By Rich Pollack
For the second year in a row, Highland Beach will get at least one new member on the Town Commission without having an election.
At the end of the qualifying period last month only one candidate, newcomer Natasha Moore, had filed to run for the vice mayor seat being vacated by Greg Babij, who chose not to seek re-election.
Also running without opposition was Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who will begin her second three-year term in the spring.
Last year Babij, Mayor Doug Hillman and Commissioner John Shoemaker ran without opposition, a year after the town went through a contentious referendum for a $45 million bond issue that was overwhelmingly defeated.
Although no one can say for sure why few residents choose to run for commission seats, after several years of contested elections, Hillman says it could be because calm has been restored to the commission dais.
“I suspect it’s a good sign,” Hillman said. “I suspect people are pleased with their representation and the way the town is being managed.”
Others say it could be a combination of the time commitment involved or just plain apathy that keeps people from running. The pandemic could also be a factor this year, Hillman said.
During a recent meeting, Shoemaker questioned whether raising the commission stipend, which is $1,000 a month, would help attract candidates.
As a result, the town will conduct a study of compensation for elected officials in neighboring communities.
For his part, Babij says his decision not to seek re-election stemmed from his need to devote more time to his role as CEO of an asset management company.
“I didn’t know how I could keep giving two Tuesdays a month,” Babij said, referring to the scheduled two commission meetings a month.
He said he will remain involved in the town but “on a much lower level.”
The time commitment also prevented Moore from running for office years earlier while she worked full time as a senior actuary and practice leader at NCCI in Boca Raton.
Moore, who now operates a real estate business with her husband and lives in Bel Lido Isle, says she has more time to get involved in the community.
She says the bond referendum in 2018 triggered her decision to get involved.
“It opened my eyes that I really needed to be more knowledgeable,” she said.
Moore applied for an open position on the town’s Financial Advisory Board and has been serving for a little more than a year. She is currently vice chairwoman.
“It worked out well being on an advisory board,” she said. “It forced me to get involved in the issues.”
A self-proclaimed numbers person, Moore believes her analytical skills, especially in the finance arena, and her knowledge of the real estate industry will be a plus for the Town Commission.
Moore says that she makes it a point to watch commission meetings to help her prepare for issues that might come before the Financial Advisory Board.
“Another important factor about being a commissioner is you have to be prepared,” she said. “I intend to be as prepared as possible.”
Gossett-Seidman also has put a premium on being prepared for commission meetings and doing all the needed homework.
She said her decision to seek reelection came after encouragement from residents and because she feels much remains to be accomplished.
“I feel my work isn’t done,” she said. “We’re partway there and we have a good team to carry it through.”
Moore and Gossett-Seidman will be sworn in during a March commission meeting. Ú