The Coastal Star

Along the Coast: County clips Sea Angels’ wings, but group still afloat

Michael and Robyn Hallasz show off items collected on March 17. The couple vow to continue their mission at Ocean Inlet Park. Photo provided.

By Cheryl Blackerby

    The Sea Angels’ trouble with the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department started with the county’s leaf blowers.
    It ended with the environmental group being dropped from the county’s Adopt-a-Park program.
    The group, which adopted Ocean Inlet Park in 2010, say they saw county maintenance workers blow leaves and litter into storm drains and waterways.
The Sea Angels say they were right to complain about it and are being unfairly punished.
    “We actually took pictures and presented them to the county,” said Michael Halasz, one of the four founders of Sea Angels. “The county said they didn’t do that, and I showed them evidence that that wasn’t the case. They were kind of dismissive.”
    The group then went to the Palm Beach County Com-mission about the leaf blowers and posted their case on the Sea Angels’ Facebook page.
    But Halasz still was surprised at the letter from the county saying the group’s two-year Adopt-a-Park agreement would not be renewed because the group refused to meet with the county to discuss the group’s “concerns about our park management practices and to go over the volunteer code of conduct.”
    “They called us and wanted to get together, but then they had scheduling conflicts and said they would get back to us but they didn’t,” said Halasz. “That was our last communication. I don’t like that they aren’t going to renew us based on a falsehood.”
    Also, the letter said the group repeatedly posted their concerns on their Facebook site “with remarks that are inflammatory in nature.”  
    “We’re not interesting in creating conflict with the county, but we expect more of an answer than blowing us off,” said Halasz.
    The discord was amplified by the tone of the letter, which said volunteer service may be terminated for reasons including “unprofessionalism, antagonism and threats toward the county or the Parks and Recreation Department,” without directly saying the group was guilty of any of those things.
    The letter was signed by Rebecca Pine, director of the parks’ Financial and Support Services, but the decision was made by Jennifer Cirillo, parks assistant director.
    “At no time were our workers doing anything that was detrimental to the environment,” Cirillo said, adding that the county and Sea Angels “had a relationship that had become very adversarial. We have a volunteer code of conduct and their actions weren’t in the spirit of that.”
    Neither the letter nor Cirillo said which code the Sea Angels violated.
    The “Volunteer Code of Conduct” has 12 rules and regulations. This is the one that most likely applied to the Sea Angels: “Unbecoming conduct will not be tolerated. Such conduct includes actions which reflect unfavorably on the efficiency of the county, cause embarrassment or as (sic) damaging to the reputation of the county or in general reflect unfavorably on the county, its volunteers, employees or its citizens.”
    Prior to the leaf-blowing incident, the Sea Angels had brought other environmental issues to the attention of the county, including the county’s decision to put plastic bags in distribution boxes on beaches so people could tear off a bag for their garbage and then throw it into a garbage bin.
    But Halasz said people littered the beach and dunes with the bags, and his group had to pick them up. The county did remove bags from the Ocean Ridge beach but left them in Boca Raton, he said.
    While the Sea Angels are no longer an official partner with the county, Cirillo says, “They’re still welcome to do beach cleanup.”
    “We will still do the exact same things we were doing before they sent us a letter,” Halasz says. “We don’t have any ill will toward the county.  The Sea Angels are still at Ocean Inlet Park.”                            

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