilot technology—they are thinking about what will happen when they get to their destination rather than paying attention to the actual process of getting to that destination safely. And that’s a problem.

You can’t change other people’s behavior during the holidays, but you can stay safer by taking extra precautions yourself. At Zweben Law Group, we’ve seen the devastation that can happen on busy December roads, and we want you to be protected.

What to Do to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Drive defensively. The techniques of defensive driving lead you to anticipate and respond safely to potential hazards. These hazards can include everything from poor weather conditions and debris on the road to the erratic and dangerous actions of other drivers. Many organizations offer defensive driving classes to learn about and practice these techniques.

Focus on your surroundings. When you are actively watching other vehicles, obstacles, and conditions, that not only keeps you aware of problems but also keeps your attention focused on the task of driving so you don’t get distracted.

Follow traffic rules. Observe speed limits, traffic signals, and road signs to reduce the risk of accidents.

Maintain your vehicle. Regularly check your tires, brakes, and lights to ensure your car is in optimal condition for safe driving.

Be prepared. Keep an emergency kit in your car, including a first aid kit, flashlight, emergency lights, and necessary tools in case of a breakdown.

What to Avoid

When we are in a hurry or preparing for a big event, we sometimes cut corners or make exceptions to our general safe practices. Try to avoid the temptation and keep yourself safe.

Don’t drive too fast for conditions. If it’s foggy or the pavement is wet, it may not be safe to drive the speed limit.

Don’t drive too close to other vehicles. With office parties and other events, drivers under the influence may be on the roads in greater numbers. Keeping extra distance between your vehicle and others gives you extra time to react if they do something dangerous.

Don’t look at your cellphone. You may be getting alerts about package deliveries and vacation plans and it is tempting to just take a quick look at the screen. But taking your eyes away from the road for just a moment can lead to an accident.

Don’t overload your vehicle. Make sure there are enough seatbelts for everyone and that children have the correct safety seat.

These are important guidelines all year round, but they become especially important during the busy holiday season. Most accidents occur close to home, so thinking that it is okay to make an exception for a short trip is never a good idea.

Remember that We are Here to Help

This holiday season, we urge you to stay safe on the road, and if you have any questions or need legal assistance, don't hesitate to contact us.

Gene Zweben’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Humane Society of the Treasure Coast

Frank Valente
Humane Society of the Treasure Coast, President & CEO

Home for the Holidays

The holidays are a time of joy, love, and giving. It's a time when we come together with our loved ones and show them how much we care. But let's not forget about our furry friends who deserve to feel loved and cherished during this special season too.

The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast offers a “Home for the Holidays” program, which allows people in the community to foster a homeless animal for a two-week period. This year, pet pick-ups will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at our shelter, 4100 SW Leighton Farm Ave., Palm City, or Stuart thrift stores, 2585 SE Federal Highway and 1099 NW 21st St. Any pets not adopted by their fosters or otherwise finding a forever home during the program will need to be returned to the shelter by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Bringing a pet home for the holidays can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only will you be helping an animal in need, but you'll also be adding an extra dose of happiness to your own celebrations.

Ultimately, we hope this seasonal fostering program will help find permanent homes for our shelter pets. This is a great opportunity for a "test run" with your family and other pets to see if you can provide a forever home for your foster. You can also introduce your foster to your friends, family, and neighbors to help facilitate an adoption. At the very least, it's an incredible opportunity to get our homeless pets out of the shelter for this special season!

The best part? During our Home for the Holidays promotion, HSTC is offering waived adoption fees on all dogs and cats over one year old, thanks to our generous sponsors at Wilmington Trust. All animals adopted through the HSTC are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, given preventatives and are ultimately set up for success for their new home

Pets shouldn't have to spend the holidays in a shelter. They deserve to experience the warmth and love of a home during this festive time. By bringing them into your family, you're giving them a break from sleeping in a kennel and providing them with the opportunity to celebrate alongside you.

This holiday season, consider bringing a pet home. Whether it's adopting or fostering temporarily, your act of kindness will make a world of difference in their lives. Let's make sure that all homeless animals feel the love and joy that comes with being part of a family during the holidays. To learn more about HSTC’s Home for the Holidays program or to view our adoptable pets, please visit

Frank Valente's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Article 4: The Guardrails

Jim Snedeker & Merritt Matheson
Martin County Forever

Preserving Paradize: A Half Cent At  A Time

By: Jim Snedeker & Merritt Matheson, former Stuart Mayor








In our first three columns we discussed why Martin County is such a special place and how acquiring and preserving natural lands can protect the things that make it so special. We then reviewed the county’s land acquisition history and how  successful they’ve been at leveraging matching state and federal funds. In the last column, we discussed the four targeted areas, totaling 46,00 acres (Blueways, Indian River Lagoon Watershed, Loxa-Lucie and Pal-Mar) and how they will help to protect and improve our water quality and provide more recreational opportunities.

In this column we’ll be sharing more of the nuts and bolts and the important “guardrails” we’re incorporating into the proposed sales tax initiative to specify how the funds would be used and other safeguards. These "guardrails" will provide assurances to taxpayers that the money raised will be spent in the way it was presented.

Guardrail #1 - Only land in the following four areas will be acquired.

Blueways, Indian River Lagon Watershed, Loxa-Lucie and Pal Mar. If we dont attempt to acquire these lands now, they could be gone forever.

Guardrail # 2 - Citizens Oversight

The ordinance language that accompanies the referendum will include the requirement of a citizens advisory committee. They will be tasked with screening all proposed purchases and serve as a primary source of property purchase referrals to the Board of County Commissioners.

Guardrail # 3 - Prevent Conflict of Interest

Annual audits of the land and properties purchased would be conducted.

Other Important Considerations about the Sales Tax

The sales tax would not apply to groceries, school supplies and prescription medicine. And it would only apply to the first $5,000 of any purchase.

Out-of-Towners Contribute

It’s estimated that more than a third of the monies raised through the sales tax (37.5%) will be from tourists.

Economic Benefit

There’s a misconception that taking these lands off the tax rolls will cost taxpayers money.  That’s not true. Importantly, this initiative will have a net economic benefit of about $381,000 a year and will create more than 1,300 recreation-related jobs.

Why Do We Need to Buy More Land? 

For many obvious reasons but the most important is to protect our quality of life.  Acquiring and preserving these vast areas of natural lands will:

  • Help clean and restore our rivers and waterways
  • Safeguard sources of drinking water
  • Preserve valuable wildlife habitat and wetlands
  • Create more recreational opportunities

Leveraging Funds: Making the Dollars Go Further

The citizens of Martin County have a long, proud and successful history of supporting the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands.  The targeted areas have the potential of receiving matching funding from state and federal sources.

Having a pot of local money generated through the sales tax greatly improves Martin County’s chances of moving higher up on state and federal land acquisition lists.  It shows we have “skin in the game.”  Receiving matching funds would also provide another layer of protection to ensure the lands remains in conservation forever.  

While there are significant matching funds available, there is competition for those dollars and the clock is ticking. Unless we get in-line for them soon, we will lose out on this opportunity.

Martin County Forever has been garnering support for this initiative to place a referendum on the November 2024 ballot for a half-cent sales tax that would last for 10 years. We’ve met with countless business, community and environmental groups and individuals over the last year and have been pleasantly surprised by the widespread support for the sales tax.

In early 2024, Martin County Commissioners must decide if they would like to let the voters of Martin County decide their own destiny and place this referendum on the ballot in 2024.

What do you think? Please email us and let us know. And if youd like to schedule a presentation to your group or association, please contact us at

For more information visit or follow us on Facebook at or on Instagram.

Thank you!

Snedeker & Matheson's opinions are their own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Constitutional Corner & Non Profit Notices


Supervisor of Elections

Tax Collector

Property Appraiser

Non Profit Notices

Kaleidoscope Art Exhibit Rings in the New Year

By Jackie Holfelder

Join the talented members of Martin Artisan’s Guild in ringing in the new year at the first exhibit of 2024, “Kaleidoscope”.

