March 12, 2023

Friends & Neighbors Edition

In This Edition

There is no secret about how to tackle bringing more affordable housing to Stuart and Martin County. It is as easy as changing the rules on density, setbacks, parking, and height. The proposal now in the legislature does all of that.

However, as we know, people in Martin County and Stuart are averse to all those things. The very notion of changing the building codes to facilitate affordable housing projects would engender all types of outrage, demonstrations, and letters to the editors or even newspaper columns.

In a recent TC Palm article by Blake Fontenay, he extolled the virtues of a development of 45 tiny 300 sq ft apartments on Bruner Pond with an outdoor art gallery and boardwalk. I think it is a great idea. To build this would require some code exception including for the parking standards. I would also guess that setbacks and other things such as retention and open space requirements would need exceptions.

There were no rents mentioned for the apartments. No matter how small the units are, there still are some base building costs. How much will it cost to build per foot? There are impact fees to be paid. How will traffic be impacted especially at the railroad crossing at Martin Luther King Blvd.

So before going gaga over this proposal, we should have some consistency about what we support and have it universally applied. Right now, the bill that has been introduced in the Florida Legislature stipulates rents of 120% of the AMI for apartments to be labeled affordable. For that goal, the state would suspend all the things I mentioned above.

The city and the county CRAs should have more density. I am all in favor of us changing the rules to allow it. When push comes to shove, I bet most people are not. It would be disingenuous to approve one project because it is cool and do nothing toward solving the long-range problem that re-examining all our codes would have.

Or we can just leave it up to Tallahassee.

Do Commission Meetings Need A Makeover

 This year, Major League Baseball made several changes to the rules to speed up games for the fans.

Fans have been leaving in droves and new ones coming to the game have been sparse. Perhaps it is because of games that last 4 or 4 ½ hours. If fans can’t be kept in seats or in front of their televisions, revenues will go down. This translates into fewer kids, the paying fans of tomorrow in the U.S., having an interest in the game as compared to football or basketball.

As one of their efforts to speed up play, the MLB introduced a 30-second rule between batters and 15 seconds for pitchers to start their pitches. Instead of interminably long times where pitchers and batters contemplate the world between action, they need to get down to doing what they are there to do. A relief for all of us who enjoy the game.

Just like those players have drawn out the time it takes to play a game, so too have commissioners drawn out the length of meetings, especially in Stuart, where they seem to go on forever. During public comment, each speaker is limited to 3 minutes which is more than enough time. During their comments, commissioners sometimes go on interminably. For the most part, nobody cares to hear them ruminate.

The same goes for stream of consciousness ramblings when their business is to get to the agenda items. We don’t need to know who went to the park and cut a ribbon. That is what they signed on to do when they ran. Commissioners don’t need to announce everything they did since the last meeting.

Once an agenda item is being discussed, a commissioner may have a question for either staff or the applicant. A commissioner should ask it, and once the answer is given, accept it. Commissioners don’t need to begin arguing as if they are going to change the mind of the developer. It is not a debate or a campaign event.

I would hate to see a clock on commissioners but maybe that is what is needed to speed up play. Meetings taking 4 hours are now the norm when before 2 or 2 ½ hours was typical. There are times when a long meeting will happen but usually because of a controversial agenda item. That is a thing of the past now…they all are long.

Why take twice the time to do their jobs? Commissioners are not being paid by the hour. They should stop acting as though they were.

Here We Go Again

Anyone who has been in Martin County for some time has been through this before…a green water year. This may be shaping up to be one of those with cyanobacteria again making our river untouchable.

The water releases from Lake Okeechobee, which began earlier this year, were stopped for a few days when the presence of the algae was observed. Once it cleared up, the discharges resumed. About 9 billion gallons of water has entered the St. Lucie since the discharges started in late January. That is a drop in the bucket to lowering the lake level to become ready for the wet season.

Water released to the Caloosahatchee River on the west side of the lake has always occurred. A certain amount is needed there for the health of that system. On our side of the lake, it is only in the past century that the St. Lucie and the lake were connected. It is a man-made connection. Any releases are not the work of Mother Nature.

The difference from a few years ago is that the Corps of Engineers is more receptive to speaking and listening to Martin County residents. In a small way, that is due to people like former Mayor Merritt Matheson and Martin County Ecosystem Restoration and Management Manager John Maehl who took the time to speak and educate the federal and state governments about our concerns.

The new LOSUM schedule will not eliminate discharges. Florida’s topography has changed. We need to find substitutes for what occurred naturally in the past.

The old Florida is gone permanently and has been replaced by 21st century development. That does not mean we can’t continue to build the necessary reservoirs to hold the water. The government also needs to buy land to help in protecting the natural flow ways that still exist to nourish our wetlands. That is why places like Pal Mar are critical to our future.

But don’t let the voices of confrontation and those who believe you can win in litigation take away the good that has been done. The federal government has billions to spend to win in court. We are no match…and, more importantly, we probably do not have a winnable cause of action.

The minute the endless litigation begins that is when the dialogue stops. As we have seen over and over, friends help each other as has been proven by Matheson and Maehl with their relationships with the Corps. The first thing an attorney tells his client is don’t speak to the other side. Is that any way for us to eventually get what we want?

Medicare & Social Security Are 2 Programs That Work

President Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors were far-seeing in how they created the Social Security System. President Johnson and his advisors were just as prescient when they proposed the Medicare program. Even the funding system was a bit of genius.

Premiums for Medicare are based on taxable income. Those who earn more pay more and receive the same level of services only enhanced by the type of supplemental plan retirees have. Most people have never been happier with the care received. It provides much better coverage than what many people have before the age of 65.

The same goes for the social security payment retirees receive. Even if a retiree receives more than most, it is because they paid at the maximum amount for most of their working life. Proportionately, upper income earners will pay more into the system than they receive by a greater margin than someone who contributed less.

I have come to believe a couple of things about Social Security and Medicare. One, it is a fair way to make sure that Americans have some type of benefit in retirement. Two, that making it a universal benefit for just about everyone is a way of having everyone invested in making the system continue. Three, looking at either Medicare or Social Security as a welfare scheme is incorrect.

Most who have a pension plan or 401K, were lucky to work for a company or the government that had such a plan or were high enough earners to be able to save and invest their earnings. They will have a comfortable retirement. They are the distinct minority of most of those that worked.

At one time, I believed that if I had the amount that I contributed into these programs and had invested it myself, I would have made a better return. That could be true. Yet for society as a whole, it would not be True.

Many workers wouldn’t have invested the money they paid into the system. They would have spent it immediately not because of irresponsibility but because the additional couple of bucks per week would have stretched the family budget. In their retirements, they would have been on the dole.

The CBO estimates that benefits will have to be reduced to pay only 80% of the amount promised supposedly in 2035. It is important that we make sure they continue without a reduction in benefits.

I am not in favor of raising the retirement age much further. The retirement age was raised from 65 to 67 over the course of 40 years. It is true that life expectancy has gone up, but not for everyone.

A chart in The New York Times from the Congressional Research Service shows that for those in the bottom half of earners, life expectancy has not risen very much over the years as compared for those in the top half. There is no mystery why. More money equates with better health and living conditions. It would be unfair and impossible for many people to continue working as a blue-collar worker much longer than they do now. Their bodies cannot do what they did for any longer.

What we need to do is increase the cap on the wages that are subject to the tax and perhaps include investment and passive income into what is subject to being taxed. Anytime we can invest in people’s wellbeing, we have a better society. Isn’t it time we finally acknowledge that spending taxpayer resources not only on the old but the young and all of us pays a dividend far greater than most of us can produce individually?

On The River

I saw Lt. Col. Todd Polk of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January at the Everglades Conference in Fort Lauderdale. Polk is the Army Corps’ Deputy District Commander and probably the most visible face of the agency our District, and he’s hard to miss in his full-dress uniform. He knew he knew me, but probably couldn’t put the name with the face.

