By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach voters must fill three Town Council seats in the March 13 election, and the winning candidates are likely to play a major role in determining the fate of two ambitious projects that have languished for months.
Veteran incumbents Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb and Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan are challenged by four political newcomers: Kevin Hall and Mary Alessandra “Aless” Hall, a married couple; C.W. “Bill” LeRoy, and Raymond McMillan.
The two top vote-getters win full two-year terms. The third-place finisher will serve out the remaining year on the seat occupied by Lucille Flagello, who is stepping down. The council appointed Flagello last year to take over for her son, Joseph Flagello, who died suddenly days after winning in the March election.
The stakes are high in South Palm Beach. The town is trying to decide whether to jump-start or abandon a joint project with Palm Beach County to install groins and stabilize the town’s eroding beachfront — a plan that is facing vehement opposition from southern neighbor Manalapan.
Also, the council must decide what to do about the deteriorating Town Hall building. Last year, council members rejected a plan to demolish it and build a new multilevel structure. But how to renovate the old building remains an open question.
Gottlieb first joined the council in 2005 and has, in part or in full, served six terms. A property owner since the early 1970s, Gottlieb believes his long association with the community gives him an edge.
“I know the town well,” he said. “The beaches are the issue here. I would hope we can work things out with Manalapan and get the beach project moving.”
Gottlieb has pushed for lower tax rates as real estate values have slowly risen from recession lows a decade ago. He supports expanding the Police Department and using social media to improve connections with residents.
Jordan is seeking her fifth term in office. During the last two years, she played a leading role in the ousters of Town Manager Bob Vitas and longtime Town Attorney Brad Biggs — and hiring their replacements, Mo Thornton and Glen Torcivia.
She believes the administrative overhaul is working, and that Thornton already has succeeded in tightening financial oversight. During the town’s January meeting, Jordan praised the new manager for “implementing internal controls in just two days” on the job.
“We’re finally in the position of obtaining full transparency in finances,” she said. “That has been my goal since 2010 when I came on the council.”
Jordan, a vocal beach project supporter, says she’s “optimistic” Mayor Bonnie Fischer can get the plan done.
Kevin Hall is the property manager of Palmsea Condominiums. Hall has expressed concern about the “mass exodus of employees” over the past year and thinks the council needs to cultivate a more stable workforce. He also thinks the town needs to do more to control the misbehavior of some short-term renters.
Aless Hall is president of the Palmsea Condominiums Association and has served as its treasurer. Like most Palmsea residents, the Halls are ardent supporters of the beach plan. Aless Hall believes people on both sides of the issue have to engage each other.
“Communication is the key to anything,” she said. “Discussions need to take place and work out differences.”
LeRoy left a real estate consulting career in Peoria, Ill., to settle in South Palm Beach two and a half years ago. He says, if elected, his goal will be to “keep the town as nice as it is” and work closely with the mayor on the beach project.
“The only thing in South Palm Beach that’s not wonderful is the beach,” LeRoy said. “I think Manalapan is against the project because of a misunderstanding. It’s not like other projects they’ve compared it to, and won’t hurt their beaches.”
He favors renovating the existing Town Hall.
McMillan, a 30-year resident of the town, serves on the cultural affairs advisory board and the Code Enforcement Board.
“One of my primary focus points would be continued momentum in regards to shore stabilization and revitalization,” he said. “I also want to be sure that our wonderful Police Department and its dedicated officers will continue to receive the necessary funding to keep our town and its citizens safe.” Council members receive a $300 monthly salary and the mayor $500.