Palm Beach Season Ends, President Trump And Snowbirds Leave Florida

May 1, 2017
Originally published on May 1, 2017 11:58 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Fla., Mar-a-Lago, has become known as the winter White House. But the president's frequent visits disrupted life in a secluded enclave that is popular with the super wealthy. Well, now it is the end of the season in Palm Beach. And NPR's Greg Allen reports on what this means for island residents.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Donald Trump has owned Mar-a-Lago for more than 30 years. But since becoming president, his regular visits have raised its prominence and led to criticism. Responding to a request from Democrats in Congress, the Government Accountability Office is conducting an investigation of the costs and security associated with the president's stays at the club. Those frequent Florida forays also earned some laughs on a recent "Saturday Night Live." Alec Baldwin, as Trump in the White House Oval Office, was talking to Beck Bennett, playing Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

ALEC BALDWIN: (As Donald Trump) So many memories in this room - this is where I met with the Chinese president.

BECK BENNETT: (As Mike Pence) That was at Mar-a-Lago, sir.

BALDWIN: (As Donald Trump) Well, this is where I ordered the Syrian strike.

BENNETT: (As Mike Pence) That was also at Mar-a-Lago, sir.

BALDWIN: (As Donald Trump) Well this is where I showed classified information to the Japanese prime minister.

BENNETT: (As Mike Pence) That was in front of a bunch of waiters at Mar-a-Lago, sir.

ALLEN: The president hasn't been there since Easter. But Mar-a-Lago was back in the news last week after a State Department website posted a story on the club, which is owned by the Trump organization. Two watchdog groups filed complaints, charging that the online story appears to violate government ethics rules, which prohibit government employees from using their offices to endorse a private business.

The State Department has since taken the story down. In Palm Beach now, things are slowing down because seasonal visitors - the snowbirds - are leaving.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW REVVING)

ALLEN: Since Easter, crews have been trimming branches and cutting coconuts off palm trees, getting ready for hurricane season. It's a sign Palm Beach's season is ending - among other signs, car carriers rolling over the bridges carrying vehicles back to the northeast and other locations where Palm Beachers (ph) spend their summer months. Sherry Frankel, who lives there year round, says it's a time-honored tradition on the island. After Easter, those with other homes pack up and leave.

SHERRY FRANKEL: There are seasons when the weather is absolutely magnificent. And you wonder, why are they leaving? It's time. That's the line. It's time - time for what? You don't work. There's no wedding. No one's giving birth - why? It's time.

ALLEN: But this wasn't a typical season. With Trump's regular visits, restrictions imposed by the Secret Service led to what resident Saville Marsh called a nightmare of traffic.

SAVILLE MARSH: One day, two and a half hours without anyone moving on - on the middle bridge. This is wonderful now. Most people have gone. And particularly, Trump isn't here.

ALLEN: With the end of the season, most people here don't expect Trump back at Mar-a-lago until the end of the year. Palm Beach County officials are just hoping he agrees to reimburse them for their expenses. The president's frequent visits have required the sheriff's department to run up more than $4 million in overtime so far.

Because of that, the county is considering a special taxing district for Mar-a-Lago. It would assess the private club for the special services provided by the county. It wouldn't be imposed until the county determines whether the federal government intends to reimburse it. Meanwhile, Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner says officials are facing some tough questions on their budget.

DAVE KERNER: What are we going to be able to keep in the budget? What do we need to cut out, assuming we don't get reimbursed? Do we hire more police officers? Do we build that park? Do we lower the tax rate? Now we're faced with some very difficult questions.

ALLEN: Palm Beach County did receive one payment from the administration so far, a check for $1,600 from the Secret Service for use of a county library. Greg Allen, NPR News, Palm Beach, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.