February 18, 2024

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In This Edition

This past week has been action packed.

By the time you read this, releases and I think massive ones, will be pouring into the Saint Lucie from the lake. It was almost at 16 ½ feet and we are going into the rainy season.

In this week’s edition you should check out Pal Mar. Poachers are indiscriminately killing gators and birds leaving their carcasses behind. We have the photos to show it. The Joint Meeting was covered, and you may be surprised by the statistics you read. There is also a story on Main Street, Stuart, and subsidies.

This coming week the county commission will decide whether to place on the ballot a referendum for a sales tax to buy land in areas that we should preserve. No matter where you stand on the development issue, places like Pal Mar need protection not only as a wetland but as what Florida once was.

Please remember to sign up your friends to receive their own free copy of Friends & Neighbors. We are almost at that 30,000 mark. Let me know if you would like to contribute an article.

Eric from C&W Computers has joined our roster of columnists. And don’t forget to check out our non-profit section. If your organization has an event or wants to send a press release just contact me for info on how to do it.

Have a Good Sunday Morning.

The Oldest At The Table

The other day I was in a meeting at a nonprofit at which we were discussing the age of the top donor base. Most of those donors are in their 70’s. Someone said that they are “aging out.” I then piped up and said “thanks.”

When did I become the oldest person at the table? Obviously, it wasn’t always so. It seemed for years that I was the kid. The guy that was to be seen but not heard. The one that went out and got coffee or sandwiches. The young person that was supposedly absorbing pearls of wisdom from the older generation.

Nice Old Man

I guess I continued to be the youngest in the room until I was about 35. By then, I was an old married man, father, and business owner. My apprenticeship was certainly over. I became one of the men in the room.

Back then, it was always men in the room. There were no women but that was changing. In our growing company, my second in charge was a female. Some of the guys liked it, others did not. There were new kids in the room and at times they were women.

Age may not make you smarter, but it gives you wisdom. It allows you the luxury of not having to learn the basics every time. As an example, in New York real estate if I was given an address, I would probably know what the block looked like. Over the years I may have sold, managed, or owned the same building a few times. I didn’t have to learn about the building or the neighborhood again.

The same would go for many problems faced. After 50 years in the business, there wasn’t much I hadn’t experienced. I had what is called a steady hand.

A seventh-grade teacher of mine was fond of saying, “Wisdom is knowledge used in the right way.” Even people with the knowledge haven’t figured out the wisdom part entirely. I guess at some point I will, but the race to do so is no longer a long distance one but a sprint.

Grumpy Old Man

So now I am the old guy in the room. Not quite as ancient as much of our leadership in Congress or the two major presidential candidates. Yet I get to send the kid out for coffee and sandwiches.

I may be reaching the stage where I tell the same story over and over. Or I can’t find the right word as easily. The choice about aging I do have is whether I want to be the beloved grandfather or the old mean deranged uncle at the Thanksgiving table.

Many of us are facing or will face that choice at some point. Once we do, it doesn’t mean our lives are over or that we need to stop being useful or engaged. Rather the question is do we take all that knowledge we have accumulated and use it wisely.

Wise Old Man

The Denominational Meltdown

Fewer Americans identify with a religious group today than at any time in our history.

Thirty percent of Americans have no religious affiliation. That doesn’t mean they are non-believers. 56% of the nonaffiliated believe in some higher power aside from God or the Bible. 67% say they believe that humans have spirits.

The rates for civic involvement are the same for church goers and “nones” (as the nonaffiliated are known). The difference seems to be about religious labels. They vote and contribute to charities on par with each other.

The research is the result of a Pew study. It goes into the makeup of the nonaffiliated. 17% are atheists, 20% are agnostic and 63% believe in nothing in particular.

Thirty years ago, 90% of Americans were Christian. Now that number is about 60%. Then why is Christianity, and particularly Fundamentalist Christianity, such a factor in American politics?

Churches have good tools for organizing their congregants. They are organizations with structures that can mobilize and bring out their members. Yet, looking at trendlines, the number of people attending will continue to shrink.

We see the schism now between the groups, most notably concerning the issue of abortion. The debate among social scientist is not whether secularization is gaining ground but how fast religions are declining. Some believe that this decline is “the culmination of growing autonomy in society.” That is according to a theory ascribed to Swiss sociologist, Jorg Stolz.

Humans are more comfortable with searching for the facts themselves. Stolz states “Why do I need a pastor to tell me what to do? What makes them any more insightful than this academic journal.”

Many people who once sought guidance from their minister or priest have seen how fallible or even sinful some can be. Answers to questions are much more readily available than they were 100 or even 50 years ago. Why place your trust in only one source when you have the entire world at your fingertips via the internet.

1/2 Cent Sales Tax Is In Our Hands

Martin County Forever, a group in Martin County, has been working with several other organizations and Martin County staff to put together a referendum on a ½ cent sales tax to buy and maintain ecologically sensitive lands.

The ordinance states:

  1. To acquire, by fee simple interest, environmentally significant land for the purposes of:  preserving, conserving, and restoring the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, Pal-Mar, the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie River headwaters, thereby protecting water sources, preserving natural areas and beaches, providing open space, protecting wildlife habitat and water storage/recharge areas.  Land acquisition and preservation using the County’s share of the Surtax proceeds shall be limited to the properties known or identified within the Pal-Mar Water Control District, the Natural Lands Component of the Indian River Lagoon South Project of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Headwaters and Blueways Areas.

The group was very sensitive to the feeling (which is justified) that the commissioners need to be restrained on how the money can be spent. That is why you see very specific areas in the language where lands can be acquired. It also has the ability to buy conservation easements with up to 5% of the proceeds plus another 5% that will go toward maintenance of the properties.