We saw each other again at the Rivers Coalition meeting on Feb. 23. I finally had the chance to speak with him at length March 1st when he made a presentation to the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments.

Vice-Mayor Bruner zoomed in; Ben Hogarth, Stuart’s Community Affairs Liaison and the city’s own river wonk, and John Maehl, Ecosystem Restoration and Management Manager for Martin County, were also on the call. With discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie ongoing, it was a strong indication of how much the City of Stuart and Martin County care about the issues impacting the quality of our river.

The city has worked to establish a working relationship with the Corps that had been dormant since former Commissioner Merritt Matheson lost his campaign for re-election last fall. This relationship has benefits; the city, for example, was informed well in advance of the Corps’ decision on Wednesday to resume discharges into the C-44 canal after pausing the discharges after blue-green algae had been detected. That was not the case just two months ago, when the discharges first began.

In speaking with Corps officials, we understand the difficult situation they are in. Lake Okeechobee is high for this time of year, a direct result of the rain dumped by Hurricane Ian north of the lake in September. Some parts of Florida suffered a 1,000-year rain event, Polk told us.

And with the wet season rapidly approaching, the Corps has opted for discharges at 500 cubic feet per second to the St. Lucie to help lower the lake level and avoid or minimize releases this summer.

We certainly understand the rationale, and we’re glad to hear that they are keeping a close eye on the possible presence of toxic blue-green algae.

We all share the desire to reduce the harm that these discharges cause. The estuary is harmed by both the amount of fresh water, and the duration of the discharges. The St. Lucie River is used to fresh water when it rains. But the system cannot tolerate weeks of fresh water; and if that water is contaminated with toxic algae the problems are even worse.

In the meeting, local officials told Polk that we are already seeing severe stress on the estuary.

I take some encouragement from Corps’ willingness to hear us out. I have no doubt that the colonel will listen to me if I pick up the phone to voice our concerns. it represents progress.

But we all know the system must change.

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

Supervisor of Elections

VOTE 2024! It’s Your Choice!

Preparations for the 2024 presidential election year are underway at the Martin County Elections Office.  Our goal is to ensure every voter has access to all available resources to be Election Ready in 2024!

I encourage all registered voters to visit our user-friendly website at

and click on “Access Your Voter Information” to verify your information is up-to-date.

From the “Access Your Voter Information” link you can view the following:

  • Voter Status
  • Party Affiliation
  • Precinct Location for Election Day
  • Contact Information
  • Request a Vote-By-Mail Ballot
  • Precinct Specific Sample Ballot
  • Review and Update Voter Registration Information

Please “Save the Dates” for the three scheduled elections in 2024 listed below. By “Accessing Your Voter Information” at you can be confident you are ready and prepared for the 2024 presidential election cycle.

Staff and I work hard to ensure all voters have a positive voting experience and to make certain every vote counts!  If you have any questions regarding the 2024 elections or need additional information, please call the office at 772-288-5637 or visit us online at

Vote 2024 – It’s Your Choice!

Martin County Property Appraiser

Attention New Homebuyers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Profit Perspective

Carol Houwaart-Diez
United Way of Martin County, President & CEO

In 2019, the United Way of Martin County launched Tools for Success, a collaborative program with local partners to provide school supplies to children in our school district who need these basic supplies.

Our goal was to provide supplies directly to the schools where teachers would distribute them to eligible students who received free and reduced lunch. United Way coordinated the collection, sorting, and distribution of school supplies, and many partners came together to make this project a reality. At the same time, other community partners were encouraged to continue back-to-school celebrations, offering free haircuts, clothes, and vaccinations to ensure our students start the school year on the right foot.

As we all know, the pandemic upended almost every aspect of learning, including the classroom itself. In 2020 and 2021, Tools for Success met a crucial need by providing individual gallon-sized zip lock bags of school supplies to students that could be used in both the virtual and in-person school environment. It was rewarding to partner with corporate sponsors and the community to help alleviate the financial burden of buying school supplies for the most vulnerable in our community in the toughest times.

By the fall of 2022, with COVID in the rear-view mirror, our generous community partners expanded their school supply initiatives, and this minimized the demand for the Tools for Success program. One of the greatest strengths of United Ways across the country is to bring people and resources together to tackle unmet needs in a community while eliminating duplication of efforts and services.

While our community partners carry the torch on the school supply initiative, United Way will shift our focus to the other issues facing our community – workforce housing, transportation, and basic needs for those in our community’s ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population who live paycheck to paycheck. These are the issues that require our resources to find solutions, and where United Way’s efforts will be focused.

United Way will still gladly work with any company that wants to run a school supply drive at their place of business, and we will ensure that the collected items reach the teachers and students who need them the most. If you would like to know how you can support our efforts, reach out to me at or visit our website at

Carol Houwaart-Diez opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

VanRiper's Views

Darlene VanRiper


I watched a Cato Institute presentation recently that I’d like to share with you.

Representative John Rose (TN) is introducing a bill to curb the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).   Rep. Rose serves as Vice Chair of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  The BSA was originally passed in 1970.  Has it been working?

Its intention was to reveal criminals such as the mafia, terrorists, and drug cartels through their financial activities.  In case you haven’t noticed, all these criminal entities have continued to thrive while the BSA has been continually expanded.

The Representative’s consideration in presenting the Bank Privacy Reform Act Bill is that the BSA is simply not working, so what’s the point of having it?  Meanwhile it is a huge infringement on our 4th Amendment right which in part says that the people have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Banks, it was remarked, are basically deputized, and tasked with providing massive quantities of data on citizens who are not told they are being reported.  The quantities of data are gargantuan fishing expeditions having little to do with quality of information.  Again, 9/11 happened 31 years after the inception of the BSA.

Regulators don’t even tell Congress if the data they are receiving from not only your bank, but independent ATM companies, pawn shops, car dealerships etc. is useful or not!  The Bank Privacy Reform Act will prevent banks from reporting activity without a warrant.  What a concept!

One of the least considered but most shocking facts I learned was that the BSA is not indexed to inflation.  So, everyone remembers that part of the Act requires banks to report a deposit of $10,000 in cash.  Ok.  But $10,000 in 1970 was a lot more money than it is now.  In fact, it was explained that $10,000 yesterday is $72,000 today.  Think of the insidious creep inherent in this oversight!

So, in 1970 if you purchased 2 Corvettes with cash…well ok, a little suspicious.  But today a not so expensive dining room set can easily cost that much.  Suspicious?  No.

I know a lot of us simply think “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care”.   Not the American Way folks.  Our forefathers would have switched that around to say, “Why should I be reported on if I am doing nothing wrong?”  Herein lies a psychological creep to a very real loss of rights.  Remember, we are innocent until proven guilty!  Get a warrant!

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

Nicki's Place

Nicki van Vonno
van Vonno Consulting, Owner


I have learned many things over the last few years.

While I love film, watching the news on a tv screen is overwhelming. There are the hosts, and their interviewees. There is always a video feed of whatever they are discussing, and at the bottom of the video feed is the breaking news feed, and the stock market stats of the day, and the pop-up ads for their next special report, or the endless Medicare and drug ads.  It was driving me crazy.

I read a paper newspaper that I touch. I am always so amazed at people who think the press is a beacon of freedom instead of a partisan battleground. Growing up, my hometown had two newspapers. The daily morning paper spouted one party’s views and the daily afternoon paper the other.

In 1987 I created a scrap book of my favorite pieces.  It includes articles, photographs, columns, and comic strips. Apparently, I have always needed time management tips, allergy tips, parenting tips and artist profiles.  My late husband contributed pieces about gift giving, marriage and “more of that boy/girl nonsense.”

One column led me to rethink how I view St. Patrick’s Day. A column by Dominic Gates, headlined “Seeing red, not green, on St. Patrick’s Day” explains that America’s stereotypical characterization of the Irish is based on recycled anti-British propaganda from the 19th century repackaged by Hollywood with movies like “The Quiet Man,” a John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara classic, directed by John Ford. Years later I met a father whose kids could not wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, his family wears orange. If I hadn’t read Gates, I wouldn’t have understood the ongoing EU dispute.

