Trump at Mar-a-Lago? Palm Beach has other issues to consider

The security boat patrols near Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
The security boat patrols near Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Palm Beach Town Council spent close to seven hours Tuesday considering issues important to the wealthy island community: the availability of the coronavirus vaccine. Revitalizing the downtown’s upscale shopping district. Even the durability of Belgian tile being used on a new walking path and the danger posed by coconuts falling when palm trees get too tall.

Each agenda item provoked a litany of questions, comments and observations, except one: whether former President Donald Trump may continue living at his Mar-a-Lago Club. Though presumably the most contentious among residents and of the most interest nationally and internationally, the issue took up no more than a half-hour of the council’s time — at the meeting's end.

The five-member council took no action on the question, which was placed on the agenda because of neighbors' complaints that Trump's presence would hurt property values. It's unclear if the council will address the issue further, although an attorney representing the residents asked — with no response — that he be allowed to give a fuller presentation in April. The neighbors could also sue the town and Mar-a-Lago. Meanwhile, 990 miles (1,593 kilometers) to the north, the U.S. Senate began Trump’s second impeachment trial.

Town attorney Skip Randolph said there is nothing in the club’s 1993 agreement with Palm Beach that prohibits Trump from residing there.

“This is a debate that I really think is silly,” Randolph said. He and Trump attorney John Marion said the town permits clubs and resorts to provide onsite housing for their employees and Trump, as Mar-a-Lago’s president, fits the bill.

But attorney Philip Johnston, who said he represents a group of residents called Preserve Palm Beach, said neighbors of the club fear Trump’s residency will turn Mar-a-Lago into “a permanent beacon for his more rabid, lawless supporters,” destroying the town’s “genteel” character.

Residents have also previously argued that when he got permission to turn the 126-room mansion into a club 28 years ago, Trump promised through an attorney that he would not live at Mar-a-Lago. But Marion said that provision was left out of the final written agreement in exchange for Trump's pledge to be financially responsible for preserving the property if the club fails.

Marion and Randolph both argued that because Trump is a Mar-a-Lago employee, he is not covered by a provision of the agreement that restricts members to stays of no more than seven consecutive days and 21 days per year. Marion said Trump has been performing numerous duties since resuming his title as club president on Jan. 25. That was five days after he returned to the 17-acre (7-hectare) property, where he waved to cheering fans from his armored SUV 30 minutes before his term expired.