Belle Glade Sun

Pahokee commissioners are sworn in

The Sun/Chris Felker

Pahokee City Attorney Gary Brandenburg (left) swears in Commissioner Felisia Hill (center) for a third term.

PAHOKEE — Newly elected Pahokee City Commissioner Benny Everett III and Commissioner Felisia Hill were sworn by City Attorney Gary Brandenburg during the commission’s regular meeting Tuesday night, March 27.

Ms. Hill was given a third term in winning re-election to her seat by three votes in the Group 2 race during the election March 13. Her opponent was Sara Perez, who had been removed from the ballot by the county elections supervisor because of a complaint that she was falsely using a nonresidential address in the city, then was reinstated by a circuit judge’s order. There was an automatic recount and a canvassing board hearing in that race.

Commissioner Everett replaces Nathaniel Holmes in the Group 1 seat, whom he defeated in the election by a much wider margin. As he was sworn in, accompanied by his mother, the packed room erupted in applause, and then Mr. Holmes, formerly the vice mayor who had served one term, awaited him at his new dais seat to shake his hand.

A new vice mayor will be selected when the Pahokee City Commission reorganizes at its next regular meeting, on Tuesday, April 10.

In other significant business, the new commission approved a resolution to accept a bid on operation of the city marina, restaurant and campground complex from Everglades Reserves Holdings LLC after it was added as an agenda item. The partnership of investors, with whom city officials have been working for many months, was responding to the city’s competitive-bid advertisement, which was redone to Florida state agencies’ requirements after an advertised request for proposals last year, in which ERH also had been chosen, ended up being rejected by the state.

The ERH proposal was submitted in response to the competitive-bid process seeking an entity to take over operation of the city’s marina complex, which includes a long-closed restaurant space and a campground, after state-financed improvements are done. Commissioner Hill made a motion to adopt the resolution, “and I will gladly second that motion,” said Commissioner Clara Murvin. It was OK’d unanimously.

City Attorney Brandenburg explained that it now must go back before the Division of State Lands Management, the arm of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that had rejected it in 2017.

The resolution indicates the city’s intention to award the bid and sublease agreement to ERH, asking the DSLM and FDEP to recommend approval of the sublease to the Board of Trustees of Florida’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund (comprising Gov. Rick Scott and the elected cabinet officers), with the waiver of state fees on the submerged-lands lease and the uplands lease and language regarding a waiver of ad valorem taxes. Without those, ERH would not be likely to proceed, and Mr. Brandenburg explained that a contract binding the City of Pahokee with ERH as its partner in the campground/marina/restaurant would not finally be signed until ERH can review the state’s response.

Ms. Hill asked what the timeline was, and Mr. Brandenburg answered: “Guesstimating, I am hoping it’s complete in three to four months. They’ve got to get the recommendation drawn up and everyone in agreement, and then it’s got to be presented to the governor and cabinet. It’s a big process.”

During the commission workshop prior to the meeting, previewing the marina agenda item that was added at the last minute, City Manager Chandler Williamson had said:

“What we’re about to do there will set us apart from any other city on the lake. And I’m definitively saying that because of who we are bringing here. They weren’t born here, they weren’t raised here, but they certainly want to be in city of Pahokee to help this city grow and be vibrant.”

He nodded toward two of the investing partners, who were in the audience: Robert Lambert of Cruise America and Mark Miller, who resides aboard a boat at the marina. The other partners are Robert Miller Sr. and his son James R. “Bob” Miller of the Miller Restaurant Group, which until Hurricane Irma roared through operated the famed Oyster House Restaurant & Bar in Everglades City.

Mr. Brandenburg explained the course going forward: “Once this is adopted tonight, I think what we’ll do is meet with Everglades Reserves and marshal our forces to see what the best approach would be to present (it to the state agencies) and get this accomplished.”

The Sun/Chris Felker

New Commissioner Benny Everett III (right) takes the oath of office to join the Pahokee City Commission.

The Sun/Chris Felker

Former Vice Mayor Nathaniel Holmes (center, behind Commissioner Clara Murvin) yields his seat to new Commissioner Everett.