In March 1981 Eugene McCarthy wrote a column “The Final, We Promise, Argument on February,” a commentary on the transition of power after an election. His tagline identifies him as a poet and 1968 presidential candidate.

Reading allows you time to reflect on the news in the context of your life, and your community. I read:  the paper copy of the Palm Beach Post, and various papers online: the Stuart News, the Denverite, an online news source done by Colorado Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the New York Times. I watch Meet the Press (after Saturday Night Live, if SNL was new the night before) for the panels, and I tune into the Friday night PBS NewsHour to listen to David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, at about the half hour mark.

I don’t think they will comment on what my web browser screams: Giant flying bug found on side of Walmart turns out to be “super rare” Jurassic-era insect.

Everything old is news again.

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 is a popular joke that goes:

Q: Why did the farmers win an award?

A: Because they were out standing (outstanding) in their field!

But why were the farmers out standing in their field to begin? They were probably observing.

Agriculture is science. Observation- the first step in the scientific process- is one of the most important tools a farmer or rancher has. By being observant farmers can catch problems early. A sick animal, an insect infestation, crops needing more nutrients, etc. can be caught early and remedied quickly by an observant farmer.

A couple weeks ago I brought my livestock into the barn to be fed as I do every day. On this day something wasn’t right. After all the animals were fed, I looked around and observed one of the horses was just standing instead of eating his way to the bottom of his bucket. That was not normal. I checked to be sure I didn’t forget to feed him. Nope, his feed was there. So, what else could it be? It was intestinal distress known as colic which could be deadly for a horse.

I grew up on a large horse ranch in Palm Beach Gardens. My family’s ranch is now gone, and the land has been developed, but the lessons I learned on that ranch are still with me. Thanks to my experiences on the ranch, I knew exactly what to do for that horse. I had seen the signs and experienced working with horses through this same situation many times. I had succeeded many times and failed once in bringing horses through, so I already knew what to expect either way. I put my knowledge to work and brought that horse back to health. It’s a great feeling knowing I have the knowledge and ability needed to save a life.

Just like I observed and then put my knowledge to work with that horse, I also do so with local and state politics. The 2023 Florida legislative session is already underway, and your elected officials need to hear from you so they can make wise decisions as they wade through hundreds of bills vying to become laws.

Gideon J. Tucker is famously quoted as saying, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” I say we may not be safe, but we can be proactive in defending ourselves from misguided legislation. How? Observe the bills in the Florida House and Senate here

Find ones that are pertinent to your knowledge base,and contact your representatives about them. Ask questions and let them know how you feel about what is proposed. Send an email, write a letter, make a phone call, but do something.

You have life experiences that make you the expert in your area. Your representative needs you to share your knowledge and you need your representatives to understand your position. Just like with my horse, it could go either way. Your knowledge could be the missing perspective that makes the bill into a successful law, or you could miss the opportunity and end up with a law that negatively affects your way of life. It’s a great feeling when your knowledge guides the outcome of a piece of legislation. Give it a try. 

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

Business Development Board Bent

Joan Goodrich
Business Development Board of Martin County, CEO

It’s a great sensation when you hit what you aimed for—and that’s exactly how we feel about our role in bringing Grind Hard Ammo to Martin County.

No doubt the Village of Indiantown can relate. Councilmembers deserve applause for recently approving the company’s second facility, which will result in a nearly $50 million investment and the creation of 100 new jobs for the Village.

In the business of economic development, community impact is the name of the game.

“Growing our own” companies are a key component to our strategy and both of Grind Hard Ammo’s projects perfectly showcase the array of resources and solutions we can bring to those that avail our services.

Two years ago, we received a call from a partner – State Representative John Snyder – who knew Austin Weiss, co-owner of Grind Hard Ammo, was looking to grow his business but was having trouble finding a site to do so.  The BDB got fast to work with its partners, helped them find their Stuart facility and answered all questions as they navigated the process to substantially rehabilitate it.

And then when the pandemic hit and global supply chains froze or were redirected, Austin and co-owner Barry Skolnick saw an opportunity to better supply our military, sheriff offices and police departments versus depending on ammunition made in other countries.

With national and local security in mind, they crafted their second investment project to re-shore the manufacturing of every aspect essential to ammunition with national security in mind and we helped again.

Heavily regulated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Grind Hard Ammo’s Stuart location—which recently opened, spanning 25,000 square feet, employing more than 20 people and representing a nearly $40 million investment in the facility and equipment—works with three of the four key ingredients of ammunition: The casing, projectile and gunpowder.

The fourth is the primer—which when struck ignites the gunpowder to release the projectile (I’ve learned so much through this project).

Primers will be produced at the company’s latest facility in Indiantown.

Approved for a 26,000-square-feet facility fortified to ensure any incident or danger would remain enclosed within the hardened walls of the building, the Indiantown location alone represents a nearly $60 million investment, bringing the total between the two sites to nearly $100 million.

The Indiantown operation promises great employment opportunities. Staff—consisting of about 30 people to a shift—will make around $25 an hour. The facility will operate 24 hours a day.

We recently toured Grind Hard Ammo’s Stuart location and marveled at the massive original murals adorning the factory walls. Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima, the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, soldiers running into battle—amid painted display of firearms and military hardware—leave no doubt about the proud patriotism of the owners.

Considering the significant financial investment and strong job creation, plus the bonus that such an essential ingredient to our national security is now made in America (and Martin County, no less), this is one economic development project that truly hits its target.  A shout-out to all who helped along the way and especially to Austin and Barry for recognizing Martin County was the place to grow jobs and make capital investments.

Joan Goodrich’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Keep Martin Beautiful


You know how you get eblasts and Google alerts making suggestions for what you should watch on TV?  Well Keep Martin Beautiful has a film for you – and everyone who cares about Florida’s natural environment.

It’s called “Path of the Panther”- a thrilling story of survival, starring (wait for it) the Florida panther!

At one time the panther was an icon for the state of Florida – a beautiful, tenacious creature that roamed throughout Florida and the southeastern United States. Now, it symbolizes the plight of endangered species, the destruction of wildlife habitats, and the environmental peril that faces both humans and animals.

Carlton Ward Jr., ( renowned National Geographic wildlife photographer, and his production team set their sights and their cameras on tracking a panther through the few areas along the Gulf Coast where the animal still roams. While the images he captured are stunningly beautiful, the message is frightening – we’ve destroyed so much of its native habitat that the panther is now on the critical list.

Carlton isn’t despairing, though. He believes we can still save the remaining panthers, their wildlife habitats, and our collective future. His film is one way to focus public attention on the issue and promote wildlife conservation measures.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio among others, the film ran in movie theaters in February and is now streaming on Disney+.

The film gives us positive steps to take, like increasing the acres set aside for the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The conservation of lands along this corridor, running from north to south in the state, preserves the native habitat for the panther and also for other species of birds and animals that depend on open spaces and room to roam and forage.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in Martin County will get a rare close-up and personal immersion in Path of the Panther this summer, when an exhibit featuring Carlton and fellow wildlife photographer Mac Stone comes to the Elliott Museum in July.

Keep Martin Beautiful friends and supporters already know Carlton’s work. He has been featured in National Geographic, won awards nationally and internationally for his wildlife photography, and been the featured photographer in the Florida Ranches Calendar for the past eighteen years, proudly published by The Firefly Group. He has worked tirelessly to explain and expand the Florida Wildlife Corridor. “Path of the Panther” makes the case once again, visually, and emotionally.

Keep Martin Beautiful is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the quality of life in Martin County through litter prevention and waste reduction, beautification and community improvement, and environmental stewardship education. So why are we suddenly movie critics?