Many claim to want to keep Martin County as scenic and as protected as possible. These sales tax proceeds will do just that by protecting the lands that have already been declared and recognized as needing protection. The commission will not have the ability to buy lands unless they are within the clearly defined geographic areas.

The referendum also allows the county to bond for up to 80% of the proceeds to buy properties at today’s prices instead of tomorrow’s more inflated ones. This will allow the money to go further in the pursuit of the goal. The referendum itself makes sure that any bonding can only be paid for out of the sales tax.

There is also an advisory committee that is made up of citizens and organizations in our community. The more citizens are involved, the more checks there will be on the commission to make sure that only the intended properties are purchased.

Almost 40% of the sales taxes collected are paid by out-of-county residents. Food, medical supplies, and baby items are exempt. Even on big ticket items such as cars, only the first $5000 is subject to the tax.

I urge the county commission to approve the referendum. It will then go on the ballot in November for the voters to decide. The people of Martin County should determine if they wish to save their heritage by passing the ½ cent sales tax for 10 years.   

Heracles & The Hydra

Martin County sometimes reminds me of the Greek mythological serpent known as a Hydra.

A Hydra had nine heads. When one head was cut off two more would grow from its stump. Dispatching the creature was one of the 12 Labors of Heracles. Many things in Martin County are duplicative...just like Hydra.

While listening to the last county commission meeting, I heard Casey Cass from Port Salerno mention that he may be forming a new chamber of commerce there. There is already an office that is manned full-time even though no chamber has been formed. If it comes to pass, that will make Martin County’s 6th chamber.

There are only five municipalities in the county, which as U.S. counties go, seems a small number. There are currently five chambers in the county with many businesses belonging to two, three, or more. St. Lucie County, which has three times our population, has only one chamber of commerce.


Chambers are a place for businesses owners to connect and buy products and services from each other. They are not made to take the places of cities or towns. They can do great things for their members but in no way should they be construed to be something more.

A typical Martin County trait is to start a new organization rather than have people work together. Mr. Cass is a business owner and wants a better Salerno. He has a beef with Commissioner Heard’s representation and the CRA. But a county commissioner and a CRA were never meant to be a substitute for local government.

What would really give the people of Salerno a say is to form a municipality...one that then would just represent the people of Salerno. The government is elected by residents of that geographical area. It taxes itself to provide the services it wants. It decides how it is to develop. Commissioner Heard is voted into office by every voter in Martin County. If Salerno were to form its own municipality, Mr. Cass, if he chose to run for “Salerno Commission,” would be elected by the people of Port Salerno.

That isn’t duplication of services. That isn’t another CRA controlled by the county commissioners. And it certainly isn’t another chamber of commerce to exchange business cards.  

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper

The effort to “fix” MARTY drags on and on and on.  

On Jan. 31st I went to yet another public meeting on the MARTY system.  I was there for nearly an hour and a hand full of people showed up.  It was at Banner Lake in Hobe Sound where, I am told, the bus system is sorely needed. 

It was from 3:00 to 4:30. Maybe that’s why so few attended.  Who knows.  I hear the same old song and dance at every one of these.  It appears the Metropolitan Planning Organization just will not stop until they get the answer that they want which is basically to throw more money at this failed enterprise and see what happens.  

As it stands now, MARTY currently costs $32.60 per ride and $3M in annual operating expenses.  Surely, they reason, it will work if we just invest more in it.  This is a typical bureaucratic view in my mind. 

One representative remarked that we (the County) needed to spend money on this study to collect data which will then garner more federal grant money.  I asked him where he thought the federal grant money came from.  He looked astonished that I would ask such a thing, but finally admitted that was also taxpayers’ dollars.

The hosts of the event freely admit that the system does not work as it is.  They tout various possible reasons…35 minutes between stops is “weird”.  Not enough routes (there are 4), not enough bus stops, (there are 52), no service on the weekends, no shelters etc., but never do they admit that there just aren’t enough riders. 

In fact, they cannot tell you how many riders there are.  They measure ridership by trips, and they claim that there are plenty.  One interesting disclosure I had not heard previously is that there are no “transfers”.  They count each leg of a trip as another trip.  Humm.  So, if one rider changes buses 3 times to get to his destination, it is counted as 3 trips.  What’s wrong with this picture?

In desperation they argue that Veterans and the disabled need the MARTY buses to take them to the VA hospital.  No one wants to see a vet without a ride to the VA.  I’d happily see my tax dollars spent on an Uber or VA shuttle bus.  There is a cheaper way to help those in need than financing an entire city bus system at an annual loss.

After 10 years of watching these buses with never more than 2 riders, I wonder if they needed to hire a company to collect data.  Don’t they have enough by now?  Or is the data they have simply not the data they want to accept? 

Finally, the MPO has a survey online.  You need to take it.  I am told there are 500 responses so far and most of them are “favorable”.  I asked if I could see them.  I was told to go to the website, and I could view them.  I did, I couldn’t.  I called and was told that there would be a meeting in Feb. with an update on the responses.  You can take the survey here:  https://martinmpo.com/.  It’s right on the front page.  If you don’t want your tax dollars squandered on a failed effort, they need to hear from you.  The survey ends in March.  Don’t wait.

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


Remember when search engines searched? Now the algorithms drive us  to shopping sites. Even the “helpful” stories in the print media are all  geared to shopping.

