City Council Member of Newly Incorporated Florida Town Had a Criminal Record

By Michael Klazema on 6/24/2016

The city of Westlake, Florida was only days old when it had its first political scandal. According to a report from the South Florida newspaper The Sun-Sentinel, Westlake was recently incorporated based on the votes of just five people—the area's only residents. The 4,000-acre stretch of land was previously known as the Seminole Improvement District. After voting to incorporate Westlake as a city, the five voters became the area's de facto City Council members. One of those four members resigned his post after his criminal record was publicized.

The former council member is currently on probation for a pair of felonies: cocaine possession and fraud. He pleaded guilty to both felonies in May of last year and he was recently arrested for battery. The Sun-Sentinel report says that he chased, pushed, and poured beer on his girlfriend on June 11th which led to his arrest.

There are no reports of the five voters and council members going through background checks. Westlake didn't become a city until those five residents cast their votes to incorporate, so there was likely no city infrastructure to require background checks and no city budget with which to pay for them. The town of Westlake is being forced to learn about the importance of background checks for public employees at a very young age.

The Sun-Sentinel article says that the man was set to earn more than $40,000 a year for his role as a "transitional council member." Westlake's council members are currently set to be paid more than city council members from other Palm Beach County cities, largely because of their role in supporting the transition from "special improvement district" to incorporated city.

Westlake will be the 39th city in Palm Beach County—and, for now, the smallest by far. But as news outlets report, that status could change within the next few years: the former Seminole Improvement District is the site for a planned real estate development. The development will result in the construction of 4,500 homes, which may cause the population of Westlake to swell. With 4,500 homes and residents or families in each of them, Westlake would clear the 5,000-resident minimum that is usually placed upon communities wishing to incorporate. It is markedly easier for special improvement districts to incorporate based following 2012 legislation on the issue.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, "the private and public sectors use special districts to finance, construct, operate, and maintain basic capital infrastructure, facilities, and services." The Seminole Improvement District is listed under the category of "Drainage and Water Control." Other categories of special improvement districts include airports, community development districts, and fire control and rescue.


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