It will run from Wednesday, January 3 - Saturday, February, 28 at The Palm Room Art Gallery and Artisans Boutique, located at 3746 SE Ocean Boulevard in Stuart’s Harbour Bay Plaza.

Kaleidoscope kicks off on January 3 with an always special opening reception featuring live music, cash bar and appetizers that are sure to please. Plan to drop by between 5:30-7:30 p.m.

If holiday travels keep you from attending the kickoff party, mark your calendar to “Meet the Artists” on Wednesday, February 7 from 4-6 p.m.

Denise Jackson

The talented artists included in Kaleidoscope include:

·        Caryl Pomales

·        Deborah Bottorff

·        Denise Jackson

·        Dot Galfond

·        Eduardo Gomez

·        Glen Allen

·        Jackie Sanchez

·        Jane Lawton Baldridge

·        Janis Clary

·        Kimberly D Beltrame

·        Laura Kay Whiticar-Darvill

·        Lynn Morgan

·        Margarita Nielsen Palacios

·        Maria Miele

·        Mary Mirabito

·        Mickey Rudolph

·        Wayne King

While you’re enjoying the fabulous show, be sure to check out the very special and one-of-a-kind items in the Artisans Boutique – you’ll find great Valentine’s Day gifts for every special person on your list.


The Palm Room Art Gallery & Artisans Boutique is located in Harbour Bay Plaza, 3746 SE Ocean Blvd. Stuart. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays.


The Palm Room Art Gallery & Artisans Boutique is open Tuesdays-Saturdays from noon - 6 p.m.

For more information, visit


A Year at Banner Lake

The holidays are in full swing, and before you know it, we will be in 2024! The start of a new year gives us the opportunity to look forward, plan, and get excited about the future. But it is also a good time to look back at everything that we have accomplished. Here at Banner Lake Academy and Early Learning Center, we are proud to say that our staff and students have accomplished a lot! Our Early Learning Center educates 105 children from birth to age 4 every day. Banner Lake Academy has 55 children between kindergarten and 3rd grade. BLAST, our after-school program, provides extracurricular activities to 167 students from 5 years old to teens.

It's not just the number of families that we serve that is impressive, but the quality of our service. Our approach to early learning makes a measurable difference. We practice holistic, nurturing, and compassionate teaching and encourage parental involvement. We use Conscious Discipline which is a brain based social emotional learning program in all our age groups. This fall, the students that previously attended Banner Laker Early Learning Center scored above the national average in reading and math assessments upon entering kindergarten. At Banner Lake Academy, all of the classes scored within or above the national average for reading assessment. In the fall math assessment, all the classes also scored within or above the national average, with kindergarten, second, and third grades scoring above average.

We don’t just care for children; we help families and work to improve our community. The Banner Lake Community Center served 2,500 of our Hobe Sound Neighbors. We distributed 8,538 meals, 6,923 hot dinners, and had 1,300 visits to the food pantry. We were involved in 20 home revitalization projects, 2 community wide cleanups, and helped 198 residents with household repairs and other essential needs. The Banner Lake Club, which houses Banner Lake Academy and Early Learning Center, the Teen Center, and the Outreach Center, was established in 1939. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission of improving the quality of life for Hobe Sound Residents, especially those in the Banner Lake Community. As we near the end of the year, you can become a part of our dynamic future with a gift to Banner Lake Club. Of course, we accept monetary gifts, but we also love the gift of time. If you would like information on how you can give or volunteer, please call our administrative office at 772-402-5167. We would love to hear from you!


The Firefly Group Named 2023 Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist

Palm City, FLA - The Firefly Group, a marketing and public relations firm based in Palm City, was awarded the honor of 2023 Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist Award from the Treasure Coast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) during their National Philanthropy Day luncheon in November. The recognition was especially rewarding as Firefly celebrates its 20th anniversary. 

“When I started Firefly twenty years ago, I was convinced that well-crafted communications and strong storytelling could go a long way to solving problems,” explained Firefly president, founder and Chief Illuminator Stacy Weller Ranieri. “While our diverse client base includes small businesses, government agencies and landowners, it is the nonprofit organizations that nourish our souls and give our work the deepest satisfaction.  Giving back to our community is still at the heart of our business model. I’m so grateful and humbled that Firefly and my team have been recognized for living out our values.”

Each year the Treasure Coast AFP solicits nominations from the community for individuals, organizations, and large and small businesses that give generously to nonprofit organizations through financial gifts and volunteer support. Each National Philanthropy Day, the group honors those who have been judged by an independent panel as worthy of the coveted awards.  The Firefly Group impressed the judges with two decades of support for charitable organizations throughout the Treasure Coast. Firefly’s gifts of time, talent and treasure include pro bono work for a number of nonprofits each year, a reduced fee schedule for all of their nonprofit clients, outright gifts in the form of sponsorships and donations, and ongoing encouragement of staff to take on leadership roles and participate as volunteers in strategic planning, special events and fundraisers.

Stacy Weller Ranieri, President, founder and Chief Illuminator of the Firefly Group, holding the Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist Award presented by the Treasure Coast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) during their National Philanthropy Day luncheon in November.

During the past year alone, Firefly gained national media recognition for House of Hope; staged successful events for the HANDS Clinic, One Martin, and Keep Martin Beautiful; created engaging annual appeals and reports for Martin County Healthy Start Coalition, Equestrian Rescue and Adoption Foundation, and Helping People Succeed; designed new collateral materials for Impact100 Martin; worked with the Council on Aging of Martin County’s board and staff on new branding initiative, and helped launch the new Martin County Forever Conservation Initiative.

The Firefly Group has won many awards during its 20-year history, including nearly 90 Image Awards from the Florida Public Relations Association, Addy Awards from the American Advertising Federation, and multiple years of being recognized as a Best Place to Work in Martin County. 

“While I am profoundly grateful for this honor, the greatest reward is knowing the work we do in support of our nonprofits is making a difference in the lives of the people they serve - and lifting up our community. Giving back feels good!”

About The Firefly Group

The Firefly Group is a marketing and public relations firm serving businesses, non-profit organizations, landowners and government agencies. Recognized with nearly 90 awards since its founding in 2003, The Firefly Group focuses on providing comprehensive, strategic and creative solutions for it clients through effective storytelling, branding and communications. Connect with The Firefly Group at, and  For more information visit, call 772-287-5272 or email


Save the Date!                                                               
The 3rd Annual Jensen Beach Garden Expo

Don’t miss this annual tradition in Jensen Beach
February 24, 2024 – 9AM to 3PM

The 2024 Jensen Beach Garden Expo will be held on Saturday, February 24, 2024, from 9-3 at Indian Riverside Park in front of the Dockside Pavilion. The event will be better than ever, with lots MORE PARKING, a parking shuttle, and more food trucks and door prizes.

The Expo is a specialty garden show featuring quality area vendors showcasing tropical plants, trees, native specimens, and exotic orchids. Shop for herbs, succulents, outdoor art, and gardening supplies for your backyard or patio. The show includes free educational presentations and demonstrations each hour on the half hour. Stroll through the park under the shady live oak trees, enjoy waterfront views of the Indian River, and check out this fun, educational plant and garden fair.

As in the past, net proceeds raised by the Expo will support our community. We are very excited to extend our giving this year through an annual scholarship to deserving local high school students pursuing a degree in horticulture, landscape design, environmental sciences, or other related subjects. The Expo will continue supporting those in need, including camp scholarships for children to attend the Florida Oceanographic Society and the Environmental Studies Center, the Junior Master Gardeners, and the Community Gardens of the House of Hope.

Brought to you in part by Circa69 American Gastropub our major event underwriter, and the many sponsors supporting the Expo. For more information, please visit our website:
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YMCA Indiantown Pool Renovation Groundbreaking

[INDIANTOWN, DECEMBER 2023] — The YMCA of the Treasure Coast broke ground on their pool renovation project this past month at the Y’s Indiantown branch located at 16451 SW Farm Road. The pool has been shut down for the past 3 years due to the need for extensive repairs and resurfacing.

