Related stories: Ocean Ridge: Candidates voice differences at election forum; Highland Beach: Voters asked to submit questions for candidate forum; Lantana: Infrastructure, safety, taxes are top issues in council elections; Delray Beach: Balance of power on ballot in commission elections; Delray Beach: Public safety, park referendums seek $120 million in new property taxes

When it seems as if there are more election signs lining the street than the number of people likely to vote, it must be municipal election season. When police are called, lawsuits are filed and social media allegations fly, residents discover just how much nastiness and divisiveness there can be in our beautiful and affluent area.
And why is that? What has turned our communities into boiling cauldrons of bitterness and aggression this spring?
It’s hard to pinpoint — and this may be a generalization looking at ballot choices in five municipalities — but most of it comes down to money and power. Yes, people have thin skin and feel they’ve been insulted or mistreated, wedge issues get inserted to confuse and divide the electorate, and government finds it difficult to operate in the tug-of-war leading up to election day (some employees even quit).
There’s some predictability to each of these things. What’s disturbing is that there are people — most working behind the scenes — who will do almost anything to control the makeup of each commission for their own special interests.
And it’s not hard to do. In most towns and cities all it takes is a 3-2 vote to change the character of where we live.
This March 14 election it seems no one is running alone: Candidates either have endorsements from other commissioners or are running as teams. Neither scenario gives voters confidence their elected officials will listen to their needs without political pressure. And yes, politics creates odd bedfellows with one side often forcing the hand of the other; but no matter how well-intentioned it is, there almost always is a payout at some point.
We’ve seen it happen all around us, especially in our larger cities.
As voters in a nonpartisan election, it’s our responsibility to look beyond who lives in our neighborhood or condo, belongs to our club, comes to our cocktail parties, or supports the same nonprofit organizations.
There are costly issues looming for each of our municipalities: an independent fire station, aging water plants, septic to sewer conversion, sea wall repairs and most important, rising sea levels and increased flooding that endanger homes and public safety response times.
With growing population pressure in fast-developing South Florida, we need to ask our candidates if they are willing to let the residents vote on big-ticket initiatives or lifestyle-changing legislation. If they tell you no, it’s not necessary, they were elected “by the people” to make the big decisions, challenge them.
They know making lifestyle-changing decisions on their own isn’t the most open way to govern. It’s just the easiest way to achieve their personal goals — or those of their supporters. Push them on their goals and motivations. Look at who endorses them — or funds their campaigns — and ask yourself how they, too, stand to gain. That is sometimes the best tell of all.
Granted, it’s difficult to be an informed voter in today’s divided and politicized climate. At best it requires pulling our boots out of the mud, sorting through the fog of campaigning and voting for the candidates most likely to support the long-term preservation of our community.
Or at worst, we can decide our future by not asking the hard questions and simply going out and counting the yard signs.

— Mary Kate Leming, Editor

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