Because, as Carlton says, we’re all on the front lines of caring for the earth, its inhabitants, and its future.  We owe it to our ourselves and future generations to know – and to act.

We hope you’ll put “Path of the Panther” on your list of “What to Watch.”  And we’ll see you at the Elliott Museum this summer!  For more information about Keep Martin Beautiful visit or send us an email

Supplemental Links:

Stacy Ranieri’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Helping Hand

Suzy Hutcheson
Helping People Succeed, CEO

March is Social Work Month, and the 2023 theme is Social Work Breaks Barriers. The theme “Social Work Breaks Barriers” resonates because social workers are on the frontlines helping our communities overcome the challenges of mental health, depression, isolation, food insecurity, school issues and many other barriers.

More than 700,000 social workers nationwide entered the profession because they have a strong desire to assist those in need and make our communities, our nation, and our world a better place for all. For generations, social workers have broken barriers to help people live better lives.

The social workers at Helping People Succeed are part of that number. They were at the forefront of the global Covid-19 pandemic. When most of us were quarantined at home, our social workers were making sure children and at-risk youth were attending classes over Zoom, coordinating the spectrum of social services and other health services that families in our community desperately needed.

They believe successful treatment occurs through the strength of the therapeutic alliance with the child and the family. Their services help to teach problem solving skills, anger management skills, maximize the individual’s strengths and reduce problem behaviors.

Today our social workers continue to provide therapeutic services including individual/group therapy sessions, helping students remain in regular classrooms and assisting with the overall family needs. The need for mental health services continues to rise and our social workers continue to meet the need by offering quality, successful services.

Our social workers work diligently providing services in the home, in school or anywhere the behaviors occur to ensure that the children gain the attitudes, behaviors and skills to be successful in school and life.

Their work has transformed thousands of lives on in Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, and Indian River counties. Chances are over the course of your lifetime, you, a family member, or a friend have been helped by a social worker.

We salute the Social Workers at Helping People Succeed including Antonella Colman, Diana Lopez, Emelyne Geffrard, Jackie Nalley, Laura Roder and Tiffany Ellison for the work they do every day to help people succeed. In the words of Jackie Nalley–

I love what I do! I love it when I get to see things come full circle; watching people make connections in their own life and work hard to make themselves a better life. It’s rewarding and heartwarming to be there for someone, a person they can say anything to and not feel judged or like they will get into trouble (the kids that is lol). Helping others truly is the root of it and what makes it all worth it. 

Helping People Succeed recognizes, appreciates, and honors the work of our social workers! Janet Cooper, Vice President of Behavioral Health Services says,

“I am so honored to work with so many caring professional social workers that help children and families get through difficult situations and find their way to physical, mental, and emotional recovery”.

Our thanks to all social workers—they make our world a better place.

Suzy Hutheson’s opinions are her own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Contemplative Christian

Chad Fair
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Pastor

This past Sunday our Biblical text for worship was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard from the book of Matthew.  To summarize the text, workers are hired at different times throughout the day and then at the end of the day all the workers are paid the same wage.  Can you imagine, working all day, while someone else works an hour or two and you both receive the same pay?  No this isn’t an article pushing the virtues of socialism.  If you’re not familiar with how this parable begins it starts with, “The kingdom of God is like…”

After wrestling with this text and pondering what exactly the kingdom of God is like, it became obvious that we don’t really know for sure, there are tons of different answers to that question.  When most people think about the kingdom of God, they automatically equate it to heaven or where we go after we die.

Let me first say that I do not believe the kingdom of God is simply the place we go after we die.  To limit the kingdom of God to that is to say that God has no place in our world today.  That God’s kingdom is not on earth.  Perhaps that last statement makes some people a little nervous, expecting me go on and on about how the faith has been removed from schools and other institutions.

I assure you I’m not, one, because I don’t believe you can remove God from any place.  Nothing ever has or ever could stop God from being present in a classroom, courtroom, hospital room or anywhere else.  And honestly, based on the way religion used by some, people are right to be skeptical…I’m skeptical.  Religion has become a weapon to marginalize people.

But for the purposes of this article, I want to invite each of you to take a minute to imagine what the heavenly kingdom of God is like.  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?  Who do you see there?  I suspect our minds envision some similarities and also some differences.  Maybe it’s a lush green garden with beautiful flowers and trees and delicious fruits and vegetables (not sure I want vegetables in heaven but that’s just me).  Maybe you hear birds singing or the serenity of ocean waves.  Maybe you see loved ones that have died, and you are reunited with them.  Honestly, we don’t really know, but I hope all those things are true.

Last month I had the privilege of worshiping in Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (not Bethlehem PA, the real one where Jesus was born).  The opening hymn during worship was “How Great Thou Art.”  When the organist hit the note to sing the first verse, at least three different languages, English, German, and Arabic joined together singing.  The sound ringing within the old stone sanctuary was a stunningly beautiful chorus.  People of different ages, cultures, classes, genders, sexualities, and political affiliations all joined together to create this moment and I couldn’t help but think, this is what the kingdom of God must be like.  The diversity of humanity joining together in song, no division, just people united in song.  It was stunningly beautiful.

Then I returned home and to the continuous news and fodder of political division.  I’ve got to be honest; it was refreshing to be disconnected from the division.  Then I was reminded, literally in the middle of a sermon, that when we look around heaven, we’re going to see people we don’t expect to see there.

We’re going to see people we don’t think deserve to be there, and maybe even people we don’t want to see there.  You see that same grace we want to lean on and have extended to us, is also extended to them.  That’s how God works.

So, if we really want to get serious about this kingdom of God stuff, and you, like me want it to be something we can experience now rather than wait until we die, we’ve got some work to do.  We must embrace the diversity of God’s people.  We must work on creating a more equitable world.  We must be a more inclusive society.

Instead of legislating against those things we can lean into them because we’re going to experience them one way or another, why wait until we die?

Chad Fair’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint

Martin's Marine Industries

There has been a major development regarding the proposed rehabilitation of the Florida East Coast Railroad Drawbridge spanning over the St. Lucie River in Stuart.

Beginning on April 19, nighttime closures to vessel traffic will take place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., followed by a 21-day full closure starting at 6 a.m. on Monday, May 1.

Once repairs are completed and the bridge reopens to vessel traffic on May 22, there will be an additional seven-day period of night closures from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast has been following this project closely and is maintaining regular communication with FEC (Florida East Coast Railroad), Brightline and the United States Coast Guard.

We are extremely concerned about the potential loss of revenue for marine-related businesses and the significant inconvenience to the commercial and recreational boating community. We are also hopeful the planned maintenance, upgrades, and new installations will ensure the near 100-year-old bridge will operate reliably and more efficiently.

MIATC will continue to communicate with FEC, Brightline and USCG, as well as federal, state, and local officials to monitor preparations for the project and provide updates and any related information impacting our members and the community at large.

As the marine industry continues to thrive on the Treasure Coast, so does our need to introduce career opportunities to young people. Last month, MIATC sponsored Fort Pierce Yacht Club’s inaugural Chart Your Course event at the River Walk Center in downtown Fort Pierce.

The successful expo was an opportunity for high school students to learn more about maritime and marine industry careers available right here on the Treasure Coast. We would like to thank the Fort Pierce Yacht Club Foundation, St. Lucie Public Schools, and the City of Fort Pierce for making this event possible.

Finally, MIATC is gearing up for our 16th Annual Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup. This year’s event takes place from Saturday, July 15 to Sunday, July 23, 2023.

Each year, nearly 1,200 volunteers participate by cleaning waterways in Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties. In 2022, volunteers collected 3.45 tons of trash from approximately 125 miles of waterways.

Since 2008, this event has activated more than 13,441 volunteers who have helped remove nearly 100 tons of trash! If you’re interested in volunteering or sponsoring the cleanup, please visit

For more information about the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast, contact Justin Beard, Executive Director, at or 772-539-2654.