The YMCA Indiantown Branch, including its pool, was officially opened as the Louis Dreyfus Citrus, Inc. Branch on November 9, 2002. For 20 years, the YMCA Indiantown Pool has been the only public pool in Indiantown where children and adults can learn to swim, therefore it is a vital part of the Indiantown community.

Accidental drowning is the leading cause of death for infants and small children in Florida, with children from communities of color, such as Indiantown, at the greatest risk. Research by the USA Swimming Foundation indicates that up to 70 percent of black and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim. And multiple researchers have reported that African Americans and Hispanic/Latino children are 6 six more likely to come from a family in which neither parent can swim.

“We are so glad to be partnering with the Florida State Alliance of YMCAs to be able to provide free swim lessons to the communities we serve on the Treasure Coast. The YMCA is committed to helping keep kids safe in and around water not only in Indiantown but across the State of Florida.” said Charlene Lyons, CEO and President of the YMCA of the Treasure Coast.

The YMCA of the Treasure Coast has many donors to thank for helping to bring their pool in Indiantown back to life, including: The Catsman Foundation, Publix Charities, Treasure Coast Urgent Care, Maria S. Zequira, P.A., Seacoast Investment Services, Turning Point Counseling Services, Lum Wealth Management Group of Raymond James, Aesthetic Dentistry of Stuart, Garcia Group, Food Shop Inc., the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce and other private donors. 

To help get ready for the pool’s reopening, the YMCA is hosting a swimsuit collection drive for all genders and sizes (infant, child, teenager and adult). All NEW swimsuits can be dropped off at the YMCA’s Stuart (1700 SE Monterey Road) or Indiantown (16451 SW Farm Road) branches, during regular business hours.

About the YMCA of the Treasure Coast

Driven by its founding mission, the Y has been committed to strengthening the communities of the Treasure Coast for more than 45 years. The Y empowers everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re from, by ensuring access to resources, relationships, and opportunities for all to learn, grow and thrive. By bringing together people from different backgrounds, perspectives and generations, the Y’s goal is to improve overall health and well-being, ignite youth empowerment and demonstrate the importance of connections in our communities.


Roses and Rose’ Ladies’ Luncheon’s a Brilliant Inaugural Event

By Jackie Holfelder

Catch the Wave of Hope (CTWH) Roses and Rose’ Ladies’ Luncheon outdid everyone’s wildest expectations, selling out well before the November 7 event took place and raising more than $37,000.

Bonnie Gorman, Delia Templin and Fida Georges

Hudson’s on the River was awash with women sipping Rose’, lunching on some of the restaurant’s most glorious edibles, posing for fun photos and lapping up information about the mission of CTWH: to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation of children through awareness, education, restoration, and legislation.

Luncheon committee members included event chair Fida Georges, CTWH board president Kelly Laurine, CTWH executive director Sarah Marie Henry, Bonnie Gorman, Kamila Wolser, Gia Skoch, Paul Gainenay, Michelle Campolong, and Nicole Vosters.

Galean Stewart of WPTV and Sarah Henry

Hudson’s on the River led a long list of sponsors - including local
businesses - who donated raffle items including a luxury handbag and high
end beauty and med spa items.
Roses and Rose’ Ladies’ Luncheon was the talk of the town and everyone is eagerly awaiting announcement of the 2024 luncheon date. No one wants to miss her place at the table!

Paul Wolfgang Ganienay, Fida Georges, Sarah Henry, Kelly Laurine, Bonnie Gorman and Libby Snider

For information about Catch the Wave of Hope, visit or email Sarah Marie Henry at

Photos by Mary Ann Ketcham



Hibiscus Children’s Center
Providing Youth with Safety and Love


Treasure Coast –  Hibiscus Children’s Center has been committed to caring for children and helping them overcome challenges and move forward to a better future for almost four decades.  We are grateful to our wonderful community who has partnered with us every step of the way.  Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free from fear and violence. This vision is at the heart of the Hibiscus mission.  Hibiscus offers children a safe haven, counseling, education and vocational services, in an environment where abuse and neglect are replaced with love, understanding and support.

There are many tragic stories of children who have suffered abuse and been removed from their homes. But at Hibiscus Children’s Center, there are also many stories of children finding a second chance at having a safe, stable, and loving home.

A sibling set of four, twins aged 12, 14 and 15 years, were placed at Hibiscus Children’s Center due to abandonment and parents’ substance abuse issues. When the teens arrived, they had no clothes or shoes, were malnourished and had been living in a dangerous environment. Unfortunately, there were no relatives or foster parents able to accommodate the siblings.

Immediately, the caring staff and volunteers addressed the items the teens desperately needed. Mental Health Counselors began working with the teens to help them transition and work through the trauma they had experienced. For possibly the first time, the teens enjoyed home cooked meals prepared by the house parents and were able to sleep knowing they were safe.

Today, the teens are enrolled in school and participating in our Career Pathways to Independence Program, a life skill development and career preparation training program.   On-site internships include graphic design and culinary training that teach youth marketable and life skills.  Hibiscus strongly emphasizes education and youth are encouraged to get their high school diploma or GED with assistance provided on-site.

Thank you to our community for helping Hibiscus change the lives of youth! If you would like more information about how you can get involved or to take a tour of the Hibiscus Shelter or Village, please visit us at or contact Michelle King, CDO, at or (561) 452-5791.


Cirque du Soirée Returns to Celebrate House of Hope’s 40th Anniversary

STUART, Fla. – Get ready to experience the most glamorous and enchanting night of the year on January 20, 2024! House of Hope will celebrate its 40th anniversary of empowering Martin County at the Second Annual Cirque du Soirée at Piper’s Landing Yacht & Country Club in Palm City. This event promises to be an extraordinary affair, where every detail has been considered to ensure an unforgettable evening of luxury and celebration.

Piper's Landing Yacht & Country Club will be transformed into a world of wonder and excitement as guests are treated to unique experiences and beautiful artwork. The atmosphere will be electric with sensational entertainment, including surprise performances that will awe all in attendance and the Soul Survivors band that will bring the celebration to the dance floor. Throughout the night, guests will have the chance to win wonderful treats, bid on spectacular packages in both a silent and live auction, and enjoy an exquisite gourmet dinner with an open bar.

All proceeds from this fantastic evening will support House of Hope’s Project HOPE (Helping Others Progress through Empowerment). Project HOPE is the foundation of House of Hope’s client-centered approach to empowering residents to overcome hunger and hardship. Their case management team uses the full scope of internal programs and services, as well as those provided by a network of partners, to move households forward on their path to success


“Our 4oth anniversary gives us a chance to celebrate the people and organizations that have made it possible for House of Hope to empower our friends and neighbors in need for the past four decades,” House of Hope CEO Rob Ranieri said. “This promises to be a special evening, and its impact will be felt in everything we are able to do to benefit our clients.”
Be sure not to miss this amazing opportunity to make a difference while delighting in pure elegance and celebration. Tickets are available at at $250 per person. Seating is limited, so be sure to purchase tickets early.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available. Contact House of Hope’s Events Team at or 772-286-4673 ext. 1031.

About House of Hope

Founded in 1984, House of Hope is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers Martin County residents to overcome hunger and hardship. Through all of House of Hope’s programs and services, they reach over 8,000 people each month directly, helping with basic needs such as food, clothing, furniture, and financial assistance, as well as longer-term case management services that help build life skills for a more self-sufficient future. House of Hope reaches an additional 13,000 people through their food bank partners. The organization has service centers in Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown, and Jensen Beach, and Thrift Shops in Stuart, Hobe Sound, and Indiantown. House of Hope’s Enrichment Centers in Stuart, Jensen Beach, and Indiantown offer free programs, technology, and workshops designed to enhance life skills, earning potential, health, and overall well-being. House of Hope also operates the Growing Hope Farm in Palm City and several nutrition gardens that provide sustainable sources of fresh produce for clients as well as nutrition education and vocational opportunities to the community. For more information, visit or call 772-286-4673. Updates and announcements can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter


Miles for Martin Benefits Scholarships

Martin County, FL.— Jimmy Buffet once said, “go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see,” a motto that local attorney and Buffet fan Chuck Geary lives by every single day.

