Successor is hired for retiring manager
By Larry Barszewski
Seismic tremors are rumbling in Manalapan’s town government, where the mayor and at least half of the Town Commission say they will resign before the end of the year.
In addition, long-serving Town Manager Linda Stumpf retires in a year, which will change the dynamic in Town Hall as well.
Town officials hope to avoid any major aftershocks, but they realize the town could find itself in a precarious situation.
At their Oct. 24 meeting, commissioners opted for a seamless Town Hall transition when they agreed Eric Marmer should be hired as Stumpf’s heir apparent. Marmer, 34, who currently serves as human resources and risk management director in Highland Beach, will join the town as assistant town manager this year and move into Stumpf’s position when she retires in September 2024.
The path forward isn’t as clear when it comes to the mayor and Town Commission, which was evident at a workshop immediately following the commission meeting. The issue being considered was a new state requirement for elected municipal officials to disclose additional personal financial information.
At the workshop, a majority said they will resign before Dec. 31 so they will not have to comply with the new financial disclosure requirements. And they said they’re not sure the town will be able to find others to serve who will be willing to fill out the more intrusive disclosure form that will be posted online for anyone to access.
Mayor Stewart Satter, elected to his position in March with no opposition, said he may have “the shortest mayorship in history.” Also indicating they will resign rather than comply are three of the town’s six commissioners: Kristin Rosen, who also took office in March without opposition; Aileen Carlucci, appointed to her seat in March 2022 after no one ran for an open commission seat; and Richard Granara, initially appointed to the commission in 2019 to fill an unexpired term.
The three other commissioners — Simone Bonutti, Chauncey Johnstone and Vice Mayor John Deese — said, as of the Oct. 24 meeting, they had not made a final decision on whether they would stay or go.
“It does sadden me that we’re all in this position,” Carlucci said. “You live here because you want a quiet life and not be in Palm Beach where everyone knows everything about you. You’re in Manalapan because you want to be understated. So, we do live in a community of understated individuals and I don’t see us being able to fill a commission.”
Small pool of candidates
The town had only 384 voters as of September, limiting the number of people eligible to serve. Rather than candidates coming forward to run, Stumpf frequently must go out and find potential candidates and encourage them to offer their service. There has not been a contested election in town since 2011.
It’s not always convenient to serve and commissioners receive no pay. Often during the off-season, members of the commission fly in from their homes up North to ensure that there is a quorum for commission meetings.
Commissioners have had to file a disclosure, known as Form 1, that is less detailed than the newly required Form 6, which is already required of the governor, state legislators, county commissioners and others.
The new requirement may make it more difficult to find people willing to serve, but Stumpf is optimistic she can at least get enough commissioners to reach a quorum so the commission can operate. A quorum is four of six commissioners.
The mayor is a separate position and not part of the quorum since the mayor votes only in case of a tie.
“I do believe if two of my commissioners stay, I will be able to find two others,” Stumpf said after the workshop. Four commissioners are needed to conduct business, but the Town Charter says if there are as few as two commissioners remaining, they can appoint additional commissioners until a quorum is reached, Town Attorney Keith Davis told commissioners.
The town also plans to contact residents about the situation and to see if some are willing to come forward and serve under the new requirements. Carlucci’s and Granara’s seats are up for election in March. Any replacements appointed for them would serve only until March, so the town also needs the appointees or others to file for the election — or the seats will become vacant again.
The qualifying period is Nov. 7 to 21, but Davis said the county supervisor of elections has offered to hold a second qualifying period in January if needed because of unexpected departures due to the new requirements.
While the commission may survive the imminent departures, officials said the Town Charter may have to change to improve the odds that the town can continue functioning as a local government in the future.
The commission could form a charter committee to look at potential changes, although those wouldn’t likely get on a ballot for voters to decide until 2025, Davis said. One possibility includes reducing the number of commissioners, which would leave fewer seats to fill.
Unincorporating an option?
Davis said if the town can’t find enough people willing to serve, there is the potential it could “unincorporate and be consumed by a neighboring municipality,” such as Ocean Ridge or Lantana, or become an unincorporated part of the county under control of the County Commission — though Stumpf and several commissioners said those weren’t options they would consider.
At the workshop, commissioners were open to suggestions.
“We could just not file and roll the dice, and suffer the consequences,” said Satter, who said he even considered offering to pay the fines for commissioners who don’t file, which could reach $20,000 each.
“I had very reliable counsel suggest to me there would be a conflict of interest if I paid everyone’s fine,” Satter said.
If all commissioners resigned, Davis said, the charter charges the governor with appointing an interim commission, which would then call for a special election not less than 60 days from its appointment.
Two issues with that: Davis said it’s not certain the governor’s appointments would have to be town residents and it still leaves the same problem — would anyone file to run in the special election given the new disclosure requirements.
Another thought surfaced — get rid of the elected positions altogether — but Davis said he’s not aware of any option that doesn’t include an elected governing body.
“This will become real to most of the people in the town of Manalapan after there is no commission, because this commission does more than just budgets and managing the town,” Granara said. “There’s so much construction activity going on here now that requires variances. And that stops. That all halts.”
If most commissioners leave, Deese wondered what the remaining commissioners would be getting themselves into.
“If Simone and I would stay, I’m afraid it’s going to be a nightmare for us trying to deal with it, trying to figure out what to do next,” Deese said.
Town Hall newcomer
All the discussion led Satter to think of Marmer, who attended the workshop.
“I want him to understand what he’s buying into,” Satter said. Marmer said he did.
“The town will be in good hands. It’s going to be an unusual time,” Satter said. The town plans to prepare a contract with Marmer for the commission’s consideration at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Marmer, who has a master’s degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University, has been with Highland Beach for almost four years. He moved quickly through the ranks, coming in as financial services manager and then being promoted to interim finance director and assistant town manager before moving into his current position in May.
Previously, he served as a senior buyer for Boynton Beach for two years.
“I have had the opportunity to meet the current staff in Manalapan, and from what I have seen, they have a professional staff that is well-suited to adapting to any changes that may come,” Marmer said in an email to The Coastal Star. “I am incredibly excited about the challenges that lie ahead. I believe challenges invite progress, and that’s why I want to come to Manalapan.”
The uncertainty caused by the new financial disclosure requirements was partially behind the decision to hire Marmer before the end of the year. The town considered five applicants for the position.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ll get this done before the end of the year,” said Stumpf, who has been town manager for 13 years and was first hired as the town’s finance director in 2003. “Due to Form 6, I felt it was wise to get someone in that could work with me. … He will be ready to go when I leave.”