Three Palm Beach Gardens City Council members started new terms Wednesday, rounding out a council in which all five members won their current seats without a single vote cast.
Mayor Chelsea Reed and new council members Bert Premuroso and Dana Middleton assumed the seats handed to them in November when no one filed to run against them.
A year earlier, Marcie Tinsley and Carl Woods started three-year terms under the same scenario.
The last member to actually win a contested election was Tinsley, who defeated Rob Nanfro in March 2021 to fill the final year of Maria Marino’s term. Marino left the council after her election to the Palm Beach County Commission.
While an all-unelected council hasn’t happened in Palm Beach Gardens since at least 2010 — and perhaps not since city founder John D. MacArthur’s employees filled the council ranks in the early 1960s — it could be an outgrowth of term limits instituted by voters in 2014.
After years of the same council members brushing aside token opposition or no opposition at all to return to office year after year, the fight against a spring training baseball stadium at what is now the Gardens North County District Park resulted in dedicated opponents successfully pushing a popular referendum to impose term limits.
By the time term limits forced them out of office, Council member Joe Russo had served 27 years and Eric Jablin had served 26.
Even after the baseball stadium opened in West Palm Beach, elections remained contested.
Woods defeated Howard Rosenkranz in 2019 before running unopposed in 2022.
Reed won her first race in 2020, defeating incumbent Matthew Lane, before winning a second term unopposed.
Tinsley and Premuroso both served before limits forced them to take a break.
The recent break in contested races stems from voter apathy absent a galvanizing issue and the difficulty of upending the financial support of powerful business interests, said Michael Peragine, who narrowly lost to Jablin in 2014 and worked to pass term limits.
The lack of competitive races is a disappointment. “Term limits didn’t break up what we wanted it to. All it did was split up the pieces,” he said.
Without a galvanizing issue, the city no longer has a loyal opposition working behind the scenes to assure every seat is contested. Many voters are happy with the way things are going and praise the city’s physical beauty, solid financial footing and strong recreational programs.
That of course could change with the political winds.
Even at Wednesday morning’s final council meeting for term-limited members Rochelle Litt and Mark Marciano, there were signs of unease.
The decision on who would be the next ceremonial mayor and vice mayor drew an unusual 3-2 vote.
Woods made a motion to appoint Reed mayor and himself vice mayor and Reed seconded it.
Middleton, a political unknown who headed the PGA Corridor Association business group since 2017, cast the swing vote in favor of Reed and Woods.
Tinsley and Premuroso voted against. There was no discussion.
But no dissension marked the council’s next vote a few minutes later: They unanimously agreed to increase height limits for development within a half-mile of the city’s proposed train station southwest of PGA Boulevard and Alternate A1A.
© 2023 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.