As the founder and driving force behind Miles for Martin, Chuck is gearing up for his 49th charity bike tour of the Florida Keys. Next month, he will lead a group of cyclists on a 200-mile tour, over 88 bridges, for the Joseph A. Catrambone Scholarship Fund. The community is invited to participate as riders or donors to inspire their efforts.

The tour is sponsored by Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC., a third-generation personal injury law firm with an office in Stuart where Chuck is an attorney.

The Joseph A. Catrambone Scholarship Fund, named in honor of our Chamber CEO, helps students pursue technical and vocational education in Martin County. The success of these students directly impacts the talent pipeline for local businesses, which is a primary focus for the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce.

“It is our honor to again support this charity bike tour and help raise money for the Joseph A. Catrambone Scholarship Fund,” said Gary S. Lesser, Managing Partner of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC. “The fund provides much needed assistance for local students and that is really great news for Martin County businesses.”

Administered in partnership with The Community Foundation of Martin and St. Lucie, the Fund addresses the growing need for a skilled trades workforce in Martin County. It is primarily supported by county residents and members of the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce through tax-deductible contributions. Annual scholarship winners are determined through an application and review process.

“This scholarship fund directly targets a real and long-lasting need in our business community. I am deeply honored that furthering vocational trades education will be a legacy for me. Furthermore, I am humbled by Chuck Geary’s and Gary Lesser’s commitment to the scholarship’s longevity and impact,” said Joe Catrambone, President, and CEO of the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce.

There are several ways to support Miles for Martin. Cyclists of any level can register for the tour happening January 26 through February 2, 2024, from Key Largo to Key West. If you are not a cyclist, but want to help the scholarship, you can sponsor a cyclist for as low as $25. If your business would like to help, sponsorships are available. For more information or to participate or donate, go to

About the Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce:

The Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in the community. Playing a significant role in the economic climate, the Chamber’s purpose is to inform, unite and promote the business. The Stuart/Martin Chamber acts as the front door to the community offering maps, welcome guides, visitor information and a community event calendar. For business members, the Chamber provides opportunities for leadership, networking, advertising, and essential advocacy locally, in Tallahassee and in D.C.


Humane Society looking to bring shelter animals “Home for the Holidays”

PALM CITY, Fla. — The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast is looking for kind-hearted individuals and families to give its shelter pets the greatest gift there is — to experience a loving home during the holidays. Sponsored by Wilmington Trust, the goal of the humane society’s annual “Home for the Holidays” program is for every one of its shelter pets to be fostered from December 19, 2023 through January 3, 2024.

“This special program gives our shelter pets a chance to spend the holidays out of the shelter kennels and into warm and loving homes,” said Communications Manager Sarah Fisher. “Simply visit our shelter or either one of our two thrift stores to pick out an adoptable pet that you want to take home with you for the holidays!”


Ultimately, the hope for this seasonal fostering program is to help find permanent homes for the animals. Participating in the program provides families with a “test run” opportunity in hopes that they will consider a permanent adoption. Alternatively, participants can introduce the shelter pets to their friends, family and neighbors to help facilitate an adoption.

“At the very least, it's an incredible opportunity to get our homeless pets out of the shelter for this special season,” added Fisher.

To view the available pets, go online to Pick-ups will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19, at the shelter, 4100 SW Leighton Farm Ave., Palm City, or Stuart thrift stores, 2585 SE Federal Highway and 1099 NW 21st St.

The humane society is asking participants to provide food bowls, bedding and toys for their foster pet but the shelter will assist if needed. Any pets not adopted by their fosters or otherwise finding a forever home during the program will need to be returned to the shelter by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 3. Thanks to Wilmington Trust, adoption fees are waived for any dog or cat over 1 year old that is adopted during the program, December 19–January 3.

For more information, visit the website,, or contact the customer service desk via email at  or call 772-223-8822.

About the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast – The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC) is a no-kill animal welfare organization located at 4100 SW Leighton Farm Ave. in Palm City, FL. Since 1955, it has been the leading advocate for animal protection and well-being in the Martin County area. A 501(c)3 private, nonprofit organization, the HSTC is independent and locally operated and relies on donations to support its programs and services. Follow the HSTC on Facebook at and Twitter at For more information, visit or call (772) 223-8822.


“Saturday with Santa” brings joy, new clothes and toys to local children

The Kiwanis Club of Stuart held its annual “Saturday with Santa” event Dec. 2 in which about 90 local children received holiday packages.

The Kiwanis Club of Stuart held its annual “Saturday with Santa” event Dec. 2, providing about 90 children with clothing and toys.

“This is a signature project of the club and a highlight for all the members,” said Johnnie Nelson, co-chair for the event for the Kiwanis Club. “We have been presenting ‘Saturday with Santa’ for area elementary school children for more than 50 years. Our committee works for months to plan, organize, and execute the event that brings such joy to children and their families.”

Guidance counselors from all Martin County elementary schools and two nonprofits, Helping Families Success and the Gertrude Walden Day Care Center, selected children that would benefit from the free event.

Six-year-old Landon Ceaser was just one child who took home a bag of clothing and toys. “It was all he talked about the whole day,” said his guardian Latoya Rogers. “He especially loved talking with Santa and getting inside the fire truck. The clothing was also a big help for Christmas.”

Target in Jensen Beach allowed parents of the children to select $100 of clothing and put it into layaway. Packages were paid for, picked up and put into gift bags by the Kiwanis Club. Parents then brought their children to First United Methodist Church to pick up the gift bags.

In addition to clothing provided this year:

  • the Treasure Coast Food Bank donated a full pallet of toys to go into the gift bags;
  • Dr. Kimberly Dettori donated dental hygiene items for each child;
  • Carebag, Inc. provided additional toys;
  • the Stuart Fire Rescue brought a fire truck for children to tour;
  • the Martin County’s Sheriff Department grilled hot dogs for families;
  • and, the Jupiter Litas, an all-women motorcycle group, made an appearance and a cash donation

“A special thanks to these organizations for their generous contributions to making our Kiwanis ‘Saturday with Santa’ event a huge success,” Ms. Nelson said. “We also appreciate the United Methodist Church in allowing us to use their facilities. Through all these efforts, these families will have a more joyful holiday season.”

Santa’s elf Trish Capra and Santa (John Brady) provided a toy to six-year-old Landon Ceaser.


Situated in the heart of Stuart, the Road to Victory Museum preserves veterans' memorabilia and pays homage to their service. You can find us at 319 SE Stymann Blvd. in downtown Stuart, inside Veteran Memorial Park. While admission is free, we gratefully accept donations. 

Road to Victory Military Museum is open Sat. 10:00-2:00,and we are available for group  and individual tours anytime. We can be contacted at 772-210-4283. Email or message us at facebook/roadtovictory. 

Volunteers are needed as docents, building maintenance, military vehicle restoration, landscaping and special events. Applications are at the RTVMM. 

We also accept donation of military memorabilia, military vehicles, artifacts & weapons. Visit us!


The People of U.S. Sugar and U.S. Marines Bring Toysand Christmas Spirit to Local Families Via Santa Express

CLEWISTON, FL –The Santa Express rolled into town today with Santa and his helpers on board. The Christmas joy ride was merry and bright thanks to the People of U.S. Sugar and historic steam engine No. 148.

Kids were smiling from ear to ear as they caught a glimpse of the man in red with the long white beard. They also brought Santa letters to take back to the North Pole. The magic of Christmas filled the air at toy stops in Belle Glade, Clewiston, Moore Haven, and Lake Placid.

Girl Scouts Singing

“Each year, so many children benefit from the generosity of U.S. Sugar and their employees,” said Margaret England, MT4T Coordinator for Hendry County. “When the Santa Express delivers the toys, it brings joy and hope to these kids and memories to last a lifetime.”