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

Misty's Pal Pets Therapy

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

Nothing compares to the joy that a loyal companion brings.  The bond between people and pets is unconditional – like that of a best friend, or family member.

Studies show that owning a pet can increase mood, energy levels, and self-esteem, while decreasing stress, anxiety, and sadness.  Pet therapy has proven to have similar benefits as a form of treatment.

The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC) offers a pet therapy program called Misty’s Pals. The goal of our pet therapy program is to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. We provide specific pet therapy programs to target the elderly, the sick and injured, special needs children, and more.

Nearly 100 Misty’s Pals volunteers and their certified therapy dogs provide over 3,500 hours each year spreading love, compassion, and education throughout the community.  These volunteers visit several facilities; including schools, rehabs, assisted living centers, and even the Martin County Court House to support individuals who are going through Mental Health and Dependency Court.

The dogs also sit with struggling readers as part of HSTC’s Paws to Read program, which has proven to increase students confidence and reading levels.

Misty’s Pals volunteers are required to attend and pass the HSTC’s Basic Obedience class and then a Pet Therapy Class.  This robust training program prepares owners and their dogs to be evaluated by a national therapy dog organization.  This is to ensure that all volunteers and dogs are properly trained in the field.

Real-life scenarios are set up in the HSTC’s Jane & Shirley Wurz Training Center to give these dogs and their owners instruction and understanding of what to expect when they are out in the community. The scenarios are comprehensive, with volunteers sitting in wheelchairs, walkers, and cots, allowing the dogs to interact to observe how they respond in a hospital environment. Children and their parents also visit the shelter to interact with the dogs during these training sessions.

Misty’s Pals pet therapy dogs lend a helping paw and a wagging tail to the people who need it the most.  These volunteers serve as an essential part of our community, improving countless lives and spreading hope and joy to those who need it the most.

For more information on HSTC’s programs, or to get involved with Misty’s Pals, visit

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

Non-Profit Notices

Clay Henderson and Forces of Nature Featured at BookMania! 2023

 Familiar names like Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Theodore Roosevelt are joined by lesser- known conservationists, environmentalists, anglers, birdwatchers, artists, writers, philanthropists, politicians, and Florida residents who have fought to preserve Florida’s distinct character in Clay Henderson’s new book Forces of Nature: A History of Florida Land Conservation.

 With ties to local environmental icons like Nat Reed and with a message that will resonate with Martin County residents, Henderson will be a guest author at this year’s BookMania! celebration.

Henderson’s book is an exciting and hopeful tale of the many small victories over generations that helped Florida create several units of the national park system, nearly thirty national wildlife refuges, and one of the best state park systems in the county.

“Florida became a leader in land preservation because of the individuals and organizations who fought battle after battle for state-funded conservation,” Henderson said. “We need to recognize their efforts and commit ourselves to the same passionate defense of Florida’s natural wonders.”

Henderson knows the details of the struggles not only from his research but also from his own experience. He has had a long career as an environmental lawyer, activist, educator, and writer.

He sponsored most of the environmental provisions in Florida’s Constitution including the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and co-authored the Florida Water and Land Legacy Initiative, the largest conservation funding program the nation’s history.

He was also a leader in the development of Florida’s signature land acquisition programs including Preservation 2000, Florida Forever, and Florida Communities Trust, and negotiated the acquisition of over 300,000 acres of conservation lands. A senior counsel at Holland & Knight for nearly two decades, he also served as president of the Florida Audubon Society and Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, and Executive Director if the Institute for water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson University.

BookMania!, sponsored by the Martin County Library System and Library Foundation, is the most prestigious literary event on the Treasure Coast. Since 1995, the event has hosted more than 450 emerging and best-selling authors, attracting participants from across the country. Henderson’s Forces of Nature is part of the first panel, Florida Nonfiction, 9 a.m. on April 1 at Jensen Beach High School. For a complete schedule, visit the BookMania! website

For more information on how to purchase Clay Henderson’s Forces of Nature or to request an appearance visit


House of Hope

STUART, Fla. – Breathtaking feats of agility by the artists of the Lollipop Lyra, cocktails on the patio, and a sumptuous dinner earned rave reviews from the 140 guests at the House of Hope’s inaugural gala “Cirque du Soirée” on February 18.

With the Pedersen Family Foundation as the presenting sponsor, the gala featured acrobats, jugglers and a tarot card reader throughout the evening at Willoughby Golf Club. Guests enjoyed dancing with DJ Todd from Sound Choice DJ and both a silent and live auction with intriguing items like seven nights at the stunning Palm Springs Tennis Club, a NASCAR racing experience, tickets to hear Nashville star Jon Langston, and a cowboy hat signed by Cole Hauser—“Rip” from Yellowstone.

“We’re grateful to everyone who helped make our very first gala a success,” House of Hope CEO Rob Ranieri said. “It’s always a great evening when our generous friends and supporters come together to enjoy a fun event and raise funds for an important cause.”

The gala raised more than $101,000 to support House of Hope’s Project HOPE (“Help Others Progress through Empowerment”). This outreach program provides services directly to clients, including individual case management, enrichment opportunities, financial assistance through a crisis, support through the job-searching process, and the distribution of healthy foods to clients and the community.

In addition to the Pedersen Family Foundation, the gala was also sponsored by Ashley Capital, Meritage Homes, Three Lakes, Davies + Co., the Firefly Group, Carr Riggs & Ingram, HBKS Wealth Advisors, the Jensen Beach Garden Club, O’Donnell Impact Windows and Storm Protection, One Martin, and RE/MAX of Stuart.

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. House of Hope touches the lives of more than 7,000 people each month helping with basic needs such as food, clothing, furniture, financial assistance, as well as longer-term case management services that help build life skills for a more self-sufficient future. The organization has service centers in Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown, and Jensen Beach, and Thrift Shops in South Stuart, Hobe Sound and Indiantown. House of Hope’s Enrichment Centers in Stuart and Jensen Beach 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,


20th Annual Mutt March Festival and 5-10K races in the works

 STUART, Fla. — One of the favorite events of the year for dog owners is coming up on

Saturday, March 25. The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast’s 20th annual Mutt March Festival, which includes a 5K and 10K race, will take place at Memorial Park, 300 SE Ocean Blvd. The 5K and 10K races begin at 8 a.m. and the festival is from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Sponsored by Camp Bow Wow, Apex Pavers & Pools, Coquina Cove at Martin Downs and Sunny 107.9 FM, each year the event attracts about 1,000 pet passionate people and their dogs. The festival is free although donations will be gratefully accepted to benefit the shelter animals. The 5K and 10K races are $35 and $45, respectively. All runners will be welcomed to the festival afterwards.

The event will begin with an animal blessing by the Rev. Jude Denning of Unity of Stuart followed by a walk around the park. The public is invited to bring their family and friends — both furry and not — to enjoy the walk, shop the flea-‘less’ market, and enter the always competitive yet fun pet costume contest. Dogs also will have the opportunity to run a lure course and make a memory at the humane society’s photo booth. Adoptable dogs will be on site as well. Heidi Fischer, the humane society’s obedience trainer, will be overseeing the AKC GCG testing area.

At the same time, the humane society will partner with the City of Stuart and Students4H2O as they host WaterFest at the same time and same place. Two events wrapped in one!

Event organizer Courtney Zanetti said, “We challenge you to create a ‘pack’ and fundraise for the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast at this year’s Mutt March and help us save more lives than ever before.”

A ‘pack’ is a fundraising team comprised of two or more individuals who pledge to raise a minimum of $100 for the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast. Packs compete against each other to raise the most funds for animals in the shelter’s care while earning bragging rights for their teams. To create a pack, go online to

The 5K and 10K tickets are on sale now at For more information, call Courtney Zanetti at 772-600-3211 or email her at

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.


Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast announces new executive director

STUART—As one of the largest voices in the region advocating for the rights and interests of the boating public and marine profession, the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast (MIATC) has decided its efforts require a full-time executive director.

