For mayor in Palmetto Bay, voters will choose in Tuesday’s run-off between incumbent Shelley Stanczyk and Eugene Flinn – her predecessor and Palmetto Bay’s first mayor. Once friends on and off the dais – the two served together between 2006 and 2010, during Flinn’s last term as mayor – the two are now bitter political foes.
Flinn has campaigned mostly on his record – but also made explicit that he just didn’t consider his successor adequate to the task. Stanczyk kept her campaign about what the village had gotten done in the past four years until last week, when she let loose a mailer comparing Flinn’s two terms to her tenure on crime, village finances, zoning, and transparency. A fact-check of that flier reveals just how intermingled the mayors’ legacies have been.
Like in many municipalities, zoning is consistently the most heated item on the agenda. Stanczyk’s flier references the two biggest zoning debacles in the village’s history – Palmer Trinity and the Palmetto Bay Village Center – and pins them on Flinn. But Stanczyk played a major role in two of those controversial issues.
In July, Stanczyk and the village took heat from environmentalists over a proposed rezoning package that would have allowed the Palmetto Bay Village Center, a private office complex, to build homes on about 20 acres of privately owned forested land. The package would have also rezoned a little over an acre to allow for a fire station – something the village badly needs in its southeastern quadrant – and Stanczyk said at the time that that was why she’d sponsored the change.
The item was withdrawn indefinitely to let the property owner and environmentalists consult with one another, and Flinn has since been taking credit with voters for preserving the forest.
That’s technically true – what blocks development on the private forest is a parks-and-recreation land-use designation put in place in 2005, under Flinn’s administration.
Stanczyk’s mailer calls that designation illegal. And that could also be true – municipalities usually can’t down-zone properties to diminish existing development rights on privately owned land – and Scott Silver, the owner, says that’s basically what happened.
Responded Flinn: “If it was illegal, it would have come to the forefront before appearing in a bad-faith misleading negative campaign flier.”
But Silver said he didn’t make a fuss about it initially because the village was at that time planning to buy the land for Village Hall, and he figured he’d recoup the property value that way. And he’s never since threatened to sue, he says, because village staff has always agreed the designation should eventually be changed.
The village and Palmer Trinity, a private school located in a residential area, have been embroiled in expensive legal battles since 2008, when the Palmetto Bay first denied a rezoning request to let the school expand on 32 acres. The issue has been deeply divisive in the village and on the dais – with some residents furious at the massive legal bill the village had to foot to fight the school, and others afraid of the impact expansion would have on traffic and noise in the village.
Stanczyk and outgoing council member Joan Lindsay are typically seen as leading the charge against the school, and in his campaign Flinn has played heavily on the perception that the council is divided and dysfunctional.
Stanczyk’s mailer says it’s his 2008 decision to deny rezoning that lead to the lawsuits – but Flinn points out that she voted “no” along with him then, and continued to do so after he left.
“It’s really funny — you’d think she would be giving me credit for voting with her on that. Instead she wants to blame me, even though she voted the same way,” he said.
Council gave site-plan approval to a controversial charter school in March to be built in the area the village hopes to redevelop as its downtown. Florida law, which limits municipal review of charter school zoning, essentially forced the council’s hand to do so. Stanczyk voted to approve the site plan, but spoke out against the proposal, and later argued against the village endorsing the developer’s application for a county grant to help pay for the project.
Stanczyk has since made a campaign issue out of the school, telling voters that a committee under Flinn located at charter school there.
It’s true that two village committees and a charrette – or visioning plan – under Flinn considered putting a charter school in that spot. But Flinn insists those committees never endorsed a charter school, and that he doesn’t support a charter school now.
“We had a charter school committee under me … and that committee recommended against having a charter school in Palmetto Bay,” he said.
Stanczyk has made public safety a top campaign item, frequently citing the two police officers she made room in the budget for in 2012. According to crime data reported to the state, overall crime in the village has been lower under her tenure. The average crime rate between 2011 and 2013 was 3,844 per 100,000 residents. Under Flinn, from 2004 (the first year the state started reporting Palmetto Bay data) to 2010 the average crime rate was 4,183.
But village police commander Gregory Truitt warns against reading too much into statistics – Stanczyk was blessed by an anomalously good year in 2013, when crime was the lowest it’s ever been in the village. That’s largely attributable, he said, to a big drop in both larcenies – mostly shoplifting – and burglaries. He said the police department made a few key arrests of serial burglars, but as for shoplifting, that’s all “proactive store management.” In general, Palmetto Bay maintains some of the lowest crime rates in the county.
Flinn has campaigned on the “millions” in grants brought into the village during his tenure, and the fact that he helped negotiate a deal with the county to rid the village of mitigation fees – then about $1.7 million a year.
Stanczyk in turn has pointed to the roughly additional $3 million put in reserves since Flinn’s tenure, and the village’s high bond ratings. The Stanczyk mailer told voters that Flinn left office without getting the village rated – that’s not true, ratings were released in his last year in office – but they did bump up slightly under her tenure.
Flinn has made much ado about transparency, saying he wants to get a searchable document archive on the village website. Stanczyk has in turn pointed out that it’s under her that meetings became televised and available online.
Stanczyk has also accused Flinn of once holding meetings without prior advertising to residents, something he says she has no evidence for.
“I never had an ethics complaint in my entire eight years. I don’t know what she’s talking about,” he said.
Flinn has received the endorsements of outgoing council member Patrick Fiore and retired business executive Peter England, the other mayoral candidates who didn't make it to the run-offs.
COUNCIL SEAT 3
Meanwhile, in the council race for seat 3, Henry Clifford and Larissa Siegel Lara have doubled down on their original campaign messages, with Clifford billing himself as a veteran Palmetto Bay activist – sitting on six village committees, working on the incorporation effort as well as various council campaigns – and Siegel Lara situating herself within a “new generation of leadership.”
Where Clifford points to his civic activism for “neighborhood protection,” Siegel Lara touts her experience in the corporate sector.
“My leadership is at a different level, I have worked collaboratively with other business leaders to move forward on goals. I have made many difficult decisions managing large-scale projects,” she said.
Clifford has also started highlighting the money his opponent has received from Wayne Rosen, a developer who frequently donates lavishly to council campaigns, and who often does business before council.
“I’ve accepted campaign contributions from legitimate business people and supporters, and Wayne Rosen’s a legitimate businessperson,” Siegel Lara said in response. “If he supports my campaign and my candidacy, I accept his contribution. It helps me get my message out.”
In the run-off, her campaign has emphasized how close she came to winning a majority of the votes in the general election, when she took 44 percent of the vote to Clifford’s 35. James Archie Shedd, who took in about 20 percent of the vote, and so missed the run-off, has since endorsed Clifford.