This annual event is in partnership with the United States Marine Corps and Toys for Tots and brings thousands of toys to children across South Florida’s sugarcane and vegetable farming region.

“This is our fourth year operating the Santa Express and it gets better every year,” said Scott Ogle, operations manager for Sugar Express. “We are grateful for the opportunity to deliver these gifts to our friends and neighbors and to see the excited and happy faces of families across the Glades area.”                                                                Santa waving from train

The Santa Express is a community project developed by U.S. Sugar and its Sugar Express tourism train, and Ag-education train, which currently operates several times per year. For more information about future trains, please visit

Santa wide with kids following

Photos Courtesy of Tommy Allore

About U.S. Sugar: U.S. Sugar is a farming company that sustainably grows sugarcane, citrus, sweet corn, and other winter and spring vegetables in South Florida and throughout the year in other Eastern states. The company was founded in 1931 by Charles Stewart Mott, a visionary leader who hailed from a long line of farmers. Since the beginning, the company’s success has been rooted in traditional farming values and respect for the land.



Love was in the “bag” at Suncoast Mental Health Center’s 4th Annual Designer Handbag Bingo fundraiser on November 4 at the Pelican Yacht Club. More than 160 guests enjoyed a fabulous evening of charitable fun, featuring designer handbag bingo prizes, gift basket raffles, silent auction items, and other giveaways. The event also included a mission moment and special recognition of the organization’s 25th Anniversary of serving the community and promoting mental wellness, offering hope, healing and change to all who seek their services.

Tracy Hernandez & Mayor Linda Hudson

With sold-out attendance and many new sponsors and donors, this year’s Designer Handbag Bingo exceeded expectations, raising over $37,000 to support the community-based and family-centered mental health services Suncoast provides to underserved residents of the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee. Also lending to the success of the event was a dedicated committee of staff and volunteers, a Girls’ Night Out table promotion, and a “local celebrity” bingo caller. Terissa Aronson, President of the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce, was the perfect fit for keeping guests engaged and entertained throughout eight games of bingo.

Event sponsors: Florida Insurance Trust, John Jacobs Construction, Proctor Construction, David & Karen Cook, Eileen Emery, FirstService Residential, Marsh & McLennan Agency, Saka Bryant P.A., Kmetz Elwell Graham & Associates PLLC, Southern Eagle Distributing, Remnant Construction and Real Estate Development Consultants LLC.

Terissa Aronson, Myishea White

About Suncoast Mental Health Center, Inc. (SMHC)

Suncoast Mental Health Center, Inc. (SMHC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization accredited by The Joint Commission and dedicated to providing quality mental health care to residents of the Treasure Coast.

Suncoast Mental Health was established in 1998 by three local clinicians to provide mental and behavioral health services to at-risk children and families with limited resources. Having developed contractual relations with the Department of Children & Families, Medicaid and other managed care providers, SMHC is now a leading mental health agency with four locations where clients can receive therapeutic counseling, targeted case management and psychiatric services in St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties.

SMHC is dedicated to client-focused, community-based and family-centered care to ensure positive mental health and a brighter future for every child, adult and family. Traditional and non-traditional services are offered in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, workplaces, community centers, Suncoast offices and telehealth.

For more information, visit or call 772-489-4726. Updates and announcements can also be found at and


Farm City Luncheon 2023 Celebrates the Rich Heritage of

Martin County Agriculture


PALM CITY, Fla. - Third, fourth and fifth generation farmers and ranchers shared their knowledge of Martin County’s rich agricultural history and current challenges with a sold-out crowd at the annual Farm-City luncheon on November 16 at the Rockin H Ranch in Palm City.

Since 2016, the nonprofit organization One Martin, in cooperation with the Martin County Farm Bureau, has brought together urban and rural residents of the county to celebrate the important relationship between farmers, consumers, business and civic leaders, and everyone in between who contributes to the community’s safe, abundant food supply.

Three Generations of Hartmans

This year’s program included a panel of younger, local farmers and ranchers whose families have deep roots in Martin County’s agricultural history.  It is not well known that agriculture is one of Martin County’s key industries and economic engines.

Panel members included: LeeAnne Adams Simmons with Adams Ranch; Wyatt Carlton with Spur Land & Cattle; Ransom Reed Hartman with Hartman Real Estate; John Legg with Legg Cattle Company; Adam Yingling with Crescent A Cattle Company. Facilitated by panel moderator Tom Hurley CEO, Becker Holding Corporation and Becker Tree Farm and Nursery, the panelists shared their family stories and discussed some of the biggest challenges facing agriculture today.

All agreed that high costs for every aspect of agriculture, from feed for cattle to the plastic that binds the hay, are threats to an operation that is “a price taker, not a price maker.”  As Lee Anne Adams explained, when prices at the supermarket go up, the consumer assumes that farmers are making more money. “That is simply not how it works,” Adams said. “There is a long production chain, and the original farmer or rancher gets very little at the end of it.”

The cost of land, pressures to sell from developers to the south of Martin County, high estate taxes when a farm is passed on to the next generation, and the difficulty of sustaining the operations also have negative impacts on preserving the family farm.

Farm City luncheon panel members (left to right): Tom Hurley, Ransom Reed Hartman, LeeAnn Adams Simmons, John Legg, Adam Yingling, and Wyatt Carlton.

Finding the next generation of farmers and ranchers is also an issue, according to the panelists. Wyatt Carlton said, “If you don’t grow up doing it, you’ll never be involved in ag. You won’t be able to make money, and you just won’t do it.”

Public perception and lack of awareness were also cited as a big concern. “People generally have no idea of what ag requires,” John Legg said. Even those who realize that food comes from farms, not the grocery store, don’t appreciate what it takes to raise crops or livestock.

Rick Hartman, President of One Martin, quotes Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture as warning that the United States has become a net food importer. This dependence on foreign markets puts our national food security in danger, and the trend is not positive.

The panel had ideas on what can and should be done to preserve Florida and Martin County agriculture. “Buy local!” Adam Yingling advised. “Support Florida’s Rural and Family Lands Program,” Lee Ann Adams said, “so we can put land into conservation and keep agricultural operations going.” Reed Hartman added, “Know your source of information so you get the real facts about agriculture instead of myths, half-truths, and downright misunderstanding of how ag works.”

Also during the luncheon, Martin County Farm Bureau President Brittany Bearden recognized three Martin County farmers who received the coveted 2023 This Farm CARES (County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship) award: Wes Carlton, Nicole Kirchhoff, and Tom McCrudden. They are the first farmers in Martin County in more than ten years to be nominated and receive this award.

Sponsors for this year’s Farm-City Luncheon include Ashley Capital, Becker, Three Lakes, FPL, Midbrook 1st Realty, Gunster Law Firm, Hartman Real Estate, O-Rourke Engineering, RV Johnson & Auto-Owners Insurance, Star Farms Corporation, Three Natives of Hobe Sound, US Sugar, Agri-Gators Inc., Camo Farms, Captec Engineering, Family Lands Remembered, Farm Credit of Florida, Haley Ward, Lucido & Associates, Market on Main, Ralicki & Company, Shearwater Marine Florida, Team Parks, Theresa & Richard Anderson, Water Point Realty Group, and Wedgeworth Inc.

Farm-City Week is celebrated nationally each year during the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Educational events during this time celebrate and recognize the beneficial partnerships between rural and urban communities that make our food supply safe and plentiful. Across the state of Florida, members of the agricultural community join with local businesses and residents to learn more about the importance and impact of agriculture on the economy, the culture, and the future of the state and nation.

About One Martin

One Martin is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization dedicated to creating a more informed citizenry and providing opportunities for civil discussions on topics of importance to Martin County. Click here to sign up for One Martin’s newsletter or follow them on Facebook at For more info visit


Martin County


The first order of business was the election of a new chair and vice chair.

A motion was made by Commissioner Hetherington and seconded by Commissioner Smith for Harold Jenkins to become chair. It was unanimous. Commissioner Hetherington was then elected vice-chair unanimously.