The association is proud to announce that Justin Beard will be taking the helm during this “dynamic time.”

“There’s a lot of opportunity and challenge across the marine industry and our entire region so we’re elevating our game to meet the needs of our growing membership,” says Tom Whittington, president of the MIATC board of directors. “Justin Beard is precisely the caliber of professional we need to help us better demonstrate our value, raise our level of service and anticipate and respond to the priorities of the industry and the boating community as a whole.”

Beard brings diverse industry experience and deep local knowledge to the organization. The time is right, says Beard, to expand the organization’s prominence and effectiveness in the realms of advocacy and policy, strategic partnerships and inspiring and shaping the next generation of industry professionals.

“MIATC is the perfect position right now,” says Beard. “We can continue building on our unique role as a powerful ally for marine-related businesses, demonstrate our value to the general public—which is widely unified in its love, enjoyment and sense of protection for our waterways—and prepare for the opportunities that are coming our way with the overwhelming amount of interest going on right now about the Treasure Coast.”

A not-for-profit trade association with members based in Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties, MIATC represents commercial and residential marinas, boatyards, boat manufacturers, boat dealers and a variety of marine-related businesses as well as the interests of recreation boaters.

A consistent voice for clean water policies, MIATC also advocates for timely and consistent management of local inlets to ensure safe ocean access, boating safety, anchoring and mooring rights, derelict vessels and water quality.

Mindful of how extended closures of the St. Lucie rail bridge in Stuart during Brightline’s expansion project could negatively impact boaters and the marine industry, MIATC is monitoring the situation and in regular communication with the U.S. Coast Guard in hopes of providing clarity and minimizing negative impacts on the marine industry and boating public.

Beard has a strong grasp of the issues impacting some of the largest marine companies in the world. He spent more than three years at Derecktor Shipyards introducing the City of Fort Pierce and the surrounding communities to the global yachting industry as manager of marketing and sales development.

His previous extended experience with the United Way sharpened his skills organizing and executing large-scale information, influence and fund-raising campaigns. He also once worked as a reporter for, even authoring a column on his beloved pastime of surfing.

Founded in 1974, MIATC also puts on the Stuart Boat Show, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024. In addition to capitalizing on the commemoration of this milestone, Beard plans to explore possible creation of a fundraiser dedicated to addressing the growing need for marine-related job training programs.

“I’m particularly excited about working with strategic partners in the community to develop career pathways for students to get into the marine industry,” he says. “A strong MIATC working with local businesses and community leaders can lead to rewarding jobs for our talented youth. It will be fun to watch all of this begin to come together over the next couple of years.”


SafeSpace’s Inaugural Amethyst Charity Ball

Join Super Bowl XXV MVP Ottis Anderson and supporters of SafeSpace, Inc. in making the inaugural Amethyst Charity Ball a success. for the only state certified and single-source provider of domestic violence programs serving the Treasure Coast.

SafeSpace provides services to adult victims of domestic violence and their children in need, in becoming survivors and in transitioning to a life free from violence — a safe life that they aspire to and deserve. 

This will be the first Gala fundraising event since the agency celebrated their 40th anniversary on October of 2019, where the community helped raise over $91,000 of much needed funds to support the programs. This year, SafeSpace aims to raise $150,000. “The reality is that the incidence of intimate partner violence continues to rise, and our ability to serve hundreds of victims and their children every year significantly depends on the support received from sources within our tri-county communities. We are fortunate to count with the leadership and generous support of Ernesto and Emmelis Keaney who are spearheading this charity ball, earmarked at becoming SafeSpace’s annual signature event on the Treasure Coast” said Dr. Teresa Albizu, CEO of SafeSpace. Much more than an emergency shelter, SafeSpace provides a wide range of services for victims residing inside and outside of our safe refuge, including safety planning, risk assessments, legal assistance, financial literacy training, mental health counseling, youth violence prevention education and referrals to community-based resources – all free of charge. SafeSpace will be honoring New York Giants Ring of Honor Inductee Ottis Anderson in a night filled with silent auctions, dinner, and dancing. SafeSpace needs the support and involvement of the community to continue saving and changing the lives of adult victims of domestic violence and survivors.

First Annual Amethyst Charity Ball – April 1, 2023, Crane Club at Tesoro Golf Club. For more information about the event, visit us at SafeSpace 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: 772-288- 7023

Letters from Readers

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

Our first letter is from Michael Syrkus

Good morning Tom,

As I read this weeks issue of Friends and Neighbors I was struck by Mrs. Defenthaler’s opinions on the education bill currently in the state house. I couldn’t help but notice her opinion was rooted in a core belief that the bill takes money from public education- something I believe is a grave misconception. It appears that Mrs. Defenthaler believes only PUBLIC SCHOOLS provide PUBLIC EDUCATION. In truth, Public education is the usage of public funds to provide educational opportunities to their constituents, not a monopolization of education in the public sector. This has been demonstrated by the Florida State Department of Education from it’s founding in 1870, when post reconstruction tax dollars were used to construct public facilities AND subsidize payment of PRIVATE facilities (mostly in churches) for areas not practical to offer public schools. In Martin County we used public tax dollars to finance public education at private facilities for the first 2 decades of our existence, and arguably never stopped into today (Think IRSC partnerships and TCCA). Evidence of this is found in Martin County Board of Public Instruction minutes dating back to the earliest meetings in the fall of 1925.

Mrs. Defenthaler correctly points out that HB-1 is not a free for all that allows parents to send their children tuition free to any private institution of their choice, but instead allows for the allotment of public funds programmed per student to follow the student to the school they wish to attend. In a nut shell, the dollars are not guaranteed to a school district then taken away unfairly, but instead the money follows the child to the school they believe is best fit to their needs. Will some districts lose dollars? Likely yes. I would contend that school choice is not the reason the school district lost those dollars, but the districts lack of appeal to the parent, is.

The next is from Diane Evans Meier



Let’s give accolades to the Fair and Jay Spicer for organizing and promoting the Martin County 64th Annual Fair.

Volunteering for the Fair was encouraging to see the appreciative faces of the crowds of all ages enjoying an amusement that is clean and wholesome.

The attendees were courteous, grateful, polite, and joyful to have an entertaining time out.

What a benefit for our Martin County community.

Members of the Stuart P.E.O. Chapter P organized in 1929

Martin County


Every year, the county presents something called the “State of the County”.

I have been attending for several years. For a while, the meeting has been held at New Hope Church in Palm City. The confab is a breakfast. Each of the commissioners has a table where their invited guests sit. The county has two reserved for their staff directors. The rest of us grab a spot where we can at the other tables.

The main reason to go is because many elected and appointed officials attend. It provides a few minutes before the presentation formally starts to meet and greet old and new friends and perhaps have an introduction to someone you have been intending to meet. For many, it is an opportunity to plug their project or organization.

This year as Chair, Ed Ciampi, was the MC…a role he was born to do. It is always humorous and rather funny. It began this year with a clip of him skydiving and seeing the entire county as he glides to the ground. In the video, he landed at the church to the sound of James Bond’s entrance music. He really did skydive…just not that morning.

With the levity out of the way, he introduced County Administrator Don Donaldson who made the actual presentation. As usual, the state of the county is good…think of the president’s state of the union. There were no surprises.

Then why go through the time to have such a shindig? Most of the people attending know each other. They may even have seen each other the day before at some other meeting. Martin County is a small place.

I sometimes think of all the people who sit in their gated communities without a clue about what is going on in the local world around them. Some residents have big opinions and have no concept of why about 80% of any local government decision is because there is no choice due to state and federal laws and regulations. I look at the posts on “Next Door” or Facebook and chuckle. Many people don’t even know whether they live in Stuart or unincorporated Martin County.

How many complain about a project on private land as if the government has the right to prevent something from happening? They complain about the schools being overcrowded when most are below capacity. Others gripe about traffic…not understanding that much of it is caused by people travelling through the county from somewhere else to somewhere else or coming here to work.

