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Lake Worth Beach Commissioners Clash, Reject Push For County To Rename Dixie Highway

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Lake Worth beach commision meeting virtual meeting on July 7, 2020.

At the start of the Lake Worth Beach city commission meeting Tuesday night, Commissioner Herman Robinson asked to add an item to the agenda, asking for “a brief clarification” about systemic racism. He was forced to withdraw due to time constraints — that set the stage for a long, tense virtual meeting.

After several debates, the commission approved two of their three resolution items, which included an amendment to city revenue bonds and a unanimous vote to send a request in support of body worn cameras (BWC) to the Palm Beach County Commission.

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But the evening was dominated by back-and-forth personal attacks and shouting matches before the commission rejected a plan, 3-2, that would have urged Palm Beach commissioners to rename Dixie Highway.

Commissioner Omari Hardy sponsored that resolution, which gained broad public attention. Commissioner Robinson defended it. Hardy said the word "Dixie" has racist associations and is a de facto anthem for the Confederacy.

‘I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a highway that runs through a community that’s diverse as ours that carries this name,” Hardy said. “I think it’s more appropriate to do what our colleagues to the south has done, which is begin a county-wide conversation as to what to rename this highway.”

Hardy cited Miami-Dade County commissioners, who voted unanimously to start the process of renaming Dixie Highway earlier this year. Hardy was also inspired by Sabrina Javellana, Vice Mayor of Hallandale Beach, who helped pass a similar resolution.

“I pretty much adapted her resolution to our city, to our situation here,” Hardy said, and noted the change in Riviera Beach, where Old Dixie Highway was renamed President Barack Obama Highway. “I regret that we’re a little late to the conversation.”

Commissioner Robinson said the “Confederacy was meant to destroy that country that we did have.”

“I think that they lost and we shouldn’t be celebrating any of those great people that turned against our country,” Robinson said. He suggested renaming it “Liberty Highway” or using a name that exudes action.

After the city clerk read the online public comments, which included statements for and against the name change, Commissioner Scott Maxwell amended the motion to not approve the resolution but instead take the matter to the public.

Commissioner Maxwell said while it's “well intentioned” he couldn't support it. As an example for his reasoning, he brought up the infamous segregation wall on Wingfield Street in the Osborne community of Lake Worth Beach, which has since turned into the Wall of Unity. He said the decision to keep the wall up was a result of community input.

He said this Dixie Highway issue is a “top-down type of solution to an issue” and “wants to know how many people in the community have been brought into the circle ... on this question.”

“There is a lot of folks in the community that don’t support this,” Maxwell said. “I’m not sure I can support this only because we haven’t included the community in this decision.”

Commissioner Maxwell called the resolution “premature.” After Vice Mayor Andy Amoroso suggested that it might have to be moved to a March ballot, Hardy begain dismissing Maxwell's top-down argument and began questioning his motivations.

“I don’t enjoy speculating about people’s motives,” Hardy said. “I’ve had conversations with Mr. Maxwell after I was elected.” Hardy said Maxwell’s personal beliefs are “often not in step" with what many people in this city believe and that a vote like this would be a “political liability.” “We’re an elected body — we make decisions all the time.”

Maxwell reiterated his initial claims for why he denied the motion and then went after Hardy.

“You, sir, are in the middle of campaign for the state House of Representatives,”Maxwell said.

The exchange intensified.

“From the day you got elected to this office in this city, you've been looking to get out of this city because this elected position of yours apparently is not good enough for you, “ Maxwell said. “You have brought divisiveness to the city — you have created divisions between neighbors, you have bullied the commission as a whole.”

Commissioner Robinson eventually addressed the commission and said it demonstrated a lack of leadership on the Wall of Unity and says he’s embarrassed at leadership for the Dixie Highway motion. “We’ve heard tonight from the citizens 4-1 in favor of this,” Robinson said.

In a heated exchange with Mayor Pam Triolo, regarding both the wall and Dixie Highway, Robinson asked "How much community input are we going to use as an excuse not to do anything?"

Hardy says Maxwell, who Hardy described as a conservative Republication, has issues on resolutions that tend to fall on either side of the left-and-right ideological spectrum and that involve race, religion, or guns.

“The gentlemen who represents District 1 has regretted having to discuss or vote on these things,” Hardy said. “I believe he described it as having to ‘vote to kill the dead puppy.’"

Mayor Triolo interjected and questioned Hardy’s statement. “You can say a lie so many times and people believe it,” Triolo said. “It’s like Fox News.” “Stop putting words in his mouth.”

Hardy eventually brought the subject of Dixie Highway back by mentioning Alexander Stephens’ Confederacy Cornerstone Speech of 1861. “And we have a highway named after that government or the word used to refer to that government.”

The back and forth continued, with Mayor Triolo bringing up “financial ramifications” undergirding the Dixie Highway name change.

The commission ultimately supported Commissioner Maxwell’s amendment to the motion to not approve the resolution, but to instead take the matter to the public — it was seconded by Vice Mayor Amoroso and Mayor Triolo.

Dixie Highway runs through most of Palm Beach County, from Boca Raton in the south to Jupiter. The commission will instead "engage the community on the resolution" before moving forward.

As of Wednesday evening, the commission hasn't outlined how they will engage the community.