During the pandemic I bought an air fryer, a fancy crock pot/pressure cooker, a robot vacuum, a coffee machine and a robot cat litter box. The first three items are in the garage. It took more work to prepare the house for the robot vacuum than to just vacuum! The coffee machine I gave away. 

My last  column was about a dictionary. I could not research it online, but I could buy tons of stuff that was not relevant but did keep me mindlessly scrolling.

My current quest is to see how humans translate their memories into oral or written narrative.

I found  the book “Death of a Nobody” online. The French author describes the impact of a nobody’s death on us.

“The Unwomanly Face of War” by Svetlana Alexiecich, an oral history of Russian women soldiers in World War II, I liberated from Bonnie’s Books. I wept to read about the  woman  who allows nothing  red in her house because of all the bloody rotting corpses she tended.

Brandy Carlson’s “Dead Presidents,”  is a fascinating historical discussion about how we treat our dead presidents. Don’t get me started about what Washington’s body endured before they finally let him rest in peace.

Since I shop online, my mailbox is filled with catalogues. I get bizarre catalogues of cheap non-sustainable junk. They don’t sell your information, the ad men assure us, using a known iconoclastic actor as the AI generated spoke-person telling me my data belongs to me. Yeah, just like my womb.

I’m done. I will consume books, and art. I will recycle my newspapers even as the piles grow higher, the waters rise, the fires burn, and another invasive species takes over our lawns.

This past weekend Martin Arts gave us a fabulous Arts Fest. Inspired by the staff and volunteers, the artists and the participants, I enjoyed the art, the performances and the people-watching. I watched kids making chalk art, admired some fur babies, and photographed some super bowl fans enjoying our good nature.  I drank and danced to the music. I reconnected with new and old friends. Then I headed  home to make my Super Bowl snacks before enjoying another amazing show.

Art is a mirror and a window. What will I see? What will you see?

The Artistry of Life.

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

“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality wheat and every season he won the award for the best wheat grown in his county. One year a reporter from the local newspaper interviewed the farmer and learned that each Spring the man shared his seed with his neighbors so that they too could plant good seeds in their fields.

“’How can you afford to share your best wheat seeds with your neighbors when they are entering their crops in the competition against yours?’ the reporter asked.

“’Why that's very simple,’ the farmer explained, ‘The wind picks up pollen from the developing wheat and carries it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior wheat, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of all the wheat, including mine. If I am to grow good wheat, I must help my neighbors grow good wheat’." – Author Unknown

This story has been shared over and again so many times that I could not determine who is the original author. But what I can tell you is in the spirit of this story I think the author would be alright with that if the story continues to resonate with people.

In the story the farmer's explanation also applies to peoples' lives. If you want to live meaningfully and well, you must help enrich the lives of others. In doing so you will enrich your own life. I’ve heard it said that it’s lonely at the top. Not if you bring others up with you.

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

Carl's Conclusions

Carl Frost
Kai Kai Farms, Owner

Florida Farms And Water

Tallahassee lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would directly help Florida farmers because the industry is threatened by rapidly rising costs of labor, land, and inputs.

Irrigation and surface waters are equivalent to the blood that flows in our veins. Water supplies nutrients for energy production and it can carry wasted nutrients away from the crop to unintended destinations like lakes, canals, and estuaries. Farms consume considerable amounts of water and due to the acreage also collect an equivalent amount of rainwater that may or may not be necessary at a given time in the crops’ production lifecycle.

Consider a tomato crop on an acre. Approximately 3,630 tomato plants grow in one acre and the equivalent water need is 3,857 gallons or about 1 gallon per plant per day. That same acre of tomatoes cannot tolerate standing water and that means farmers must store rainwater. An inch of rain is equal to 27,154 gallons per acre.

This one acre impoundment has a rainfall capacity of 2.6 million gallons"

Rules require that all land developments retain water on-site with discharges governed by regulations of the local authority. This requires ponds a/k/a impoundments which are expensive to build.  Here is the problem. With inexpensive imported tomatoes due to NAFTA a farm has difficulty making a fair return on investment. Alternatively, growers have experimented with greenhouses which require less water, but these introduce new challenges and have considerable costs.

Florida’s population is growing quickly. This puts a premium on land and water. Florida is cleaning up its water bodies with better management and investment in surface water storage. Cities have a considerable thirst for water. Typically, wells are the go-to resource for cities but the aquifers where the water lies must be maintained properly or saltwater intrusion will degrade water quality. Recharging aquifers requires that more water remain longer on the surface so it can percolate back into the aquifer.  Rice grows in water, but most crops do not tolerate wet feet. Vegetable crops have strict needs for water management with narrow tolerances for water excess, deficits or salinity. Now add another variable: our changing climate.

Florida receives abundant rainwater over time, but the supply is not consistent with demand. Weather events are more ‘extreme’ with higher rainfall amounts common. April 13, 2023, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport received 14.59 inches of rainfall. That was 546 million gallons of water on 1380 acres. A 1,000-acre farm should be able to accommodate, without offsite discharge, 3 inches of rain or 81 million gallons. Challenges like water management are just one of many for farmers; it’s no surprise that Florida tomato production fell 40% over 15 years from 1.56 billion pounds on 39,400 acres in 2000 to 950 million pounds on 33,000 acres in 2015.

To encourage farmers to invest (gamble) Florida’s legislature is doing what they can to mitigate the cost of local food production with the following bills: SB 1082, SB 1398 and SJR 1560.

Carl Frost's opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Hope in Our Community

Rob Ranieri
House of Hope, CEO

February is American Heart Month.

