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Loxahatchee Groves votes to end contract, replace town manager

Posted at 12:00 PM, Jan 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-17 19:44:39-05

After years of outsourcing almost all services to a private company, the town of Loxahatchee Groves is headed in a different direction.

At Wednesday night's meeting, the town council voted unanimously to give Underwood Management Services Group 120-days notice that it's terminating the town's contract for management services. The company is run by Bill Underwood, who has also served as town manager since 2014.

“Right now where at an impasse,” stated council member Anita Kane at last night’s meeting, adding “the situation we have in our town is untenable, because of all the hatred and vitriol, because of all the animosity between town people, town management and town council members.”

John Ryan, a resident of Loxahatchee Groves, told WPTV that he “was surprised to some extent. It’s long overdue.”

Last August, the town council voted 3-2 in favor of granting an extension to Underwood and his company but reversed course the following month after residents spoke out against the decision.

The council also voted 4-1 in favor of offering the position of town manager to Jamie Titcomb, the current town manager of Ocean Ridge. Council member Dave Demarois was the dissenting vote. WPTV called Titcomb for a comment but has not heard back.

Reached by phone, outgoing Mayor David Browning expressed disappointment in the decision but said it was important for the town to move forward.

"I really don't think it was a good thing, and it's going to cost the town more," stated Browning.

Mayor Browning also confirmed that he has not spoken Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw since the announcement last October that the sheriff's office planned to pull deputies out of Loxahatchee Groves. Browning said he called Bradshaw but has not yet received a return call.

In a letter to the town last month, Sheriff Bradshaw wrote, in part, that “the Town should begin planning its transition to a Town Police Department, or make whatever other arrangements as are necessary to provide law enforcement services to the town.”

At last night’s meeting, vice mayor Todd McLendon suggested the town move forward without a contract, stating that Loxahatchee Groves could “simply rely on the county services that are provided for law enforcement.”

“Let me make abundantly clear,” said McLendon, “we will always have law enforcement here. The intent is not to have anarchy, we will no doubt have law enforcement.”

The town would have to adopt an ordinance stating it would not contract for law enforcement services.

The town will hold municipal elections this March, with three council seats up for election. Residents will also vote on removing a part of the town charter that deals with PBSO and policing services, allowing the town to create its own police department if necessary.