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Stephanie Morgan, John Carvelli, and Jolien Caraballo

First-time Councilmen Stephanie Morgan, District 1; John Carvelli, District 2; and Jolien Caraballo pose before the start of a recent marathon five-hour workshop. GREG GARDNER PHOTO

New council members giving back to the city where they were raised

BY GREG GARDNER

Port St. Lucie’s three new city councilmen actually grew up in the city — a historic first. For many years city councilmen were transplanted retirees, typically from the Northeast.

Stephanie Morgan, District 1; John Carvelli, District 2; and Jolien Caraballo, District 4, have been city residents for a combined total of 122 years. After being sworn in and participating in orientation tours and meetings, the three new councilmen were asked about growing up in Port St. Lucie, their vision for their terms, what they will do to meet challenges facing the city and what needs to be done.

Morgan, 56, is a small business owner producing promotional items for the past nine years. “It was fabulous growing up here,” says Morgan, who moved to Naranja Avenue at age 2 to live with her mother and grandparents. She first went to Fort Pierce Elementary School and later White City Elementary before graduating from John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce.

“You were close with your neighbors,” she says. “It was like Cheers where everyone knew your name. It was a great small town. We rode our bikes everywhere — to Sportsman’s Park, the 7-11 at Prima Vista and U.S. 1 for Icees and the River Park Marina, which had a pool.

“We used to ride the courtesy bus for 25 cents each way to Searstown (Sabal Palm Plaza in Fort Pierce) where my mother worked at the Sears store,” she says. “There was Dipper Dan’s where you could pop the balloon and hope the ice cream cone only cost you a penny, Woolworth’s, Cowger’s Hobby Shop and the Tape Deck. Then we took the bus back home.”

Morgan’s vision is to “bring back the budget committee, increase transparency and get the debt paid off. It is the most important issue and we need to put out the information that there is good debt and bad debt. The Crosstown Parkway has been a vision for many, many years and construction is going to begin.”

By meeting once a month with District 1 residents at restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Morgan hopes to hear her constituents’ concerns and promote education on what is going on in the city.

“If I don’t know the answer, I will find out,” she says. “I’m going to be visible and I’m approachable. My door is always open.”

The biggest challenge facing the city, Morgan believes, is its debt.

“We have to unload this debt, be strategic and innovative,” she says. “We have to put out the fire at City Center and stop the bleeding. That is what is holding us back.”

Communications, Morgan says, can be used to get more residents involved through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a more user-friendly city website. Citizen advisory boards allow “people with a lot of knowledge” to offer feedback.

Carvelli, 55, is a former teacher, principal, and 16-year St. Lucie County school board member, who now oversees 26 charter schools in northern Palm Beach County.

“In 1973 when I came here, there was no traffic and I built a mini-bike and rode it across the city through trails and empty lots with my BB gun tied across the handle bars,” says Carvelli, who moved to the city when he was in sixth grade. “We rode the only bus from Prima Vista that took us to St. Lucie Middle School.” Carvelli is a John Carroll High School graduate.

“I always had something to do outdoors and it was a great place to grow up,” says Carvelli, who grew up working in his father’s Italian deli, the first of its kind in St. Lucie County. His father also sponsored and coached the first of two Little League teams in the city. He remembers fishing on the North Fork, selling crabs from his traps in the St. Lucie River to his neighbors before school, watching the filming of James Bond’s Moonraker movie and hiking the railroad tracks north of Walton road to excavate old trash pits for antique bottles.

Carvelli’s vision for the city is to “ensure the right fiscal practices and policies to make sure Port St. Lucie grows and stays a beautiful, attractive city,” he says. “I will vote responsibly within the means given to make the best things happen for all its residents in a way that’s financially responsible to make us the best city we can be.”

Challenges facing the city, Carvelli says, include “connecting the Crosstown Parkway with the bridge to take pressure off traffic, finishing the Riverwalk and making the civic center a conference destination to increase revenue for the city. We need quality, not quantity — more sidewalks and green spaces.”

Caraballo, 36, manages a fitness studio and has been a small business manager for the past 10 years. She first attended Southport Middle School as a sixth-grader when the family moved from Palm Beach Gardens in 1991.

“We got off the turnpike and there was Winn-Dixie surrounded by woods. My mother said, ‘I’m not moving here, there is nothing here.’ It was different from West Palm, but our family fell in love with Port St. Lucie. We realized that this was our home when we would come home from visiting relatives.

“There was nothing to do but go to Wal-Mart where Liberty Medical was,” she says. “We used to go to the movies at Village Green when it was a theater. My parents felt safe raising us here. I had good teachers and two of them were at my swearing in. Mrs. Cobb believed in me. I started to get involved in politics in high school. I wanted to be an international lawyer. I prosecuted the first teen court case in St. Lucie County and interned with the city in public relations. I had people around me that continued to push me. I had never thought about running for office.” Caraballo served a short term as councilman in the wake of Ron Bowen’s suspension before being elected in 2016.

Caraballo’s vision for the city is to be supportive of the ambitions of the citizens, provide economic opportunity, high-quality service, address infrastructure needs, complete the Crosstown Parkway and resolve the ongoing issues of City Center.

“I want to make sure we have fiscal responsibility in our budgeting process,” she says. “For me it is listening to our residents. I am going to be flexible to serve the public and address the needs as they come up, serving the will of the people. I will be available and transparent.”

Anticipating new growth and being ready for it is just one of many challenges, Caraballo says. “I anticipate new growth and more economic growth in Southern Groves and we need to be ready for it. The civic center properties have to be either sold or bought, we have VGTI (Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute) with pending litigation, and the Crosstown Bridge, which is ready for permits.

“It is amazing how we are just beginning to grow again, Caraballo says. “The city is starting to bounce back. We have to be fiscally responsible. There is history we can learn from and make very good decisions. We can feel the wind of positive change coming.”