This federal designation is designed to shine a light on heart disease and all of the associated risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, alcohol abuse, smoking, obesity and others. Heart disease has been the number one cause of death in men and women in our country since 1950. In lower income communities, heart disease and the associated risk factors are prevalent at higher than normal levels. Over the last five years or so, House of Hope has made a concerted effort to develop programs and provide resources to limit these risk factors in the communities and among the families that we serve.

The most obvious way for House of Hope to have an impact on heart disease and other chronic conditions is by improving the quality and quantity of heart healthy foods that we provide to those we serve in our four client choice pantries and to our 30 food bank partners in Martin County and on the Treasure Coast. Last year, we distributed 1.3 million pounds of food, with over 500,000 pounds of that total being fresh fruits and veggies. This is also an area where our community supporters can help us to have an impact. If you are considering donating food or organizing a food drive, focus on heart healthy non-perishable items. Think protein-packed beans, peas, and lentils, like black beans and garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Opt for whole-grain items such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats, whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta. Unsalted nuts, seeds, and nut butter, like almond or peanut butter, are packed with heart-healthy fats. These are great options for us to offer our clients and partners


House of Hope also uses our four nutrition gardens, as well as our traveling nutrition garden, to provide nutrition education and gardening classes across our community. Last year, we reached nearly 5,000 adults and children with these efforts. We also own and operate Growing Hope Farm in Palm City. We focus on hydroponic growing in greenhouses and also have conventional in-ground growing, with twice weekly harvests year round to keep a steady flow of heart healthy produce reaching our most vulnerable neighbors.

House of Hope also operates three Centers for enrichment, including locations in Golden Gate, Jensen Beach and Indiantown. These centers offer a variety of classes and programs all at no cost to participants, including healthy cooking classes, nutrition classes, quit smoking classes and others. All of these efforts are an important part of our model as we strive to empower residents to overcome hunger and hardship. We know that healthy children are better learners, and healthy adults are better earners. This month and every month, remember the importance of heart healthy choices. To learn more about us, access services, or get involved, please visit us at www.hohmartin.org.

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

Martin County Real Estate

John Gonzalez
Engel & Volkers, Managing Broker

The majority of us shop for a new home when we discover a new town or neighborhood we love and is located near work, school, hobbies or natural resources, like parks and oceans.

Martin County's neighborhoods are all unique and provide individuals with a seemingly endless number of choices. To go beyond the traditional real estate article it’s time to try focusing on a neighborhood and discuss the reason one might consider living in it or at least visiting.

It is hard to narrow down the choices. Should it be Stuart (the entire town) with its distinct neighborhoods like Riverside or Snug Harbor? How about Indiantown - a wonderful rural community with manufacturing, farms, livestock and the quaint Seminole Inn (Sunday Brunch is fun and delicious)? A sleepy little fishing town that is full of fun and entertainment will be the first choice.

Port Salerno was founded in 1894 and until the mid 80’s was a little known fishing village that had productive commercial docks and was home to fishing families whose livelihood depended on the weather and what was brought to the dock after a long day on the Florida waters. I first discovered Port Salerno in the early 80’s. There was a waterfront motel, a few restaurants, and great access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Manatee Pocket.

One of my favorite stories involved my “discovery” of King Neptune Restaurant. I was working at the Loblolly Bay Yacht Club - considering myself a food snob. The wealthy members of Loblolly kept talking about the best seafood restaurant in Florida - in Port Salerno. The wealthy Loblolly crowd would venture to King Neptune for the freshest seafood - caught locally and served in a tiny restaurant with limited seating - and a line out the door. I remember seeing CEO’s, trust funders and their families sitting next to the family that caught the dinner they were eating. Today, King Neptune still caters to everyone and serves local fish - fresh from the docks. They prepare the best conch “burger” sandwich in the United States (including the Keys)!

Local dining and entertainment can be found throughout the “pocket”. Crabby’s serves great food and has live entertainment - gotta love the Nouveaux Honkies on Thursday night. Basin Seafood and Tausha’s sell the finest seafood in the county - from Stone crabs to grouper, fresh from a local boat. The District Table provides farm to table dining with great service and atmosphere. Finally, one of the nice places to visit is the Fish House Art Center. You can catch a boat tour or see some local artists at work.

So, when you are looking for a new home find a Realtor that knows the town and its distinctive neighborhoods and what they offer. Port Salerno has amazing waterfront homes on the Manatee Pocket and on Rocky Point. Truthfully, there is a home for every budget in beautiful Port Salerno.

This Month's Stats:

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

Palm City Highlights

Missi Campbell
Palm City Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director

The Palm City Chamber of Commerce works hard to promote our local businesses and community. We encourage our members to create relationships within our organization to strengthen all aspects of Martin County - especially the business community. We believe a strong community will support our local economy, which is the focus of our membership. 

As we continue to grow, we've fostered new ideas and programs to assist our members. Over the last couple of years, we have implemented a Women in Business Summit series. We celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th and American Business Woman’s Day on September 22nd each year with a luncheon featuring a keynote speaker and networking. 

Our upcoming event on March 8, 2024, highlights Leveraging Community Involvement to Better Your Business and Life with speaker Hollani Davis, from WPTV. This event will be held at New Hope Fellowship in Palm City. 

Our newest addition is Community Night School. This is an opportunity for our local business professionals to update our citizens on important hot topics. Our first edition was about the insurance crisis in Florida. A panel presented the newest information from Tallahassee and answered questions from local residents. We look forward to more of these forums. If you have a suggestion for a topic, please contact us at the Palm City Chamber at 772-286-8121 or info@palmcitychamber.com 

Family fun is a necessary component in our world today. The Palm City Chamber of Commerce celebrates our families and provides many free family events. Our Holiday Village, the first Wednesday in December, along Mapp Road features many local vendors, food trucks, student performances, and Santa. 

