A town of more than 3,000 residents with just three employees. Loxahatchee Groves runs that way because it has outsourced most everything to a private company.
Some residents, like John Ryan, are now ringing the alarm bells.
“Poor road conditions, code enforcement issues, and significant cost increases to the residents,” Ryan said.
The list of complaints is long and many community members fear, if nothing changes, the town might have to dissolve.
“It’s a do or die situation,” said Loxahatchee Groves resident Cathy Giliberti.
Loxahatchee Groves became a town in 2006 and tried to do things differently.
“Residents really wanted a government-light operation,” Ryan said.
Instead of hiring a town manager and staff, the town hired a private company as a one-stop shop.
“That’s a little unusual for a town to completely wholesale, take all the town’s services and privatize it,” attorney Scott Holtz said.
For the last seven years, that company has been headed by Bill Underwood.
“He’s the puppet master,” Giliberti said. “He really is."
In 2016, the inspector general’s office questioned more than $220,000 in spending and concluded that the contract to Underwood’s company “created a risk for the town”.
“He’s making all the decisions,” Giliberti said. “The management company is making the decisions. The town council, the mayor, they’re not strong enough.”
The most recent report from May by OIG concluded the town overpaid Underwood more than $10,500.
The report also stated the town never gave any performance reviews to Underwood’s company.
“The company is the town manager, so the company is responsible for overseeing itself so that’s always going to be a problem,” Holtz said.
After contract negotiations fell apart, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office declared it will no longer provide its services to the town.
“This management company is bleeding out the town,” Giliberti said.
Underwood hired his son and wife. A violation of anti-nepotism rules? Nor for Underwood since his company is a private company, not a government entity.
Underwood has not responded to Contact 5’s requests for comment.
Although council recently renewed the contract for Underwood by three to two vote, there will be a workshop discussing the contract on Tuesday at Town Hall.