🧘🏼 Annexation nirvana
Ahoy, Stetters! We come ashore this week with tales of Lost Tree Village, a former lawyer's jail suicide, the Keith James ethics question, turkeys and trees.
🏆 How to achieve annexation’s ‘Holy Grail’
Palm Beach Gardens’ massive annexation of 1,350 acres east of Interstate 95 has spawned a fierce competition with neighboring North Palm Beach over a single, critical 70-home community called Hidden Key.
Hidden Key holds another key, the key to the greatest annexation prize of them all, the gated, uber-private, golf course community, Lost Tree Village.
Neither Gardens nor North Palm are making a move on Lost Tree — for now. Lost Tree has made it known for years that it has no interest in being in anyone’s town.
Yes, but: The city that lands Hidden Key positions itself to make a move if the law changes.
Hidden Key faces Lost Tree Village across Little Lake Worth. Meaning if Hidden Key is part of a town, state law allows that town to reach across the water and annex Lost Tree — if a majority of the residents approve.
One resident addressing the North Palm Beach Village Council on Nov. 15 called Lost Tree Village the “Holy Grail” of annexation.
The oceanfront gated community with 618 properties is perhaps the most valuable single community in all of north county with more than $2.5 billion in taxable property value.
That’s nearly $1 billion more than the entire area Gardens is seeking to annex, which stretches from Cabana Colony to Prosperity Farms Road to Ellison Wilson Road to U.S. 1 and includes more than 40 communities with 8,300 residents.
Lost Tree is home to more than 500 million-dollar homes and condos, property records show. The highest has a taxable value of $44.5 million. The lowest is valued at $462,000. The average taxable value is $4.2 million.
Taxable value is important because it determines how much money a city can raise through property taxes. Palm Beach Gardens has the fourth-highest taxable value of any city in Palm Beach County, at nearly $18 billion. Only West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and Boca Raton are worth more.
Of note: If the Gardens annexation of all five zones is successful, it would become the fourth most populous city in Palm Beach County, surpassing Jupiter, Wellington and Delray Beach. Only West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach would have more people.
Joel has the latest on the annexation battles of north county at OnGardens.org here.
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Boca attorney found hanged in jail cell
A final autopsy report on the jailhouse death of Brandon Labiner remains weeks away.
Held without bond pending trial in the July shooting death of his attorney father Paul, the former Boca Raton lawyer was found hanging in his cell this month. His death is being treated as a suicide.
For more than a year before Paul’s killing, Brandon Labiner’s life had been coming apart under the weight of money, theft and lies, records show.
He drained $451,000 from his stepmother’s trust fund, The Florida Bar found, then forged documents to incriminate his father.
He was arrested for driving drunk. He was accused of lying to one judge. When he failed to show up for a court hearing, another judge ordered him arrested.
His law license was suspended.
On July 1, Paul Labiner’s body was found in the stairwell of his office’s underground parking garage, still clutching his keys. The 68-year-old was shot four times; once in the head.
Police notified his daughter and son-in-law, who called Brandon.
He was unusually calm, they told police. After they got off the phone, he texted: When would they like to see his new cat?
Brandon was arrested the day of the killing and ordered held without bond.
He pleaded not guilty July 25.
The Florida Bar revoked his law license Sept. 28.
A grand jury formally indicted him on Oct. 5 for first-degree murder with a firearm and added a second charge of evidence tampering.
On Nov. 15, he was found unresponsive in his cell. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s office says a cause of death will not be finalized until it receives toxicology reports.
After Paul Labiner’s murder, Pat took a deep look at the unwinding of Brandon Labiner. Read it here.
🔎 New hearing in Keith James ethics case
A new motion asking the Florida Commission on Ethics to dismiss a four-year-old complaint against West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James will be heard Friday.
Advocate Elizabeth Miller has requested dismissal, basing her decision on a newly released sworn interview she conducted with former City Administrator Jeff Green. The interview came in August 2022, four months after the Ethics Commission rejected her second recommendation to dismiss the case.
The case stems from the city’s 2019 award of a $7.9 million, no-bid security contract to a company led by Willie Perez, a friend of the mayor’s. Stet Palm Beach documented the Ethics Commission’s initial investigation and decisions in a three-part series, here.