We are bringing our Spring Fest back to Palm City this year at the Rockin H Ranch on Sunday, March 24th. This signature event will feature the Tom Jackson Band, food trucks, vendors, face painting, Treasure Coast Wildlife Center, a petting zoo with pony rides, and hayrides. We have partnered with the Early Learning Coalition of Indian River, Martin, and Okeechobee Counties to present Touch-A-Truck, a favorite for children of all ages. The highlight of the day is Cow Plop Bingo. You can purchase a land parcel in a field and then we place a cow in the field. If the cow “plops” in your square, you win $1,000 in cash!! This will begin at 3:00PM and ends when the “plop” happens. You can get more information about all of these events on our website at www.palmcitychamber.com 

We hope you will come out and support the local businesses that make #PalmCItyProud.

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

Fishing Tips

Paul Sperco

Here it is the 11th of February, and the surf conditions of high winds, dirty water, and inconsistent surf fishing is upon us.

It seems like the wind has been blowing since October and I am sure there are anglers reading this column that own boats who will attest to that fact. We got a slight break in January when the wind shifted to the west and our local beaches did produce some big whiting, croakers, jacks, an inconsistent pompano bite, a few mackerel, and some nice permit.

The number of permits that have been roaming our beaches has been a bright spot this year. I have lived in Florida for 13 years and have never seen the amount of permit being caught like they have in this last five-month stretch. The other highlight is the return of the sandfleas on our beaches and with them the whiting action has been exceptional.


We have two species of whiting here in Florida with the Gulf Kingfish being the most common. The Southern Kingfish is a larger species, and fall has been the time of year when they show in bigger numbers. Both species tend to thin out a bit as water temperatures drop in January and February but that never happened this year.

We are experiencing water temps in the upper sixties right now and these will be the coldest of the year. I must be honest with everyone and say the surf bite has been pretty poor since the end of January, but our spring season is just around the corner. I always recognize the start of the spring season right around daylight savings time which falls on March 10 this year.

Longer days, more sunlight, more bait schools, and just better fishing is fast approaching. The spring Pompano bite in March, April, and May is the time of year when we will catch the largest number of pompanos on a daily basis. The winds will back off, water temperatures will rise, and as the days get longer our catch list of whiting, croaker, pompano, permit, jack crevalle, as we go through February.

Buy yourself a sandflea rake and take advantage of a great bait supply that will help you put some great tasting fish in your cooler this month. Some of the better beaches that have held the sandfleas are Tiger Shores, Beachwalk Pasley, Viginia Forrest, and Stuart Beach. Put 20 or so in a plastic snack bag and just throw them in the freezer. If you accumulate a bunch of bags, you should have enough stored to keep you in bait for the upcoming spring bite. 

Good luck and catch 'em up.

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

On Education

Victoria Defenthaler
Retired Martin County Principal & School Board Member

I have been in the audience during several school board meetings and listened as the district’s Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) have conducted professional presentations  explaining how the shortage of pathologists can have dire consequences for student achievement.

Early intervention is crucial for addressing speech and language disorders effectively. Understaffing may impede the ability of the school district to identify and intervene with students at an early age, potentially leading to more persistent and severe language and communication difficulties. Speech and language skills are closely tied to academic success, and if students with speech and language disorders do not receive timely and appropriate interventions, they may struggle with reading, writing, and overall academic achievement.

Due to the critical shortage and the district’s inability to retain SLPs, there are schools without therapists, children not receiving the services listed on their Individual Education Plan (IEP), students receiving services from SLP assistants who are supposed to be directed and supervised by the Certified SLP.  Yet the certified SLP is either non-existent or so busy with their own caseloads they do not have the time to oversee assistants.

As a Martin County school principal, I, along with many others, lived through what I would call another dark time in this school district. This was from 2008 through around 2012. I watched as the Exceptional Student Education (E.S.E.) department was slowly dismantled. Speech and Language Pathologists and other support staff members were pushed out because funding was not allocated appropriately. They left to find work in the private sector where they found they could make more money. The district had no choice but to hire contracted personnel to fill in the gaps which is considerably more costly than having SLPs on staff. The district has never fully recovered from this, but in recent years the problem has been exacerbated due to mediocre pay compared to like size districts and unrealistic caseloads.

With the shortage of Certified SLPs, the school district is struggling to provide appropriate speech and language services to students who require this support. This shortage has also created delays in identification and intervention potentially impacting academic performance and social development. When Certified SLPs are understaffed, the existing therapists have larger caseloads, making it challenging for them to provide individualized instruction to identified students. Larger caseloads result in reduced quality of service and limited time for proper assessment, treatment planning, and collaboration between the SLPs and classroom teachers. This impacts 3-year-olds to 21-year-olds who struggle with the language of the curriculum.

Measures need to be taken to offer a fair and competitive compensation package that would attract SLPs. The Martin County School Board needs to recognize Speech and Language Pathologists as a critical shortage, think creatively, and give a proper increase to the SLPs for retention and recruitment as other like size districts have done to effectively meet the needs of students.

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

Timing the Transfer of Financial Control When Loved Ones Face Cognitive Decline

The Center for Retirement Research researched the impact of cognitive decline on financial decision-making in older Americans and the ideal time for a child or agent to take over day-to-day financial management. 

It surveyed participants in the Vanguard Research Initiative, a panel of account holders at the Vanguard Group, Inc., to get their opinions on the optimal time to transfer control once cognitive decline becomes a concern. 

