Wellington council preliminary passes referendum questions

By Matt Morgan – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WELLINGTON —

Village residents will likely have more than elected officials to vote on this upcoming election.

The Village Council last week gave preliminary approval to four referendum questions that will appear on the March 15 ballot if they get final approval at the next meeting.

Voters will have a chance to decide if the charter should be changed to allow special elections for vacated council positions, require a super majority of council to shrink the protected equestrian zoning area, create independent elections canvassing boards and ban hotels or other non-bed and breakfast commercial lodging in the equestrian area.

Each question would need a simple majority to pass and be permanently included in the village charter. Much of the discussion for the revisions came out of the Charter Review Task Force which convened beginning last year to take a look at updating the document.

The council passed three of the questions unanimously, but the special election drew a more fierce debate.

Currently, if a council member resigns with more than 180 days left on his or her term, a replacement is appointed. The most recent addition to the board, councilman John McGovern, was brought on through that appointment process after Howard Coates resigned.

The idea is to change that process to a special election, which would mirror the protocol that is already in place for the mayor’s seat.

But councilman Matt Willhite thinks the $35,000 price tag for a special election might be a little much for a seat that could be filled for about two months if the council member resigns right before that 180-day threshold.

“I understand, in theory, that it sounds like a great idea — that we want an elected body sitting up here,” he said, but added that the price makes it less appealing.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said it sounds silly under that most extreme circumstance but that it could be a good option if there’s closer to a full two year term to fill.

She said she originally didn’t originally support the idea, but she wants to let residents have their say.

“We should let the voters decide because they’re the ones who are going to pay for the special election,” she said.

Among the other possible questions:

— The first equestrian protection area change would require a super majority (four of five votes) to shrink the area and a simple majority (three of five votes) to increase it in size.

— The canvassing board change would create an outside three-person team for future elections. The current system makes the canvassing board out of council members who are not up for re-election and the village clerk. The new board would be the village clerk, a circuit or county judge and a county commissioner.

— The other equestrian area change would ensure that no hotel or motels would be allowed. None of the area is currently zoned for such businesses, but putting it in the charter would protect it from potential future zoning changes.

All four questions will be voted on a second time and added to the ballot if they are approved.

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