By Michele Dargan, Special to the Civic Association - With the reoccurring theme of the veteran versus the newbie, Town Council hopefuls Martin Klein and Julie Araskog squared off Monday in a Candidates’ Debate sponsored by the Palm Beach Civic Association.

More than 200 people packed the parish hall at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea to hear the candidates for the Group 2 council seat speak about issues impacting the town. Among those in attendance: Mayor Gail Coniglio and Councilwoman Danielle Moore, who were up for reelection and regained their seats unopposed at the town caucus in January.

The town’s budget, undergrounding, beach erosion and traffic were among the topics discussed and moderated by retired WPTV Channel 5 news anchor Jim Sackett. Civic Association Chairman and CEO Bob Wright welcomed everyone to the debate.

Mr. Klein, an attorney with an office on Worth Avenue, outlined his longtime service on town boards and his 50-year history as a resident and businessman. He currently serves as chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

An attorney and victims’ advocate, Ms. Araskog - a novice to the Palm Beach political scene - touted her new ideas and approaches to town issues. She bought her Palm Beach home in 2012, but has been coming here since 1993.

Neither candidate shied away from taking verbal jabs at the other.

Ms. Araskog portrayed Mr. Klein as pro-development.

“While I worked hard to enact changes in the ARCOM ordinance to increase fairness and neighborhood participation against oversized development and worked hard to reduce the size and cost of the rec center, my opponent advocated for incentivized development with PUD-5 and other changes,” she said. “He simply didn’t get it right. It would have weakened our parking requirements and density, which is against the comp plan. It is not by accident that he’s supported by a boatload of development-minded people.”

Mr. Klein emphasized Ms. Araskog’s inexperience in town government and the fact that she’s a relatively new Palm Beach homeowner.

“Over the past 20 years, I have been appointed five times by our town council to serve this community on our planning and zoning board and code enforcement board,” Mr. Klein said. “I’ve worked side by side, successfully, with all of our community leaders. My opponent has never served a day on a town board. I have a record. In the 1990’s, zoning in the North End was like the Wild West. With my involvement, today we have meaningful zoning and preservation, while protecting private property rights. My opponent prefers zoning by mob rule. On Royal Poinciana Way, we reduced the density … While I’ve been practicing law and solving your problems, my opponent has been in Hollywood.”

Click Below to See the Debate Video [37:15] - Story continues below video.

In the election set for Feb. 7, Mr. Klein and Ms. Araskog are vying for the seat currently held by Town Council President Michael Pucillo. Mr. Pucillo, who served on the council for six years, decided not to run for a fourth term.

Mr. Sackett asked questions of both candidates and posed questions submitted by audience members that he selected by random draw. He also had the candidates ask each other one question.

Among her strengths, Ms. Araskog said she possesses strong leadership and active listening as well as the ability to forge consensus, craft innovative win-win solutions and a willingness to listen to all residents.

Mr. Klein described himself as a positive problem solver and a unifier.

“I’ve had an impeccable record of attendance and have demonstrated that I can work full-time on this Town Council,” he said. “My opponent has no attendance record. I can bring an independent voice. I can bring town government experience and I can bring a history that my opponent doesn’t have.”

Ms. Araskog recently led a successful effort to negotiate a change to an ARCOM ordinance, enabling residents to have more time to review and voice their opinions about proposed construction projects.

On Undergrounding:

Ms. Araskog: “The lack of transparency on the budget is unacceptable. Both the task force and the residents don’t know what it will cost. The Town Council is legally required to move forward, because we have passed a referendum for $90 million. But I believe we can’t break ground until we have a master plan in place and a realistic budget of $90 million. Some areas support undergrounding because they believe it’s safer and a better aesthetic value and they feel it will help property values. Others support hard poles because they believe it’s safer and better monetarily. I understand resident anger over the rising budget, assessment methodology and lack of a plan.”

Mr. Klein: “Undergrounding is a project long overdue,” he said. “Every resident needs safe reliable service. We’ve been talking about it for 10 years and the project is estimated to take 10 years … I commit we will do it either for the $90 million or have another conversation … Nobody can stand here and predict what the cost of the project will be going out 10 years … These projects change and evolve over time. We made a deal with voters to bring this plan in at $90 million … If we can do that wonderful, if we can’t we may have to go back to the voters.”

On the Beaches:

Mr. Klein: “Everybody wants the most sand. The true answer is we need to study it and give our neighbors to the south the protection that they need … and we need to do the same here. It’s expensive. We don’t know what’s able to be permitted. The beach issue is significant. We have a 10-year plan. We need to have another conversation to see what else we can do.”
Ms. Araskog: “We have to bring in new experts. This is a very complicated process, but I do think we have to listen to all the experts and all the comments and study and research more and find the expert who will bring us sand on our beaches. It’s our first line of defense. It affects our property values and it’s important to our town’s values.”

On the Budget:

Ms. Araskog: “Our budget went from $58.5 million in 2012 to over $77 million projected this year. I will protect your tax dollars and savings. We need fiscal responsibility. We have development pressures that threaten our town every day. Developers don’t need incentivizing to build in Palm Beach … We need to rein in our spending both by a zero-based budget and also by looking at our sand.”

Mr. Klein: “People come here because they want the best police protection in the world, the best fire protection in the world, the best EMS protection in the world. That costs money. We had a discussion, not long ago, about reducing residential garbage collection. The residents said, ‘no. We want it just the way it is.’ So the question for me is, ‘what do our residents want and what do they need and let’s deliver that effectively.’ The fact that our budget is going up is a reflection of increasing costs and increasing services that residents demand and need and want … We spend a lot of money for our services. Our residents demand the services. We need to look carefully at the budget and see if we can find savings.”

On Maintaining a Vital Business Community:

Mr. Klein: “What we need to do is look at some of the regulatory processes in town … particularly regarding the small businesses on County Road that would like to open up but are faced with a blizzard of regulations … We’re trying to achieve a balance in this town between the town being a residential community and the town receiving essential services. Maybe we need a conversation how we can encourage to have a balance of a residential and the services we require.”

On Construction and Traffic Congestion:

Ms. Araskog: “We need better light coordination on Royal Poinciana and Okeechobee to get traffic moving smoothly. We also need a (onsite) manager to supervise and oversee the construction. We don’t have that so you have stops everywhere … We have to look at how we’re permitting parking. We need to look at infrastructure and commercial construction to see what we can do to stop the congestion in our town.”

Press About the Event

Council candidates spar over experience, development, spending (Palm Beach Daily News)


Photos: Capehart Photography

2017 Civic Association Town Council Debate - January 23, 2017