They could choose one of three options:

1. Immediately after the onset of cognitive decline

2. During further decline, but before completely losing the ability

3. When completely lose the ability

Most respondents (84%) prefer taking a middle ground, making the transfer after some cognitive decline but before completely losing their ability to manage money.

But by waiting too long, older people can make financial mistakes that endanger their long-term financial security.

Starting a money conversation is critical if you’re responsible for eventually taking over your parents’ finances.  It’s a touchy subject, and parents may resist giving up control, have trouble accepting their cognitive decline, and fear a loss of independence.

Here are some tips about raising the topic with parents and easing yourself into a new role.

Get an early start –To get a feel for their financial landscape, talk with your loved ones about money before an emergency strikes or cognitive decline begins. Expect the process to take time and know that it won’t be a one-and-done conversation.

Offer your help – Make gradual changes and start by helping them open, review, and

pay bills together. That way, they’ll get comfortable with your involvement.

Automate billing – Simplify the monthly bill paying by automating bill payments and switching income streams to direct deposit.

Inventory financial and legal papers – Start making a list of account numbers and legal

documents (birth certificates, insurance policies, and wills, for example), and be sure all the documents are in a secure spot.

Work with professionals – Work with an elder law attorney to be sure all the appropriate

paperwork—estate planning and a power of attorney, for example—is in place, up to date, and fits the wishes and needs of your loved one. 

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

Will My Car Insurance Rates Go Up If I Make A Personal Injury Claim?

Going through the aftermath of a car accident can be a daunting task, especially when considering the potential impact on your car insurance rates after making a personal injury claim.

Florida is a no-fault insurance state, meaning that after a car accident, your insurance policy's Personal Injury Protection (PIP) covers a portion of your medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. This system is designed to streamline the process of getting compensation for your injuries, but it also raises questions about the impact of filing a claim on insurance premiums.

One of the most common concerns is whether filing a personal injury claim will result in higher car insurance rates. The answer is not straightforward because several factors influence insurance premiums. Generally, if you're using your PIP coverage for a claim, your rates may not necessarily increase simply because of the claim. Insurance companies consider your overall driving history, the details of the accident, and the frequency of claims when adjusting rates.

Factors That Affect Insurance Rates After a Claim

  • Your Driving Record: Insurers look at your driving history to assess risk. A clean record may help mitigate rate increases.
  • The Nature of the Accident: The accident's circumstances are crucial. If you were not at fault, your rates might not increase significantly as if you were found responsible.
  • Frequency of Claims: Filing multiple claims within a short period can signal to insurers that you're a higher risk, potentially leading to higher premiums, even if you were not at fault.

While the prospect of increased rates can be concerning, there are steps you can take to manage your insurance costs effectively:

  • Shop Around for Insurance: If you're facing a significant rate increase, it might be time to compare rates from different insurers. Different companies have varying policies on how they adjust rates after claims.
  • Consider Higher Deductibles: Opting for a higher deductible can lower your premium, but make sure you can afford the deductible in case of an accident.
  • Take Advantage of Discounts: Many insurers offer discounts for safe driving, security features on your vehicle, memberships in associations, and more. Ensure you're taking advantage of any discounts you're eligible for.

Unfortunately, even if you do all of the above, your rates may still increase, regardless of fault for an accident. The best thing you can do is drive defensively, be aware of your surroundings, and do your best to avoid an accident in the first place. 

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

Kiehn's Tech Place

Making Business Apps Your Friend and Making You Money Part 1

By Eric Kiehn

Tom asked me to write a little about technology, but Tom doesn’t really know me, I have a hard time writing a little. Since business success is always close to my heart there is a definite place to start with your technology. I like to say start with the basics so that’s where I started this article.

Most of us have used computing technology for so long now we often forget how in the early days there were only a few apps that got us through the day. A good Word processor and Spreadsheet were key programs do the business we had to do. When Email and Calendaring came along, our general productivity improved as well… Today there are thousands of apps to choose from and it can be hard to figure out just what will make your day better.

The good news is that if you focus on just 5 Apps, and really spend some time using their capabilities, you will have more than enough horsepower to really drive your business to success.

I’m going to stick with one vendor for now as all five of these applications are often considered the bedrock of making your business hum… And if you read though all this I’ll give you a little inside info about leveraging AI for the business world like never before.

Basics are important, you have to build that foundation first. If you haven’t guessed, the Microsoft cadre of applications is on tap and the foundational App is Microsoft Office 365.

Microsoft Office 365 is a suite of apps that still leverage the same core programs I helped business use 39 years ago. Essential tools Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook but unlike the early days all of these Apps are integrated and tied together, drag and drop from one to another or work with others on the same document at the same time. This is core stuff and with Microsoft Free online training you can make yourself a semi expert in no time. Want to do more? Spend some time understanding what can be done with all these core products.

Next on my list is OneDrive for Business: It’s cloud storage and you need it. Store, share, and collaborate on files with team members. Leverage the Team and keep it secure with advanced security built right in. I’ll say this, it took Microsoft a little while to get this working right, but now it works and give your Team the access and “shareability” they need. Microsoft even now defaults to saving your files to OneDrive and you probably should. Turn on Encryption and you’ve got a good thing going. 

So with the limited space I have to break this up into 2 parts. Part 2 is where we get to some of the exciting stuff, the stuff that seems new even though it’s been out there for years. It’s also where I get tell you more about the Artificial Intelligence revolution coming to your desktop, mobile phone and more. That could eat up a whole article all by itself.