Most people who go to something like the State of the County know who the movers and shakers are in Martin County. They understand that any one person only has so much sway with a commissioner or administrator. But most attending can at least pick up a phone and have a conversation with anyone else.

The alternative is you can sit behind your wall in Palm City, play golf, and be ignorant about what is happening in Martin County. I would say to anyone living here…get involved. Learn what is possible and what is not. Pick your battles to fight and know how to fight them. And, importantly, know who you want to fight them with.



For some time now, Commissioner Smith has wanted the county to have a dedicated FTE (Full Time Employee) to coordinate the Special Olympics in Martin County.

There is already a non-profit in the county that has a dedicated group of people who put on the Special Olympics here. They are affiliated with the national association. So why is Commissioner Smith so eager to have the county take over a private nonprofit’s role?

This could be one more time that government is overreaching to do something that is already being done by an organization. Commissioner Heard asked about liability, accessibility, and transportation. Why should the BOCC take on that responsibility? The private organization’s leader said all three were already being covered.

The $92,000 budgeted position has no clearly defined role in the Parks Department. In the past few weeks, we have seen how inadequately our parks, such as Wojcieszak, have been maintained and continue to be underfunded. Yet the commission is ready to commit almost $100,000 because of a whim.

It was suggested that the organization ask for funding during the annual grant approval process in July. The Special Olympics has not expressed whether they even need an employee or could the money be used by them for some other more pressing purpose.  It would be better that they come up with their own plan and then apply for funding.

Tom Lanahan, from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, addressed the board regarding Senate Bill 102 which could seriously affect home rule.

The legislature is about fed up with counties like Martin that complain about the lack of affordable housing then do everything in their power to prevent it through their comp plans and LDRs. At some point, some accommodation must be made, or the state will do it. They have begun here with this bill.

The real pre-emption is about taking away real estate taxes from local government. Depending on how many units are involved, much of those taxes will be waived as a condition in the bill. Only local governments collect real estate taxes. That will leave those projects’ services being funded by existing taxpayers.

There is also a provision stating that if rent of 120% of the AMI (which in Martin County would equate to about $2000 per month for a one bedroom) would qualify as affordable and thereby the exemption.

In some respects, this is a sop to developers at the expense of residents. The hype about density, height, and zoning is a way of diverting attention from the real problem which is depriving cities and counties from collecting taxes to provide services. Tallahassee won’t end here.

There is another bill that would do away with localities having storm water requirements as well as wetlands. That would mean most of western Martin County would be subject to being built upon. Not really very good overall.

Nick Blount, the head of the affordable housing coalition, said it best. If affordable needs were met locally, the state would not need to step in. No truer words were spoken.

Chair Ciampi and the board are calling a press conference for March 10th to “talk about home rule.” While home rule is important, for the past decade we have seen Tallahassee taking more and more of it away. If a municipality or county stands in their way or protests, Tallahassee has been known to look at what funding the local government is also asking for. All local elected bodies should walk softly here and as Blount said solve a problem and not try to lay blame.

You can see the Lanahan’s presentation here

City of Stuart


The Governor’s Cabinet’s attorney has sent to the city’s and Ms. Cartwright’s attorneys the proposed order that decides the Kanner CPUD (Costco) in favor of Stuart.

The order was given to both attorneys for comment before the cabinet convenes next Monday where Governor DeSantis is expected to sign the document.

The 27-page order goes through the administrative judge’s decision and answers every objection. However, on the 2nd page the order clearly states that Stuart rightly decided on the FLUM amendment which was the basis of the proceeding.

“This Commission concludes that Florida law favors the City on the first question: because there was professionally acceptable evidence on both sides regarding the condition of the Property’s wetlands, and because the City’s buildout analysis used a professionally acceptable methodology, it is at least “fairly debatable” that the FLUM Amendment complied with statutory requirements. As such, the remaining issues do not affect the outcome of this dispute and need not be resolved.”

Though there was no need to go further the order does so refuting much of the administrative law judge’s decision. Mr. Grasso, Ms. Cartwright’s attorney, may try to object to parts of the order. Since it finds that the city was correct with the FLUM determination all the rest doesn’t matter in this instance.

Ms. Cartwright may appeal to the appellant courts. In the other 25 pages of the order the Governor’s attorney substantially ruled in the city’s favor. That would make any appeal very hard to succeed.

This story was originally published on our Facebook page the day of the ruling. For important breaking news on Martin County, you should look on our Facebook page at

You can find the proposed order here



Both Mayor McDonald and Commissioner Rich spoke about SB 102. That is the current legislative bill that strips home rule from local government when it comes to building attainable housing. Density, height restrictions, and zoning will go by the wayside if this bill is passed and signed into law as currently drafted.

I believe that they will probably strip everything out of the bill except the ability to build that type of housing irrespective of zoning. The legislature is looking at the problem of attainable housing and is attempting to solve it. Unfortunately, their solution is a one size fits all approach that may be fine for Miami but not here.

Every time a commission or even one commissioner ignores their own municipality’s codes to vote no on projects, then the legislature feels it needs to get involved to take away home rule authority. The state has said that with 850 to 1000 people moving to Florida every day, they need to live and work somewhere. And Tallahassee expects that every municipality and county must contribute to being part of the solution.

Annexation of a third of an acre will allow the entire Auto Vault piece, which fronts Monterey and Willoughby, to be developed. It is already B-4 zoning which is limited business/manufacturing zoning. There is not the possibility of residential use. Office use could be a component for the flex warehouse space. The units will be condos.

Dr. Collins was worried about the users making offices out of them and then the parking requirements would be greater. It is true that office use requires more parking spaces. However, even if the users did make offices and parking became an issue, how does that affect anyone but the project? It is self- contained so that any problems would not have an impact on anyone else.

Collins often argues that he wants to have commercial and industrial space and then when someone wants to develop a commercial project, he looks for ways to stop it. Mayor McDonald doesn’t see a problem. Collins again brought up his parking “study” which he debuted during the moratorium to further restrict development.  The other commissioners did not think it had much merit. McDonald said that out loud.

The vote was 5-0. You can see the presentation here

Sailfish Cay is a project that will be located on Central Parkway. For the project to move forward, the zoning needs to be changed. It is currently an empty 4.88 acres next to Towne Park Condominiums.

This is a parcel that has been vacant for the past 15 years since a church on the site was demolished. All this time, it has been zoned commercial and no one has developed it. In fact, it was part of the proposed Towne Park residential development in 1982 that never was built.

According to the traffic engineer, there will be 11,151 fewer trips than if developed as a commercial property. One of the attorneys for the developer stated that there were no multi-family parcels left in the city. According to statute she pointed out that the city must have a few vacant parcels for multi-family.

Once again Dr. Collins began a debate with the developer’s other attorney, Bob Raynes, regarding how much potable water Stuart has available in its plan instead of asking questions. Raynes shot back that it should be approved because of the competent substantial evidence that was in the presentation.

For this project, Collins said that he wants to retain the commercial zoning so that people could start businesses. With the Stuart Auto Vault project above, he thought there would not be enough parking and was hesitant. This project has been waiting 15 years for a commercial developer…that in and of itself speaks volumes.

The vote to change the land use was 3-2 with Bruner and Collins dissenting.

The site plan for the development is for 60 Townhomes. They are fee simple. They each come with a two-car garage and there are 37 parking spaces for guests. The prices begin in the $400k range.

The Towne Park community’s board has sent a letter approving the package. They should have been called attached single-family homes as they would be in other parts of the country. Each property will come with a deed and the HOA will take care of the common elements.

Dr. Collins again is against them. He is saying that all he wants to see are single-family homes. I guess these don’t count because they do not conform to his idea of what a single-family home should be. Mayor McDonald inserted that the home must be owned for two years prior to making it available for rent.

A motion was made to approve by Clarke and seconded by Rich. It passed 4-1 with Collins dissenting.



