Perhaps they should not have been so politically correct. Certainly the organizers of the Hobe Sound incorporation effort made a point of saying little about the previous County Commission's arrogant treatment of Hobe Sound.
But make no mistake: Hobe Sound got the heel of what many consider now a corrupt county government willing to break the law and to ignore people's rights to attain the commission majority's zero-growth-at-any-cost objective.
“We had hopes of creating a positive working relationship between the county and the new town,” said Mike Ennis, president of the Protecting Hobe Sound organization, which now numbers 30 Hobe Sound residents. “We chose to take the high road and did not criticize or complain about the commission's actions toward Hobe Sound.”
That strategy seems to have come back to bite them. Now, it seems, the state intends to step on Hobe Sound, too.
By not delving into details of the need for incorporation to protect Hobe Sound and its small-town character, House Bill 395, the local bill sponsored by MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, that would move Hobe Sound closer to an incorporation vote by residents, has yet to be placed on the state's legislative agenda -- more than two weeks into the session that ends March 9.
Oddly enough, it stopped at the feet of Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, the one state legislator whose reputation of strength is built on his abhorrence of corruption in government.
Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who controls the House agenda, seems to be slamming the door on a victimized Town of Hobe Sound. Yet, just one year ago, the speaker and the Legislature gave unanimous approval to Indiantown organizers to hold an incorporation referendum, which passed, and a new Village of Indiantown was born.
“We just want the same right for our residents, to be able to vote on it,” said Ennis.
The Hobe Sound incorporation organization, which launched three years ago with five members, meets regularly and held more than 35 informational meetings for the public thus far.
“When Indiantown went to the Legislature, the entire Indiantown community was upset at the loss of EcoGen,” Ennis said. The biomass facility would have provided new jobs to Indiantown residents and a new crop for farmers at a time when Indiantown had suffered a loss of more than 300 jobs, primarily due to the decline of the citrus industry.
“It was something easy for the Legislature to understand,” Ennis added. “For them, the issue was economics, pure and simple. Indiantown had been held back economically by the county's policies, and they could show that.”
Indiantown's population is less than 4 percent of the county's, yet it provides around 16 percent of the county's tax revenues. By keeping a portion of that tax revenue instead of sending it all to the county, coupled with the state's revenue-sharing funds, the Village of Indiantown's feasibility study showed it could easily be self-sustaining.
Hobe Sound's feasibility study also shows it will be easily self-sustaining, based on an annual tax base that exceeds $1 billion in taxable property. Although, unlike Indiantown, it has no manufacturing firms, the new Town of Hobe Sound also would have a surplus beginning with the first year, with a projected $10 million surplus at the end of five years -- without imposing a single new tax of its own, Ennis said.
They can do it by not creating its own police, fire and road departments. The county will continue to provide those services with taxes Hobe Sound residents are already paying.
Being feasible, however, seems not enough reason for Corcoran, who has said publicly that Florida has enough cities.
The speaker apparently is unaware -- or, perhaps, insulated by distance -- to the fact that two sitting Martin County commissioners, Ed Fielding and Sarah Heard, and Hobe Sound's previous district commissioner, Anne Scott, are all under multiple criminal indictments for violating the state's ethics and Sunshine laws -- essentially abusing their power as commissioners.
A civil court has already ruled the county violated the Sunshine and public records laws as a direct result of the actions of Heard, Fielding and Scott.
Their determination to force a zero-growth policy in Hobe Sound was particularly damaging to its residents and to its small businesses. Although never previously a town, the 100-year-old downtown area was laid out decades ago and still has undeveloped lots, even as new shopping centers and strip malls spring up around them, threatening to undermine their desire for a vibrant, healthy downtown of their own.
The commission majority went so far as to threaten a family-owned restaurant in Hobe Sound, Flash Beach Grille, with a $1,000-a-day code enforcement fine for not following a Preserve Area Management Plan on its property, which the county had never recorded, thus preventing expansion of the business.
The restaurant owner requested a waiver for the PAMP because the county had not recorded it. The 40-foot easement was in a commercial area, bound on both sides by parking lots, stripped of all native vegetation and was not contiguous to any other natural area.
The County Commission majority of Fielding, Heard and Scott denied the owner's request. A lawsuit was required to force the county to lift the fine, to allow construction of its tiki roof and to tie all PAMPs to property deeds in the future.
The same commission majority refused to reimburse Hobe Sound more than $1 million in TIF funds, which had been misappropriated to the county's general fund as the result of a county property appraiser error. It was never reimbursed or reconciled.
The majority killed a fully funded CRA project that Hobe Sound had been planning for 14 years, which included the reconfiguration of a dangerous intersection traversed daily by dozens of schoolchildren and a retrofit of the town's main corridor to improve pedestrian, auto and bicycle safety. It also would have strengthened its small-town businesses, attracted others and helped prevent sprawl.
The majority also denied a mandatory rezoning of a project on U.S. 1 entering Hobe Sound that met county code and exceeded the requirements of the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan. To settle the Bert Harris lawsuit that followed these commissioners' unlawful action, they violated eight of their own Comp Plan rules -- writing amendments specific to this one development behind closed doors, with no public hearing -- to allow an assisted living facility to take the place of town homes, leveling the natural buffer of old pine-tree growth.
In 2016 Hobe Sound residents ousted their district representative, Anne Scott, a former judge from Chicago, who reported an annual income of $10 million when she served as commissioner, according to county records. She may well run for office again, and with her financial means, could possibly be re-elected -- perhaps posing to Hobe Sound an added threat -- retaliation.
“We had felt it was important to start our town out on the right foot with the county,” said Ennis, “and although some actions by some county commissioners had tipped the scale for us to proceed with incorporation, our primary motivation was to preserve and protect Hobe Sound. It still is -- more now than ever.”
Hobe Sound's fate depends on the speaker of the House, and whether he believes that Hobe Sound and its residents deserve protection, to ensure they can chart their own course, or at the very least, give them a chance to vote on the idea.
Barbara Clowdus is editor and publisher of Martin County Currents.