Miller, an attorney with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, said then, as she does now, that she found no evidence of wrongdoing. But the Ethics Commission twice rejected her recommendation and asked for more information.
In her Oct. 30 motion, she relates that the city’s decision to cancel a request for competitive bids came on April 18, 2019, just two weeks after Mayor James took office.
In August 2022, Green told Miller that he pulled the plug on the bids after consultation with the mayor and the city’s new police chief, Frank Adderley.
“We all agreed among the three of us that it is not good to have two security firms in various parts of the city. The new police chief was very strong about that, I was very strong about that and the mayor was very strong about that,” Green said.
The decision to stop the bidding came just three days after Perez’ firm, PSC, had been disqualified for failing to meet bid qualifications.
Yes, but: Adderley was not the city’s police chief in April 2019. Mayor James didn’t announce his intention to replace Sarah Moody as chief with Adderley until May and the City Commission did not ratify the choice until June.
Green told Stet that he discussed downtown security with Adderley and his soon-to-be Deputy Chief Rick Morris before the city hired both men.
Like Green and the mayor, Adderley and Morris had been photographed at the Blue Martini bar in CityPlace socializing on Friday nights with a group of regulars, including Perez.
After a recent makeover, just one of the nine Ethics Commission members who voted on the James case in April 2022 remains. Michelle Anchors, a Fort Walton Beach attorney, voted in 2022 to dismiss the case.
How to watch: The hearing begins at 8:30 am Friday. A link saying “view livestream” will appear Friday morning in the bottom right section of the commission’s home page, here.
🐉 The juice
Headlines with zest
🚆 After starting service to Orlando, Brightline announced that its passenger volume in October doubled to 205,745 over a year ago. The average fare increased to $50.58 from $20.72. Hillsborough County commissioners are seeking a $50 million add-on to a $2 billion Interstate 4 widening project to add space for the rail line as Brightline works to expand to Tampa. (South Florida Business Journal here and here $$$)
🪕 An endearing tale of a Washington arms control expert who spent 50 years as a musician. He’s still playing the banjo at The Carlisle senior living facility in Lantana where he lives. (ByJoeCapozzi.com)
📺 Quiz answer: The fowl that failed to flutter
Last week we asked: What was the famous punchline to “Turkeys Away,” a 1978 broadcast of “WKRP in Cincinnati” praised as one of TV’s best sitcom episodes?
The answer: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”
Based on an actual promotion for a radio station that tossed live turkeys off the back of a truck, the episode begins with radio station execs hatching an idea for a turkey giveaway: dropping live birds from a helicopter to outdoor mall shoppers below.
Turkeys bred for Thanksgiving feasts don’t exactly fly, as the crowd discovers. As they run for their lives.
And — spoiler alert — surviving turkeys fight back.
Canned laugh track and all, it was wildly funny in 1978. Does it hold up? You can decide for yourself; here.
🎄 561 insider: Christmas tree lightings near me
We’re in it now. There’s an opportunity almost every evening this week to venture out to a community celebration and tree lighting. Here are 11 coming attractions:
Old School Square, Delray Beach
6 to 9 pm
Lighting of 100-foot tree and yuletide market
Worth and Hibiscus avenues, Palm Beach
Arrive by 6 pm; Santa is expected.
Tree lighting at 6:25 pm
Clematis by Night, West Palm Beach
6 to 10 pm
Sandi Tree lighting
6 to 9 pm
Holiday cultural celebration with tree lighting at 6:30 pm
Abacoa Community Park, Jupiter
5:30 to 8:30 pm
Tree lighting at 6:30 pm, “The Polar Express” starts at 6:45 pm.
Town Center, Lake Park
6 to 8 pm
Holiday celebration with light display
Centennial Park, Boynton Beach
5 to 9 pm
Winter Nights and Holiday Lights
The Gardens North County District Park, 5101 117th Court North, Palm Beach Gardens
5 to 8 pm
Tree lighting at 5:45; Wonderama concert
Village Courtyard, 226 Cypress Lane, Palm Springs
6 to 9 pm
Holiday Tree Lighting and Menorah Presentation
Commons Park, Royal Palm Beach
1 to 9 pm
Wednesday, Dec. 6
Veterans Park, North Palm Beach
Tree lighting ceremony at 7 pm
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