A public hearing was held for a new text amendment to the comprehensive plan for an added change to the Rural Lifestyle land use. The request was made by the owners of the Calusa Creek ranch. They want to expand the definition to include properties of at least 3,000 acres and 6,000 feet from an Urban Services District. That is more than a mile. 

The reason for the 6,000 feet is because the nearest water and sewer is located at that distance from this property. Is this expansion in keeping with the land use?

he density allowed is one home per 20 acres. On this 4,000-acre property, there could be 200 homes. If the owners wanted to do that then, there would be no reason to come to the commission because the code already allows for that. There was a development order for 600 homes in 2010, but the owners allowed that order to lapse.

If they went ahead with the 200 homes, each would have its own septic system and well. Some of those sites would be situated close to waterways and wetlands. Currently, there is a bamboo nursery and cattle grazing on the property. The long-time owners vetted potential buyers, and not one of them was going to farm the land.

Last year a developer from Long Island became the winning bidder. His plan is to put 2 golf courses which are an allowed use under current zoning and cluster 175 homes…fewer than what is allowed. Instead of having small environmentally sensitive areas which would have been the result if 20-acre ranchettes were built, there will be one PAMP (Preserve Area Management Plan) for all the environmentally sensitive lands managed under one owner. The plan shows 91% of the land will be open space.

This amendment would allow the developer, at their expense, to run the water and sewer the 6,000 feet to this property and hook up. The environmental consultant, Toby Overdorf, stated that exotics were choking out the wetlands. That would all be ameliorated with the PAMP.

This property is a little smaller than the size of the City of Stuart. The city has about 17,000 residents. Regardless of whether this development was 20-acre ranchettes or clustered homes, there will probably be less than 1000 residents many of which will be part time. The main difference is whether there will be septic tanks or sewers. The contemplated development will have sewers.

Many speakers spoke about the breaking of the Urban Service District Boundary. It does do that, and if it didn’t, a couple of hundred septic systems would be installed. That is not good for the environment. The USD is a good idea that may have outlived its usefulness.

Farming or ranching in Martin County is an endangered industry. As was shown here, there are no farmers for properties of this size. The question for all of us is do we ignore the facts on the ground and pretend this is 1982, the year the comp plan was written, or do we look at things with an eye on today and more importantly tomorrow?

If our goal is to preserve as much open space as we can, then Discovery, Three Lakes, and Calusa Creek are the best hope. You just can’t say no because you don ‘t want development. Tallahassee and the courts will not allow it. If farming and ranching are no longer feasible, landowners will want to make money somehow. If we can have 90% open land, manage preserve areas, and flow ways for animals, then we need to grab it.

For both the text amendment and the FLUM, the vote was 3-2 with Jenkins and Heard dissenting. Jenkins liked the project but did not want to expand Rural Lifestyle. He, like Hetherington, would want to have a planning study done for the western lands.

Martin County


There was a presentation from Joanna Walczak who is the governor’s appointee to the Coral Protection and Restoration Program under the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

There is a 350-mile coral reef from the Keys to Martin County. It is economically important as well as providing habitat for marine life. It provides shoreline protection. Because of recent warmer-than-normal temperatures, some of the reef has suffered what is known as bleaching which leads to coral loss.

You can see the entire presentation here 

This was the big day for approving the filing of an RFP in conjunction with Stuart for a Brightline station.

It was similar to the presentation that Stuart had received the night before, you can read it here for more details:


In a 5-0 vote, the commission approved the Interlocal, submission of the RFP, and to begin working with the city to change the necessary zoning.

Of course, no one wants to pay anything for the station. Both the county and the city are hoping that grants will pick up the costs of the parking garage and the station. And staff believe that to be true.

At both the Aventura and Boca stations, grants paid for 70-80% of the costs. Brightline contributed nothing. So, I am not so sure why Martin County is convinced the passenger rail company will pick up half the costs here.

They are relying on an agreement signed in 2018 to settle Martin County’s lawsuit with Brightline that states if a station is built in Martin County instead of in another county on the Treasure Coast, then Martin County will only pay half the cost of a station. In Fort Pierce’s RFP, it is paying 100% of any costs and donating the land. There is also the proposal from the privately held Kings Landing development in Fort Pierce.

What we have going for us is our demographics and better location. Stuart is a destination in and of itself which has and will have more tourists from both north and south coming for the weekend. Research has shown this to currently be true, and the addition of a station would only increase those numbers.

If Martin County continues to insist on an agreement that becomes less and less relevant in respect to a station with each passing day, then I am afraid our county will have once again thrown away an excellent economic opportunity out of simple stubbornness.

You can read further on a Brightline station here



Administrative changes are coming to the district.

Andrew Karmeris, CPA, will become the district’s manager replacing Michael McElligott. Both work for Special District Services. Since the board has reverted to control of the largest landowners, which are government entities, the attorney’s office has changed as well as the maintenance supervisor. Higgins Engineering, the district engineer, is the last holdover.

Higgins Engineering requested a raise to $250 per hour which was approved by unanimous vote. However, since the district engineer position has not gone out to bid in more than a decade, Supervisor Stokus thought it would be a good idea that it did. Though nothing was firm, it may in the future.

A proposal was received by the engineer regarding surveying the district’s canals. Since there were no specifications, it will go out as an RFQ so that others may bid. It will be brought back at the February meeting.

The one clear thing was that no law enforcement agency wants to do special patrols paid for by the district. The Martin County Sheriff backed out of a deal to do so in October. An officer for FWC would be willing to have his private company take it on but at a much higher rate.

The real problem is no one knows where the boundaries are from one property owner to another. It makes it nearly impossible to enforce trespass claims. And of course, no one then will have anything to do with the shooting mayhem that occurs. South Florida Water Management District said that they have limited authority regarding the prevention of firing of guns and target shooting.

It seems that everyone in law enforcement has decided that Pal Mar is the wild west. There is nothing the sheriff or FWC can do to ensure the safety of the water district’s staff or other users of the Pal Mar lands. Surrounding communities like Trailside or perhaps people driving down the road could be victims. I am sure the refrain would be from law enforcement too bad nothing we can do about that.

I am not so sure that the Sheriff would or could do anything even if someone were hurt or killed given the state of the current law. But it would be nice to see him try. Given that $105 million (16.5% of the total county budget) goes to his department and he has 621 total FTEs (Full Time Equivalents).

In fairness that also includes 911 services, the courts, and the jail. The budget for actual law enforcement is $72,531,000 with 449 FTEs. That is $12 million more than 2023. (Government budget years are from October to September.)

I will let you judge what $450 per capita buys in police protection for Martin County residents. Those who live in the eastern portions of the county are probably very satisfied with the department. Those who live in the western parts maybe not so much. The protection the people of Trailside seek is for a known problem. It isn’t a burglary or bad guys coming up from Broward to prey on them.

It is constant gunfire from an unpatrolled area. It has caused animals and homes to be hit with gunfire. Unlike the randomness of a burglary, break-in, or robbery, the residents of that community can set their watches to when gunfire will erupt. Yet the district and the surrounding residents are told that they can’t be protected. They cannot be protected even when they are willing to pay extra for the service.

The old law firm, Caldwell Pacetti, has the districts records. They are demanding more than $8,000 not for legal work done but to gather the records together that are in their possession. That is in addition to their final bill of $9,350. To fight the $8,000 charge would cost much more. The board decided to pay for it and move on.

Stuart And Martin County Are In A Bad Marriage

If there was one wish to be granted, it would be that Stuart could obtain a divorce from Martin County. Stuart is like the battered wife that is abused mentally and physically by a domineering and mean husband.

Plato in “Symposium” wrote: “Each of us when separated, having one side only, is but the indenture of a person, and we are always looking for our other half.” Anytime I have officiated at a wedding, I have read those words in the ceremony. Stuart and Martin County are two halves of the same coin. We complement each other just as a husband and wife should do.

For some reason, instead of working together as any committed couple, Martin County, the man, needs to throw its weight around and dominate the wife, the City of Stuart. This analogy is especially true when it comes to the Brightline station. They were supposed to be working on submitting the RFP together. Instead, it appears that Martin County primarily needs to make sure that Stuart realizes who is the boss in this arrangement.

