Patrick Hayes takes heat at town hall meeting

Martin County Commissioner Patrick Hayes, R-District, called for a town hall meeting March 21 at the Hobe Sound Community Center. He said that he “routinely” holds meetings with his constituents, bringing members of other county departments with him in order to answer questions. Those who attended the packed house said that Commissioner Hayes was the one who would not answer questions. If Commissioner Hayes had any supporters present at the community meeting that evening, they kept their heads down and their mouths shut.

“I had a question–an important question, I thought–I wanted to ask him, but decided that this was not the time to ask it,” said one person, who did not wish to be identified. “I felt kind of sorry for Mr. Hayes,” she added, “but he wouldn’t answer their questions.”

No one was surprised that the first, and the majority, of questions focused on Hayes’ intentions in regard to the Harmony and Hobe Grove developments of regional impact under review by the Martin County Growth Management Department and the Treasure Coast Regional Council. (The Harmony DRI has since been withdrawn.)

Hayes had told the group in his opening remarks that he would not answer the same question twice; however, the members of the crowd, many of whom were members of Preserve Martin County, did not like the answer they were getting, so they asked repeatedly how Hayes would vote on the proposed DRIs. Civility took a vacation as they yelled at Hayes, and Hayes raised his voice in return. He would cut off one person’s question, because it had been asked previously, by calling on another person.

“I could not be any clearer,” Hayes responded. “I think western Martin County should remain rural.”

He defended his actions the previous week when he voted to allow Harmony developers time to respond to the sufficiency questions asked in the third round of review by the Treasure Coast Regional Council. Commissioners Ed Fielding and Sarah Heard had pushed the commission to get an early vote on whether or not to approve the amendments to the Future Land Use Map and the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan requested by Harmony, without which the development proposal would die.

“I’m very comfortable with our process,” Hayes said. “The (review) procedure is set by state law. They are entitled to go through the process.” When pressed if Hayes would vote against the Harmony proposal, he said, “Absolutely. If brought to me today, I would vote against it.” He also talked briefly about the 30-year life span of the comp plan, and how it had been changed, tweaked or altered “at least one or two times” over the past three decades.

The questions moved from the DRIs to the proposed Extreme Water Sports Complex also under review for development at the intersection of Bridge Road and Interstate-95.

“I am still in the process of gathering information,” but the moans from the crowd stopped Hayes from continuing his answer. Pauline Becker, a member of the Republican Party Executive Committee, stood and told Hayes that the “majority of people” in the room do not know what is being done by the commission. “We don’t understand what you commissioners are doing,” she said, commenting also that Hayes had been nice to her when he attended a Republican event, “but tonight you’re treating me like a turd.”

Hayes blushed.

“I was told I’d better wear a Kevlar vest tonight,” Hayes said, considering it is an election year and the crowd would be full of opponents’ supporters, family and friends. “I guess I didn’t wear it,” he said. When asked again, about the water ski park, he said, “The answer is I would not approve it.” Several of the questions asked revealed the person’s lack of knowledge about the topic, as if they had been handed questions to ask about which they had no personal knowledge. Many of those, Hayes just ignored.

The following night at the Town Hall at the sheriff’s sub-station in Tequesta, some of the same questioners attended, asking the same questions. Less than two dozen persons were present, several from the community of Little Club, a residential 55+ neighborhood dealing with 18-wheeled trucks driving through their neighborhood. They grew impatient with questioners and asked them to allow Little Club residents time to speak with the commissioner, but not before Hayes had said that he would not vote for either the Hobe or Harmony developments, or for the water-ski park.