The Palm Beach Civic Association is a dynamic community organization that is truly making a difference in Palm Beach.
This year, our priorities included:
- Getting the word out about “who we are” and underscoring our value in the community.
- Expanding our appeal by offering a wide variety of programs for members and being more than just an “issues oriented” organization.
- Playing a major role in the critical issues that affect the Town.
Photo: Ned Barnes, President, Palm Beach Civic Association
This season, the Civic Association produced more than twenty-five Palm Beach-centered programs. We held timely events like our candidates’ “Meet-and-Greets” for the primary and general elections, a Town Council debate, and undergrounding and Zika forums. We heard from Public Works Director Kirk Blouin and retired police chief and Civic Association director Michael Reiter on the impact of our newly elected president on the Town.
We celebrated life in Palm Beach with a Garden Club guided tour of the Four Arts Gardens, an Evening in the Garden at the beautiful home of Douglas and Suzanne Durst, a Civic Association director, and a reception at the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden.
We threw an “over the top” holiday party at the Breakers for 350 Civic Association members, and an amazing reception for 160 major donors on the magnificent Lady Kathryn V yacht graciously hosted and underwritten by owners, Civic Association Director Leo and Kathryn Vecellio.
We had fun sponsoring a Girls Night Out at Hermes and welcomed the community to a festive end-of-season celebration in the Flagler Museum’s Grand Concourse following our well-attended Annual Meeting featuring Mayor Gail Coniglio’s State-of-the-Town address.
In 2016-2017, our committees were creative and resourceful:
- Our Bridge/Development Committee, chaired by director Llwyd Ecclestone, addressed the traffic congestion nightmare in West Palm Beach and focused on the need to protect and improve access to Palm Beach Island. Our consultant, former County Commissioner Karen Marcus, represented us in the West Palm Beach mobility study.
- Our Town Beautification Committee, chaired by honorary director Isabel Furlaud, toured the newly remodeled Poinciana Plaza, selected a Town Beautification Award winner, and joined with John Corey and Palm Beach Walks to raise money for twenty-seven new palm trees on North County Road.
- Our Health Care Committee, chaired by director Jeffrey Levitt, educated residents on the Zika virus, sponsored a reception on breast cancer, and learned more about a new wellness center on the island founded by Civic Association Director Thomas Peterffy.
- Our Port Committee, under the leadership of director Robert Holuba, supported the efforts of the Save Our Inlet Coalition, a group created by the Civic Association several years earlier, and worked to protect Palm Beach interests at the inlet and the Port of Palm Beach.
- Our Palm Beach County Committee, chaired by director Jack Borland, met with newly elected county commissioners, monitored the county budget process, and played an active role in sharpening the focus of a one-cent sales tax increase referendum passed by voters.
- Our Tax and Finance Committee, led by our treasurer Pat Cooper, reviewed the Town budget in depth, weighed in on pension reform proposals, and met with town staff and elected officials to discuss spending options. At the council’s budget hearing, Mr. Cooper made extensive remarks on the future of the Town on behalf of the association.
- Our Underground Utilities Committee, chaired by director Jerry Frank, monitored underground planning efforts, met with town officials, and offered to share the cost of a peer review analysis of the Town’s undergrounding program.
- Our Public Safety Committee, chaired by director David Duffy, helped organize a leadership speaker series for the police and fire-rescue departments and expanded efforts to get the word out about the Town’s traffic woes.
In January, fashion leader Tommy Hilfiger took the stage as keynote speaker for the Civic Association’s Annual Award Luncheon at the Breakers. United Way CEO Beth Walton was the association’s William J. Brooks Award winner for her outstanding community service. In the evening, sixty VIP contributors joined Tommy and his wife, Dee, at a special dinner sponsored and underwritten by Civic Association Director Michele Kessler and her husband, Howard, at their magnificent home.
In February, Civic Association director and executive committee member Wilbur Ross resigned from his leadership position in the association to take over as United States Secretary of Commerce in President Donald Trump’s administration. We are grateful for Wilbur’s contribution to the association and wish him success in his new challenge.
Last summer, the Civic Association was deeply saddened by the death, after a year-long illness, of Suzanne Wright, wife of our chairman and CEO Bob Wright. Suzanne was a dynamic, energetic, positive Civic Association supporter who championed our efforts and cheered us on to new heights. Members rallied around Bob and his family, and many attended Suzanne’s moving memorial service in New York City.
Directors Lewis Schott and Jack Taylor also passed away this year. They too were strong Civic Association supporters and we will miss them greatly.
This year, the Civic Association was supported once again by three major partners: the Everglades Foundation, Good Samaritan Medical Center, and Scripps Research Institute/Scripps Florida. These premier organizations worked with the association to underwrite many programs and activities including:
- Everglades Foundation guided airboat tour of the Florida Everglades.
- Good Samaritan reception on breast cancer prevention hosted by Civic Association director Nancy Brinker at her beautiful home.
- Scripps Research Institute cocktail party at director Jeff Greene’s office in the charming former Post Office on Royal Poinciana Way.
This season, the Civic Association continued its popular leadership series where prestigious directors share their personal stories and secrets of success. Directors David Gilmour and Hillie Mahoney reviewed their recently released autobiographies.
Again this year, the association joined with the Citizens Association to underwrite a scholarship for a child of a town employee and help fund the Town’s “Employee of the Year” award.
In 2016-2017, the Civic Association expanded its news reporting capabilities and increased its social media outreach in the community. In-depth original-content Civic Association news stories were published on issues including the Zika virus, public safety, traffic congestion, the elections, retail business in Palm Beach, the Flagler Memorial Bridge, Everglades restoration, and the presidential visits. Our online newsletter, “This Week in Palm Beach,” was distributed to over 1,800 email addresses weekly. More than 23,300 regularly used our web site with 1,100 following us on Facebook and 4,000 on Twitter.
During the season, we were sad to learn that Susan Keenan, our much-loved vice president of marketing and membership, would be leaving her position, effective May 2017, to begin a new chapter in her life. Susan’s contribution to our organization has been immeasurable. She has broadened our focus and generated a new enthusiasm for our mission. We wish her much happiness. She will be greatly missed.
I want to thank our exceptional staff who make good things happen at the Palm Beach Civic Association. Susan Keenan, our Communications Director Mike Brown, Membership Assistant Susi Trenery, and Office Manager Cathy Coleman work hard to produce our outstanding programs and activities. They create an upbeat “can-do” atmosphere that sets a positive tone for the organization. Our consultant, former Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus, provides invaluable service with her vast knowledge of Palm Beach County.
And, finally, I extend my personal thanks to our chairman and CEO Bob Wright for his remarkable leadership, our treasurer Pat Cooper for all the countless things he does for us, our Executive Committee for their vision and guidance, and our directors and members for their whole-hearted support for our mission. I am very grateful to all of you for making my job so rewarding.
Ned Barnes, President, Palm Beach Civic Association