This special meeting was called to decide what steps to take to find David Dyess’s replacement as city manager.

Dyess opened the meeting by spelling out the commission’s choices. They could appoint an interim while they do a search. The search could either be local or broader. Or they could appoint an internal candidate.

Commissioner Rich asked if they could appoint an internal candidate and do a search in case it didn’t work out. I don’t know too many people that would take a position as an interim that was looking to keep the job and want to have a search go on for the position at the same time.

Mayor McDonald thought the most successful managers are those that know the community. Mike Mortell who is presently the city attorney has been interested in the position. Project Manager Michele Berger also expressed an interest.

Commissioner Clarke seemed all over the place but finally rested on the notion that she agreed with McDonald. Commissioner Collins had always favored Mortell. He made a motion to make Mortell the interim manager for six months with a discussion after three months whether to go ahead or not on negotiating a permanent contract. The motion was seconded by Rich and passed unanimously.

Mortell as interim will continue to work under his contract as city attorney and if he is not appointed permanently, he would revert to being city attorney. During the trial period he will still have to represent the city in several cases that are coming up for trial in the upcoming months.

As interim attorney, Paul Nicoletti expressed interest. Clarke made a motion to appoint him, and it was seconded by Bruner. Dyess and Mortell will negotiate the terms of the appointment. It passed 5-0. Nicoletti was previously city attorney and city manager.

In addition to city attorney Mortell was a City of Stuart commissioner and mayor. He has lived in the city since childhood and currently does. Mortell has extensive knowledge of the city and Martin County. He will be an asset to the city.

I believe that Mortell will be a strong advocate for the city as he has always been. He is quite knowledgeable about the city’s strengths and problems. His long involvement also means he knows whom to call when things do occur to have a fast resolution. Unless many people are wrong, Mortell will be the right choice.

Town of Jupiter Island

Unfortunately, I was unable to cover the last meeting.

Town of Sewall's Point


It was a brief meeting. The commission decided to hire a local firm to begin foreclosure proceedings against the Lagano property to collect the code enforcement liens of over $200,000. The fines were levied on Mr. Lagano’s property for his refusal to come into compliance by removing a fence and sheds from the property.

The firm picked is headed by Terry McCarthy who is a Sewall’s Point resident and local attorney. The amount quoted is $300 per hour with a cap of $35,000. If successful, the costs of the foreclosure will be added to the amount owed on the property. There is more than enough equity to ensure payment once the property is auctioned.

Mr. Lagano claims he has defenses to counter the reasons for not complying. He had already appealed the magistrate’s decisions regarding the code enforcement proceedings to the appellate court and lost. The matter here would be limited to the town proving the fines were legally placed against the property and are owed.

The staff and commission have repeatedly stated that they would be willing to substantially reduce the fines once Lagano comes into compliance by removing the fence and shed. It seems a big waste of time and effort but necessary for the town.

Town of Ocean Breeze

The next meeting is March 13, 2023

Village of Indiantown


During council comments, Council Member Perez wanted to cancel the March 4th special meeting regarding selection of a new manager. Both Dipaolo and Perez believe that the village needs to get through the negotiations with FPL before tackling the permanent manager position.

Hernandez thought the meeting should be postponed to a date certain and Stone believed that the meeting should go forward. Dipaolo made the motion to cancel the meeting and it was seconded by Perez. It passed 3-2 with Stone and Hernandez dissenting.

Is it time to take away “interim” from in front of Kryzda’s title? There seems little doubt that three of the council would vote for that right now and two will never do so. Should the mayor speak to Kryzda and see if she is interested in being named permanent and then provide a contract for two years?

It will take two years to put the village on the right track. Though she has authority to act as the manager, it would seem to me there is a certainty that a permanent title brings so that whatever action she takes with staff, developers, village residents, and everyone else would be seen as more authoritative.

Terra Lago Phase 1B was approved unanimously. It will have 410 single-family homes, 174 townhouses, two pocket parks including pickleball, volleyball, and soccer fields open to the public. There will be nature trails and bicycle paths all for public use. The 130-acre site will have a 12-acre community center, pool, and recreational facilities. This will be for residents only.

This is the beginning of what will be the transformation of the village from a sleepy little burg to a more populous destination. Development like this, which will bring roughly 2000 residents, will make a huge difference to the economy of the village. It will also serve to increase ad valorum revenue resulting in less dependence on FPL.

It is great that Indiantown is moving in this direction, but it needs to be careful that sprawl is not the result as they proceed with other projects. There is much open land but the last thing that should occur is a waste of a precious resource. Indiantown should become an urban center not a name for a vast sea of strip malls, single-family homes, and endless streets. The more open land one can keep, the better for the environment.

You can find the presentation here

Finally, the council has recognized that the people, who spoke through voting, want to have the council in charge of personnel policy. The last council gave more and more of that authority to the manager which maybe wasn’t technically in violation of the people’s wishes but broke the spirit of the charter. The vote was 5-0 to change the code to reflect the charter.

Scott Watson, Indiantown Marina owner, was finally successful in having the codes changed to in his words “give him back rights he had under Martin County”. It took several attempts, and he had hired an attorney to assist him in doing so. The bill came to $35,850. He is looking for reimbursement.

Dipaolo asked Attorney Vose whether Watson would prevail in a lawsuit If the council did not approve reimbursing the money. Vose, being an attorney, gave an answer that was neither yes nor no. He believes that because of the circumstances of a change in the law when this was happening, Watson under the law would not prevail. However, once in a court room you never know how a judge would rule. It was a certainty that the amount of time that staff would need to devote to this would end up costing the village more than the sum being requested.

The council voted to give him the money.

Apparently, there is a new voting rule in place in Indiantown. If a motion is made or seconded, it is assumed that the council person has affirmatively voted for the motion. Where did that rule come from?

I looked under Robert’s Rules of Order and could find it nowhere. I also looked at Martin County’s own procedures and did not find it. That goes for Stuart also.

It is not unheard of that someone will make a motion or second one and then vote against the motion after hearing the discussion. Discussion is not supposed to occur until there is a motion on the floor. I don’t know where this “rule” came from, but it isn’t anywhere in the rules book.

There were two instances at this meeting where a 3-2 vote was recoded, Dipaolo and Perez were the motion maker and the second at this meeting. When the roll was called the clerk automatically recorded their vote affirmatively but did not call their names. I do not think the outcome would be different, but in my opinion the vote could be challenged.

How about just allow all council people to cast their votes without automatically assuming a yes because a council member seconded a motion to bring it to the floor or made a motion. Elected officials are supposed to keep an open mind during deliberations, and there is supposed to be a motion to begin to deliberate.

Martin County School Board


Now that the first appointed superintendent will be leaving after less than three years on the job, the board is left to find his replacement.

This is one of the reasons there was opposition to superintendents being appointed rather than being elected. However, there is no going back, and we may have to become accustomed to a revolving door for this position. The other thing that we must become accustomed to is an ever-escalating salary. Superintendent Millay currently earns $170,000 per year.

The board was reminded of how the current amount may be inadequate by Florida School Board Association CEO Andrea Messina whose organization helped in the recruitment process last time. She currently went on to explain that there are 8 superintendent vacancies in Florida out of 67 districts. Some of the districts are finding difficulty in attracting out-of-state candidates because of the uproar over state policy and changes.

Both Marcia Powers and Amy Pritchett would like to see the position be filled smoothly. The board also does not have the luxury of taking a year to fill the position this time as it did on the first search. Messina said that they do not recommend using a committee made up of various community members like they did last time. In the heightened political environment, they have found committee members have been harassed.

Chair Powers stated that filling the position from within would be a very viable option. They may be looking to Deputy Superintendent Michael Maine for that job. He has not been at the district very long, so I know very little about him. We will keep a close eye on events as they unfold.

Dr. Millay has given the board a date of June 30th for his departure. If Maine is the pick, then that should give the district the smooth transition it is looking to achieve.

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