Here’s a little bit of news, Microsoft is starting a program to give you AI for free! If you are up to date on your Operating System and your MS 365 subscriptions, you’ll start getting AI for Free…

I’ll look forward to giving you Part 2 soon and where the remaining 3 Apps, though newcomers, really are shaking up business. If you aren’t leveraging these Apps your competition will be and the advantage will be theirs.

See you next time…

Eric Kiehn’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.

Martin County Forever

Preserving Paradize: A Half Cent At  A Time








Committee Members Jim Snedeker and

Merritt Matheson, former Mayor, City of Stuart

It's Go Time!

If you’ve been reading our columns, you know it’s been over a year since we launched our outreach efforts to Martin County residents to discuss the opportunity to purchase and conserve natural lands that will protect our quality of life.

Well, now it’s GO TIME! All that effort brings us to a critical decision-making moment for our Martin County Commissioners. This Tue., Feb. 20 at 10:30 a.m., commissioners will decide whether to vote in favor of placing a referendum on the November 2024 ballot for a half-cent sales tax to acquire and preserve environmentally significant lands.

As a reminder, a YES vote by the Commissioners is NOT a vote to raise our taxes.

A YES vote means that we, the citizens of Martin County, get to choose our own destiny.

Peck's Lake Park

We encourage you to attend the commission meeting at the Martin County Admin building (2401 SE Monterey Rd in Stuart) and speak in support of the ballot initiative. You don’t have to say much. Something simple and heartfelt is all that’s needed. We’ll also be waving signs at 8:30 a.m. if you’d like to join us for that.

If you can’t attend, please show your support by sending a simple email to comish@martin.fl.us by Feb 19. All five Commissioners and Senior County Staff will receive it. Put “Vote YES TO Let the Voter’s Decide” in the subject line.  

Key Points:

  • The land acquired will be limited to four regions – “Blueways” beach areas, Pal-Mar, Indian River Lagoon Region, and Loxahatchee/St. Lucie Rivers.
  • There will be a Citizen’s Oversight Committee and an Annual Audit.
  • The sales tax increase won’t apply to groceries, prescription meds, school supplies and doesn’t apply to purchases exceeding $5,000.
  • About 37.5% of the sales tax money will come from tourists.  
  • The local money raised will be used to leverage additional matching funds from state and federal sources.

Any questions? Please reach out to us at martincountyforever@gmail.com

For more info visit www.martincountyforever.com. Follow us on Facebook at Martin County Forever Facebook  or on Instagram at Martin County Forever Instagram.

We can’t thank you enough for your support!

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

Martin County Taxpayers Association


Let The Voters Decide

The Martin County Taxpayers Association has decided to support the referendum for the ½ cent sales tax to buy specific conservation land in Martin County.

MCTA is not endorsing the proposal but believes the voters of Martin County should decide whether they want to tax themselves ½ cent for ten years to acquire sensitive environmental lands. The resolution reads in part:

  1. To acquire, by fee simple interest, environmentally significant land for the purposes of:  preserving, conserving, and restoring the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, Pal-Mar, the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie River headwaters, thereby protecting water sources, preserving natural areas and beaches, providing open space, protecting wildlife habitat and water storage/recharge areas.  Land acquisition and preservation using the County’s share of the Surtax proceeds shall be limited to the properties known or identified within the Pal-Mar Water Control District, the Natural Lands Component of the Indian River Lagoon South Project of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Headwaters and Blueways Areas
  2. To acquire perpetual interests in lands through conservation easements in environmentally significant land for the purposes of:  preserving, conserving, and restoring the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, Pal-Mar, the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie River headwaters, thereby protecting water sources, preserving natural areas and beaches, providing open space, protecting wildlife habitat and water storage/recharge areas.  Land acquisition and preservation using the County’s share of the Surtax proceeds shall be limited to the properties known or identified within the Pal-Mar Water Control District, the Natural Lands Component of the Indian River Lagoon South Project of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Headwaters and Blueways Areas.

As you can see, the areas to purchase are clearly enumerated in the ordinance and they have already been declared environmentally sensitive lands by the federal government, the state government, or other agencies charged with assessing which properties to be included in that category.

One of the largest complaints we have heard about the last sales tax was that the commission used the money for things that were not intended. In an effort to minimize such a problem, the sponsoring group, Martin County Forever, has also written in the documents about the creation of a citizens’ review board.

MCTA will have a dedicated seat on that board. We will not hesitate to make the taxpayer aware of any attempt to circumvent the intent of the referendum.

MCTA believes that this is a well-written referendum, and that the resolution is tightly crafted to leave little wiggle room for either staff or the commission. That will ensure that they adhere to the intent.

We are not encouraging a vote either in support or against. What we are saying is that the voters should decide. That it is up to you!

We also would caution the commission not to tinker with the language or introduce other areas or reasons to spend the dedicated sales tax during their deliberations. If we see that they have changed the text to include other needs, then we may take a different position on any changed proposal.

If the voters believe that buying the land is in the best interest of Martin County, then they can cast an affirmative vote. This referendum was the product of a group of citizens who consider that this is the best way of protecting ecologically sensitive lands.

In our view, the commission should allow the people to decide whether to tax themselves or not for this purpose.

You can see the entire resolution and referendum  here 

Triple Dippers

Politician Diamond Litty’s Pension Grab from Taxpayers 

By David Jaye

In a shocking Christmas-time taxpayer money grab, political greed unfolds in St. Lucie County, Florida. Politician Diamond Litty shamelessly exploits her position to pocket an outrageous $1.1 Million taxpayer-funded pension bonus. This display of gluttony sets a new low for political personal enrichment, particularly for a Politician charged with the task of “Public Defender”.