An RFP to determine whether Stuart and Martin County will receive the station is due in about two weeks. As I wrote in the last edition of Friends & Neighbors, that proposal is already in jeopardy because the county is using a 2018 agreement with Brightline as a basis for the submission. The agreement called for the county to pay half the cost of any station built in the county. And the county is sticking to it even though Brightline has written clear guidelines for what they expect.

(You can read what I wrote entitled “Too Close To Fail” here )

The often-changed proposed Interlocal Agreement between the county and city as of now has not been finalized even though the city commission will be voting on it on Monday and the county on Tuesday. The last version I read stipulated that the county would only pay for half the station leaving Brightline to pick up the rest. The full cost of the parking garage will be all the city’s responsibility. There is also the matter of the incidental expenses such as landscaping, sidewalks, and storm water that is left unmentioned.

Most of this project will be paid for by grants. However, in one iteration of the interlocal, it appeared that instead of the parties applying as one, it would be every entity for themselves. This is not how a committed couple acts. Yet Martin County is under the impression that Stuart is only their partner when it suits them.

And here is the rub…Martin County doesn’t need the city at all to put in an RFP. The land for the station and garage is currently the courthouse parking lot and surrounding area which the county owns. So why are they keeping Stuart in the mix.

Perhaps it is because the city was an eager partner, like any good wife is in supporting her man. Stuart on their own has applied for the CRISI (Consolidated Rail and Safety Improvements) Grant from the Federal Rail Administration with Brightline for a new railroad bridge. While no city funds will be used, one of the parameters is that a local government needs to ask for it. Martin County was nowhere to be found.

The main reason for the county to keep Stuart on the hook is to spread the expense. The more parties to the application, the more pockets of money there will be to go around. So why is Stuart so eager to remain part of this bad marriage?

For all intents and purposes, Stuart is built out. The real estate tax base will not grow as it has in the past. But Stuart’s expenses will continue to grow. At some point in the not-too-distant future, city services will have to be cut simply because expenses will outpace revenue.

If real estate won’t be a source of enough revenue, then the city will need to turn to other industries. Brightline is now running trains right through the city and no extra income is going to Stuart’s coffers. According to figures released by Brightline in October, there were 79,686 passengers travelling long distance from South Florida to Orlando. That is nearly 80,000 people rolling through Stuart.

According to Brightline the ridership includes South and Central Florida residents, domestic American passengers, and visitors from 92 countries. The rail company believes they will have 4.3 million long distance riders annually by 2025. They have already added a 7th car on some trains because of the demand.

According to the Tourist Development Board, Miami-Dade along with Broward is the number one area for visitors to Stuart, followed 2nd by the Orlando area, and then the New York Metropolitan area. How many more tourists would stop in Stuart if they could come by train? With new hotels proposed in the downtown area, the city would have a substantial new source of income from those tourist dollars.

How much financial risk is Stuart obligating itself to? From what I have been told, the station projects in Aventura and Boca were paid for by grants to the tune of 70 to 80% of the cost. For years, the city has been toying with the idea of building a parking garage, this may make it feasible to finally do so.

Yet how much abuse should Stuart take at the hands of Martin County? Remember when the county says it pays for something by using the general fund like the study with the planning council for the station, every taxpayer in Stuart pays taxes to that county fund as every other county resident does. The truth of it is that a taxpayer in Stuart pays more to the county than it does to Stuart. No matter how much the parties want the divorce, we will continue to be intertwined.

We have the trains speeding through the county and city, and we should get a benefit even if one partner is abusive to the other. If we must live together, we need to come to a détente for now.

As It Appeared In Martin County Moments

City of Stuart


The commission elected the new mayor for the coming year. A motion was made by Commissioner Rich and seconded by Commissioner Clarke to nominate Vice-Mayor Bruner. It passed unanimously.

Once Mayor Bruner took the gavel, Commissioner McDonald motioned, and Commissioner Clarke seconded the nomination of Commissioner Rich as vice-mayor. It also passed unanimously.


During Commissioner Comments, Commissioner Collins read from The Tampa Bay Times that Pasco County was ready to take a developer to court over the Live Local Act which was passed last year. It gives developers the right to bypass local elected boards and rules if the parcel is zoned commercial or industrial to build housing if 40% is available for affordable housing. He thought it was a good idea that they were testing it in court.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo was a bit peeved that her bill, which passed unanimously in the Florida State Senate, was being taken to court without the Pasco County Commission speaking to her first. Passidomo stated that the bill could be tweaked in this session possibly. Pursuing a court fight is no way to get a very powerful person on your side.


Collins may be inclined to follow in Pasco’s footsteps if a developer tries using the Live Local provisions here. Stuart has around 17,000 residents but Pasco’s population is 560,000. They will have significantly more tax revenue to fund the suit. So far, no one has used that law to bypass our local codes. And even if a developer used the law in Stuart, the best response would most likely not be a lawsuit. I guess affordable housing is not an issue in Stuart so there is no sense in anyone building it here.

Manager Mortell introduced the item regarding the interlocal agreement with the county for a train station. He explained that bringing back passenger rail service has always been in the comp plan. Mortell also stated that many studies had been done regarding having a station here. He also mentioned that the location outlined was the current courthouse parking lot. There were no wetlands or environmentally sensitive land on or around the site.

The purpose of the interlocal agreement with the county is to spell out who would be responsible for building what items when answering Brightline’s RFP. The county would be responsible for paying half of the cost of the rail station and Brightline the other. The city would pay for the parking garage. Since the RFP specifically ruled out any site north of Confusion Corner, the only possible site would be here.

Mortell reiterated, as did Assistant County Administrator George Stokus and Executive Director Tom Lanahan of the Treasure Coast Planning Council, that this was only an agreement to file a proposal jointly and how different responsibilities between the county and city would be handled.

McDonald called having a station an historic moment. He made a motion to accept the interlocal. Clarke seconded it. Rich stated that the city is not agreeing to terms or how much money is to be spent. Lanahan added that Brightline would probably “short list” a couple of proposals for discussion.

The naysayer on the commission was Collins. He was afraid of development, the gentrification of East Stuart, and that it is a blank check. He said people were telling him that they did not want a station. The other commissioners had the opposite experience with residents telling them that a station would be beneficial.

The vote was 4-1 in favor with Collins dissenting.

A decade ago, McDonald, Clarke and I were out protesting and speaking against the train. Once I saw that the endless lawsuits to stop the passenger train then known as All Aboard Florida were losers, I was in favor of the county making the deal it did.

Once Brightline began barreling through the county and city, most people now think a station being situated here is an economic driver and beneficial to the residents. Why should we have all the downside and none of the upside potential? As to costs, both officials in the county and city believe that grants will pay for most of the station and parking lot. This was the case with both Aventura and Boca which I am told our station and garage would mimic.

Here is my fear. I don’t believe that Brightline is interested in paying any expense for a station. Then does the county commit to the entire amount? If Martin County continues singing the same tune referring to an outdated agreement stating they only need to pay half, then we may be passed by.

When the station in Boca was built, grant money paid for 80% of it. Given that the Feds and Florida are even more enthusiastic now about bringing back passenger rail, they have made more money available. Could there be even higher levels of funding allocated? Martin County is notorious for throwing away opportunities and may do so again in this case.

You can read the agreement here 

Martin County School Board

How Often Do We Need The Legislature To Change The Rules

It was announced on December 11th by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) that Martin County earned a “B” rating for the 2022/23 school year.

That was the same grade earned last year. However, FLDOE used what they are calling statistical equivalence to assign school grades. Once again, there is a new assessment system which makes it impossible to really understand how we stack up year over year.

I guess it is fine if we are comparing ourselves to other districts. The only Treasure Coast district to earn an “A” is Indian River. St. Lucie County also earned a “B”.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz said that these will now be baseline grades for improvements in subsequent years. Poor grades this year will not have any negative consequences, but going forward there will be. It appears no district received anything lower than a “C” with three receiving an “I.” According to the state report, the progress in those districts was not accurately represented.

