The Chapman Question

In two weeks, Delray Beach finally may be able to see Louie Chapman in the rear-view mirror.

Tuesday night, the city commission voted 4-1 to approve a settlement with the suspended manager. His resignation would take effect July 15. The settlement would mean that a search for Chapman’s successor can begin soon. The commission’s goal should be to not have this search end as the search for Chapman did.

In December 2012, a previous commission voted to hire Chapman to succeed David Harden, who had held the job for more than two decades and got lots of deserved credit for his role in Delray Beach’s transformation from sleepy to thriving. A month later, however, the commission was waffling, with some members concerned that Chapman had not been vetted sufficiently. Eventually, the hiring was affirmed, but the process was botched. Three members of the commission – Cary Glickstein, Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia – are new since then. Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet are the holdovers.

Another problem with the previous search was the suspicion that the fix was in for Doug Smith, who had been assistant city manager under Harden and was a finalist with Chapman. Smith backers used the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it argument, but in his last years Harden had become far too defensive and turf-conscious. Example: his resistance to the Office of Inspector General, despite an overwhelming vote by Delray residents for the office’s oversight. Harden presided over the illegal extension of the trash-hauling contract, rejecting the inspector general’s conclusion that it should have been bid.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Glickstein said that if the commission approves the settlement, he hoped that Delray Beach could have a permanent manager “in the next 90 days” after a “legitimate hiring process.” Unlike the search that produced Chapman, there will be no insider candidate. Most top Delray administrators are relatively new. An interim manager, hired from outside, has been filling in for Chapman and could be a candidate.

There may be the usual talk of a “nationwide search,” but Delray Beach will do best to seek someone from Florida. Chapman was from Connecticut, where he ran a city government structured much differently than Delray’s. History also shows that the commission should not focus too much on one person. Harden actually was the commission’s second choice in 1990. The first choice rejected Delray’s contract offer. Vetting, though, remains important. Harden had been forced out as manager in Winter Park, near Orlando, after 12 years because he was considered too quiet. Winter Park’s mistake.

Without a settlement, Delray Beach might be stuck with Chapman until September. If the revised settlement is approved on July 15, that might be a good omen.

Line dancing  

My guess is that there is an internal blame game going on within the team developing East City Center, which will include the Trader Joe’s store in Boca Raton.

As a city planner told the Planning and Zoning Board on June 19, approval for the project last July came with the understanding that the developers would bury utility lines. Subsequent documents filed with the city also showed the lines buried. Under a Boca Raton ordinance, all downtown redevelopment must have buried power lines unless the city determines that it can’t be done or would pose a risk to public health. Burying lines is not just a matter of aesthetics; it can prevent extended power failures after a hurricane.

Despite all those documents, the East City Center developers now don’t want to bury the lines. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel this week reported on the new request. Just last week, Trader Joe’s announced that the Boca Raton store would open on Sept. 26, three weeks after the Delray Beach store opens. As late as March, according to city staff, the site plan showed the lines being buried on the site, between Eighth and Ninth avenues on South Federal Highway. Yet Charles Siemon, an attorney for the developers, said at the June 19 meeting that having to bury the lines would “destroy the schedule” for the late-September opening of Trader Joe’s.

Mayor Susan Haynie suspects that someone on the development team “didn’t see” the notation about the power lines. If the developers had a communication breakdown, the request could be an attempt to avoid what might be added costs. Siemon denies that cost is the issue. Rather, he told the planning and zoning board members, it’s not feasible to bury the lines. The developers, he said, realized this only after getting deep into the engineering details. Yet a city planner said the engineering plans submitted last September showed the lines being buried.

Siemon also says that burying the lines could cost the project parking spaces. Depending on the estimate, that loss could be as few as two spaces or as many as six. Does that really matter? Yes, said another representative of the developers: “Losing one parking space (of the roughly 130) is a big deal.” Haynie’s response is that if burying the lines actually does result in fewer spaces, the city is “willing to work with them” on parking.

“Can you imagine the precedent we would set if we allowed this?” Hayne asked rhetorically in an interview Wednesday. The Planning and Zoning Board deadlocked 3-3 on the developers’ request. Staff had recommended denial. The city council will make the final decision on July 21, at which time the East City Developers may try to get their way by attempting to hold Speculoos Cookie Butter, Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole and other popular Trader Joe’s items hostage from expectant Boca fans.

A failed Scripps experiment?

For two weeks, The Palm Beach Post has reported on the Scripps Research Institute’s proposed deal with the University of Southern California. Scientists at Scripps’ Florida campus in Jupiter have criticized the idea, and we’ve heard reruns of the argument that the $1 billion-plus investment by the state and local governments in biotechnology has not panned out.

The debate is predictable; it’s been going on since the Florida Legislature approved $310 million for Scripps Florida in 2003. That money went to hire staff. The county threw in nearly that amount to build the headquarters for Scripps, and added more for Scripps’ neighbor, the Max Planck Florida Institute. The debate, though, misses some key points about Florida’s attempt to mix a biotechnology industry—concentrated in six counties—into the usual state mix of tourism, farming and real estate/construction.

As far back at 2006, the agency that analyzes state government and state spending noted that just drawing respected biotechnology institutes would not cause the promised economic transformation. Florida, said the Office of Policy Program Analysis and Accountability, lacked other important factors. Florida didn’t have enough in-state venture capital money to draw entrepreneurs wanting to start biotech spinoff companies. Florida didn’t have enough programs to train workers those companies would need. Florida didn’t have enough “higher education institutions and medical schools with strong research capabilities. . .”

In other words, Florida didn’t have a Stanford, as California’s Silicon Valley does. Florida didn’t have a Duke-UNC-N.C. State cluster, as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park does. Florida didn’t have an MIT, as Massachusetts does. Scripps is on the Jupiter campus of Florida Atlantic University that is home to the Wilkes Honors College. No disrespect to FAU, but Jupiter doesn’t provide what Scripps and Max Planck need. The venture capitalism problem is hardly new and still hasn’t been solved. For all the attempts by Boca Raton and other cities to lure companies from other states, Florida’s future depends on companies starting here and growing here.

Still, the state’s latest report from March 2013, notes progress, however slow. It also notes that it can take years for a region to become a biotech player. The offer to Scripps from the University of Southern California is $15 million per year for 40 years. Scripps is tempted because the budget for the National Institutes of Health, which was ample 13 years ago, has shrunk. It would be better for Florida if Scripps turned down the deal with an institution so far away. If Scripps accepts, though, it will show that Florida failed to follow up on the state’s initial investment. Why did that happen? Following up would mean the state spending state money. The money for Scripps came from the federal government that the Legislature loves to criticize. Jeb Bush got a freebie. When it came time for Florida to put up, Florida shut up.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.