Republican Diamond Litty decided her pension cash bonus, originally $641,435, scheduled for payment on December 31, 2023, was not enough money. Demonstrating cunning maneuvering, Litty submitted paperwork in June 2023, breaking an earlier contract promise to resign by December 31, 2023. This move allowed her to pursue an additional three years of pension bonus time, elevating her Diamond Pension Bonus total to an indefensible $1,161,730, with a monthly taxpayer-funded pension soaring from $6,414 to $11,697. See: https://tripledippers.org/diamond-litty-scandalous-greed-unveiled/ 

Politician Diamond Litty is the inaugural inductee on a recently launched Hall of Shame website dedicated to exposing greedy Florida politicians. These Greedy Politicians used their office to enrich themselves by maneuvering for an extended pension bonus of 8 years instead of the originally allotted 5 years. Stay tuned: https://tripledippers.org/triple-dippers-hall-of-shame/.

Sneaky Politician Diamond Bonus Litty is greedy. How many gourmet meals, luxury cars, and vacation homes does one person need or can even use?

Pension Plotter Diamond Liddy, 67, takes a base paycheck of $212,562, plus pension, plus approximately $85,024 in annual benefits and doesn't contribute the standard 3% of her salary ($6,376) to the Florida Pension program, like all other public employees.

You can stop Diamond Liddy's $1.1 million pension cash bonus when as she seeks re-election in 2024.

St. Lucie County suffers with a poverty rate of 13.7%, almost ten percent higher than the statewide average of 12.7%. The average St. Lucie County worker earns $46,436 and would need to work over 25 years to match Politician Public Defender Diamond Litty’s pension cash bonus of $1,161,730.


Diamond Litty's staggering $1,161,730 pension cash bonus could fund 65,374 tutor hours for high school students enhancing job and college readiness. Only 5% of Treasure Coast High School students are college-ready, 49% are proficient in Reading, and 28% in Math.  

Governor Jim DeSantis signed SB 7024 effective July 1, 2023 allowing politicians and bureaucrats to extend pension bonuses by 60% from 5 to 8 years and up to ten years for School Employees. The Triple Dipper Pension Bonus system created $39 billion in unfunded Florida Retirement obligations, amounting to a $1,725 liability for every man, woman, and child in Florida.


 For a  list of the names, employers and pension cash bonuses of approximately 26,000 Florida's Triple Dippers, visit https://tripledippers.org/fl-statewide-2023-june-28537-tripledippers/.

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

Constitutional Corner & Non Profit Notices


Supervisor of Elections


Stuart – Martin County Supervisor of Elections, Vicki Davis is mailing 8,000 Vote by Mail Ballots for the Republican Presidential Preference Primary Election that will be held on Tuesday, March 19.

Voters who have requested a vote by mail ballot for the presidential preference primary election will receive their ballots within the next week.

The deadline to request a ballot to be mailed is Wednesday, March 9 at 5 pm.

Vote by Mail Ballots can be requested by visiting the Elections Office website at www.MartinVotes.gov or by calling the office at (772) 288-5637.

When mailing your voted ballot, it is recommended to place your ballot in the mail at least ten days before Election Day. Vote by Mail ballots must be received by 7 pm Election Day when the polls close.

To track your ballot, visit MartinVotes.gov and click on Ballottrax located under What’s New on our homepage.

For more information, visit the Elections Center located at 135 SE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, Stuart, FL or call the office at 772-288-5637.

Tax Collector

Property Appraiser

As a property owner in Florida, homestead exemption is one way to reduce the amount of real estate taxes you pay on your residential property. In this educational video, we highlight the benefits of filing for homestead exemption and how you may be entitled to additional tax savings! https://youtu.be/4wzu96KFQ8Y?si=wjGQT3mgzQ0pekR5

Martin County Clerk & Comptroller

Non Profit Notices

2024 Martin County Open Studio Tour

The Martin Artisans Guild is producing its 8th annual open studio tour on March 2nd & 3rd from 10 am to 5 pm each day.

Colleen North, Deborah Bottorff, Dinja Berkian


Renee Keil & Nancy Turrell


This is a free self-guided tour that gives the community a chance to meet artists and see their studios firsthand.

This year boasts 37 artists in 16 locations, all in Martin County. From Hobe Sound to Palm City, across to Rocky Point, up to Old St. Lucie Blvd, downtown Stuart, Sewall’s Point and Jensen Beach.

Ann Zorn, Jacqueline Roesch-Sanchez , Maria Knowls

The Preview Exhibit takes place February 15th at the Elliott Museum and will feature one artwork by each of the 37 artists. It will also have appetizers and live music.

Chris Kling In Studio

Plan on picking up your Tour book at The Palm Room Art Gallery & Artisans Boutique, MartinArts at the Court House Cultural Center, Stuart Art Supply, Bridge Road Art Gallery or the Elliott Museum as well as many other locations. Then attend the Preview to see the artworks in person. Pick which artists/studios you want to go to and plot your course using the centerfold map in the tour book with the studios marked.


Upcoming Newsletter

We are excited to announce that our organization will be starting a biweekly e-newsletter this month. We will include information about our organization, community outreaches, photos, announcements, and more. We will be showcasing different facets of what we do and the impact that has been made within each issue. We also plan to use it to keep our families abreast of what is happening at Banner Lake Early Learning Center, Banner Lake Academy, The Community Center, and our after-school BLAST program. This will be a tool for us to inform the community about specific needs, ways to volunteer, and what is happening with our students, volunteers, staff, sponsors, and partners. If you want to be added to our e-newsletter mailing list, call our office at 772-545-0953. We would love to include you! Thank you for your interest and support!