The seven components to a school’s grade are: Mathematics, Science, English, Language Arts, Social Studies, graduation rates, Middle School end-of-course assessments, and scores on IB, AICE, and AP exams.

While Martin County Superintendent Michael Maine and the school board are becoming acquainted with these criteria, the legislature is busy making perhaps more changes to education by new bills being introduced in this session. They are calling it the “Learn Local” initiative. According to Senator Alexis Calatayud, it is aimed at “streamlining educational assessments and instructional protocols, innovation, and student safety.”

Those are all good things, but when does Tallahassee stop giving different mandates to the districts every year? Believe it or not, the purpose of the three bills making up the initiative is to give local districts and especially superintendents more control. It is attempting to allow public schools to compete with charters more easily.

Educators, school board members, and teachers are all in agreement with the devolution of more authority to local control. This will also mean parents will have more say in their children’s education. But how many of any of the changes actually make children’s education better?

Senator Corey Simon has a bill known as the “Deregulation of Public Schools/Assessment and Accountability, Instruction, and Education Choice.” It would have more parental involvement in the third-grade assessment and eliminate certain requirements for high school graduation. Algebra 1 and 10th grade English assessment would be a thing of the past for graduation. Parents would have the right to have their child advance even if they do not read adequately to pass the third-grade assessment test by working with the school to have an intervention plan.

Where does this constant change leave Maine and our district? It is hard to ever come up with a sustained plan if standards and tests continuously change. By passing a bill, the legislature can make a “B” district become an “A”. Taking away assessment tests or different degree programs from the calculation of a district’s score can dramatically improve that score. Comparison becomes irrelevant.

Martin County, besides facing Tallahassee’s changes, has a demographic problem affecting scores. The students are more likely to be poorer and having English as a second language than in the past. More students are on reduced and free lunches. They need more remedial help. This all contributes to poorer outcomes.

What we really need is a long-range plan to address these issues. And the state needs to stop changing criteria, either making measuring progress harder or easier for a decade. Certainly, grade the districts on performance, but leave the criteria used for grading the same. Let the districts experiment…just keep the standards constant. Then measure whether a district is an “A” or not.  

Town of Sewalls Point


Sewell’s Point took the unprecedent step of proclaiming December 12th as James Campo Day.

Effective December 30th, Campo is stepping down from the commission after 10 years of service. This was his last commission meeting. To a packed chamber consisting of elected officials, senior county and municipal staff, and local Republican Executive Committee members (James is Martin County Republican Committee Man and Florida Republican Assistant Treasurer), he expressed his gratitude and reminisced about his time as a commissioner. He was very proud that he had only missed 4 meetings in that time.

The Town of Sewall’s Point expressed its gratitude for Campo’s service to the community.

Town Manager Robert Daniels received an award from the International City/County Management Association for 40 years of public service. Through the years, Daniels has worked as a manager and police chief for several cities and towns including Madera Beach, Boca Raton and now Sewall’s Point. It was presented by Russ Blackburn, a Senior Councilor and former Port St. Lucie City Manager and Martin County Administrator.

Town of Ocean Breeze


The purpose of the meeting was primarily to swear in the new council members and elect new officers.

The two new members, Michael Heller and Matthew Squires, along with existing Council Member Kevin Docherty were sworn in.  All were unopposed in the recent election.

Council Member Kelley received a unanimous vote to become president. Current president, Ken De Angeles, gave his departing comments. He was presented with a token of gratitude by Mayor Ostrand.

Kelley then called for nominations for vice president. Liz Reese was nominated and received a unanimous vote.

Town Attorney Rick Crary gave a brief talk about Sunshine and Public Records Law. It was suggested that if they had any questions, they contact Florida League of Cities (FLC). I ascertained and stated to the council that Patricia Christensen from FLC, if contacted by the clerk, would present a brief overview at a meeting.

Town of Jupiter Island


During her extensive comments, Anne Scott spoke against Friends & Neighbors for reporting on the town as if any criticism should be forbidden. We will just keep reporting as we do for all Martin County governments.

She went on to opine about several things including the independence of both the Impact Revue Committee (IRC) and the Board of Adjustment (BOA). At her insistence, it looks like the commission will be making both boards advisory.


She will be shocked to read that I agree with her. She is right in this matter. There is not another Martin municipality or the county itself where the elected body doesn’t make the final decision. She didn’t like the ordinance that would do that for the BOA which was part of the agenda. It was decided to bring it back at the next meeting.

Scott went on to say that at recent meetings of the BOA and IRC, she disagreed with their decision to approve a new single-family home. The applicant proposes that they be allowed to increase the height of the house, place 11 feet of fill on the property, and build a 6000 square foot basement with a kitchen, window, and a bath and a half. They were also asking for 14 parking spaces

Apparently both the BOA and the IRC granted the exceptions as recommended by staff. Scott believes that the home is out of character with the surrounding homes, and there isn’t any public interest for those amenities. The plans comply with the LDRs and the Florida Building Codes.

The question is what should be the basis of denial? The codes are a good way to make sure all applicants are treated the same. Scott’s preferred approval would depend on subjective criteria. Most of us would want to have an objective standard to follow.

Take, for instance, the basement. Under the current town regulations, basements do not count in total livable square footage. Whether they should or not is a debatable point. The commission majority can change the regulations to state no more basements at all or insert a number for total square feet allowed. If that were the case, the applicant and, more importantly, the boards would know what was acceptable. 

That doesn’t mean the applicant could not ask for an exception as the current one has in conjunction with the height limit. As to using vague standards such as surrounding character, it would appear to me that is very subjective. On Jupiter Island where lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat, the town should get ready for even more of them if subjective standards are imposed.

Scott also mentioned the DEP ruling about the dune line that she stated the town had won. The ruling would strengthen the town’s case in the pending lawsuits. However, the other side looks to be appealing that ruling in Tallahassee.

Interestingly, Scott wants to force building applicants to obtain a ruling first from DEP regarding if the dune line affects their planned project before approaching the town. The town attorney will research to see if it is possible. At first blush, it seems like a good idea and would save the town time and resources.

During this meeting, Scott also railed against the state for taking away home rule. By ceding authority to DEP before weighing in, wouldn’t the town also be abrogating home rule? Now an applicant goes before the town staff and boards first. The project is subject to a thorough town review. Then taking the approvals, the applicant goes to the DEP

If the process is reversed and the DEP approves first, does the town have less leverage going forward? It is something to consider before making that change. It is hypocritical to want home rule and then give the state the advantage of going first.

Scott also asked the town attorney about changing the venue for the upcoming trials with individual town residents. She believes that the judge may be bias because his brother, she claims, hates the town. Beard will investigate it even though he said he didn’t see any basis for the venue change.

Only on Jupiter Island!

Final Thoughts

Christmas time is once again upon us.

I refused to turn to the holiday music channels on my XM radio until after Thanksgiving had come and gone. It is on now. By the time New Year’s rolls around, I won’t be sad to see the stations go. I always wonder how people working in retail can listen to the sounds of the season way before the season actually begins until January.

This is also the time when government meetings become fewer. I think we just need a break before the onslaught begins once again in January. Don’t worry… you won’t miss a thing.

What is in store for 2024? I think Tallahassee will restrict “home rule” a bit further. They will pass a term limits bill for county commissioners. And don’t be surprised to see one on city elected boards either. While it will change the landscape, it will encourage more citizens to become involved.

Friends & Neighbors intends to cover Martin County in 2024 as well as developments on the state races. There may be a ballot initiative for a ½ cent sales tax to buy conservation land in very designated areas. Depending on how the ballot language reads and accompanying ordinances and resolutions by the county commission, it may be something we will support.

That of course is in the new year. As we wind down this one, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Friends & Neighbors will see you in 2024.




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:


Tom’s Articles

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"Blood Pure"


"Do As I Say Not As I Do"


From Martin County Moments

"Stuart & Martin County Are In A Bad Marriage"


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