By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge commissioners unanimously chose James Bonfiglio to be the town’s next mayor, believing his experience as a lawyer could be useful in resolving some contentious legal matters on the horizon.
Bonfiglio, who was elected to the commission in 2014 after a long run on the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, has been an advocate of aggressively enforcing building codes and strengthening the Police Department to deal with looming growth issues. “I think you all know that there is a lot of pending litigation facing us over the next few months,” Commissioner Don MaGruder said during the town meeting April 2. “Jim is certainly qualified to help (Town Attorney) Brian Shutt oversee that. With that I think that Jim is the most qualified on the commission to serve as mayor.”
Ocean Ridge is facing potential problems from two cases in the courts. Former Vice Mayor Richard Lucibella is facing felony charges over gunfire at his home in 2016, and his attorney has accused a town police officer of using excessive force. Also, developer William Swaim is challenging the town for refusing his plans to build houses behind Town Hall.
Bonfiglio, 64, likely will have a short tenure as mayor, however. He is a Democratic candidate for the state House District 89 race and under Florida’s “resign to run” law must leave the commission by November.
Commissioners chose MaGruder as the town’s vice mayor. Newly seated Commissioner Phil Besler nominated Steve Coz for the position, but the motion died for lack of a second. Kristine de Haseth, the commission’s other newcomer, then nominated MaGruder, who won the job on a 3-2 vote, with Besler and Coz dissenting.
Bonfiglio replaces Geoff Pugh, who resigned last month with a chorus of compliments after serving on the commission for 15 years, the last six as mayor.
“It’s been a great honor and a pleasure serving with you,” Bonfiglio told Pugh during the March 5 meeting. “I think you’ve been a great mayor.”
“I so appreciate your common sense and your love for Ocean Ridge,” Coz told Pugh. “You’ve merged those two into making the proper decisions that benefit the citizenry. I don’t know how we’re going to replace you, frankly.”
Pugh said his wife, Lisa, had attended only about four of his meetings but has heard all about them.
“She has put up with the total recap of every single meeting for 15 years,” Pugh said with a laugh. “She’s been my best sounding board.”
In other business, Police Chief Hal Hutchins says he is working with Manalapan Chief Carmen Mattox to develop a proposal under which Ocean Ridge would provide dispatching services to its northern neighbor.
Besides the revenue Ocean Ridge would collect from Manalapan, Hutchins said, his department would benefit from sharing immediate radio intelligence and links to Manalapan’s license plate recognition cameras. He said the arrangement could enhance the performance of both departments.
The chief said he would bring the commission more details at the meeting on May 7.