New school board member sworn in; foes want her to resign

The Palm Beach Post| by Sonja Isger | November 17, 2020

Even as Alexandria Ayala was sworn in Tuesday as the newest member of the Palm Beach County School Board, her seat could be in the governor’s crosshairs after she bought a home outside her district and attested in mortgage documents that she would be living there.

Board members must by law live in the district they represent. Moving out forfeits the seat and such vacancies must then be filled by the governor’s appointment.

Ayala contends she co-owns the house with her boyfriend but doesn’t live there. 

In case Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t have the board seat on his radar before the purchase made headlines, he does now, says Richard Giorgio, who served as campaign manager for Ayala’s opponent and ferreted out the mortgage.

“I’ve talked to several folks already who said they spoke to the governor and/or his office this weekend,” Giorgio said Tuesday, adding he was not among the callers. As of publishing time, the governor’s office had not responded to a call or email seeking comment. 

Last week, Ayala defended her right to represent the central district, filling the seat of the departing Chuck Shaw. 

She said she bought the Delray Beach home to help her boyfriend, first-time homeowner Rob Long, chairman of the Palm Beach Soil and Water Conservation District. 

Ayala said she co-signed for the property, but Long lives there alone. “I am not claiming a homestead there, and I do not live there.” 

“That’s what she’s been saying, but I think the voters of Palm Beach County are smarter than that. They’re not going to believe for a moment she’s going to spend the next four years living in a townhouse with mom in Palm Springs, while her boyfriend lives in a 3,000-plus-square-foot, half a million dollar home in Delray Beach.” 

Giorgio said he and others had hoped to weigh in at the public meeting before Ayala was sworn in, but was told there would be no public comments until the regular board meeting that was to follow an hour later. That will not change his message, he said. 

“I’m going to publicly call for her resignation and at the same time I’m going to encourage the board if she does not resign, to refer the matter for (the governor’s) review,” Giorgio said. 

“He doesn’t need direction from the board, but I think it would be prudent for the board to take some action rather than looking the other way,” said Giorgio, who ran the campaign for Ayala’s rival, Virginia Savietto. 

In Ayala’s run for office, the candidate told elections officials and voters that she lived in her childhood home in Palm Springs, well within the district she intended to represent. 

But more than a month before the August election, Ayala closed on a single-family home, declaring on mortgage documents that it would be her “principal residence,” public records show. 

While state law demands school board members live in the area from which he or she is elected, it is less concrete on the definition of residency. 

A 1947 Florida Supreme Court ruling says “legal residence consists of the concurrence of both fact and intention.”Without more clarity, elected officials have some latitude in interpreting the law. Few squabbles about where they actually live have resulted in sanctions.  

The threat of controversy did not dampen Ayala’s first remarks as a board member. 

 “I’m incredibly honored and proud to say I’m the first Latina to be elected to the Palm Beach County School Board,” Ayala said after noting she is a graduate of the county’s schools. She thanked the voters of District 2 and acknowledged her mother, aunt and uncle in the audience, as well as Long. “Thank you to my partner Rob, for being my rock.”

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