Analyzing Lane Kiffin and FAU, Delray Beach City Commission Controversy and more

The holiday break comes at a perfect time for the Delray Beach City Commission, even if the break will mean no low political theater for a while.

Tuesday night featured the latest squall over filling the seat of Commissioner Al Jacquet, who resigned last month and now has a seat in the Florida House. Twice previously, the commission had deadlocked over a replacement. Though the charter says two votes is the limit, the issue returned this week in full force.

Numerous speakers – of both races — asked the commission to choose longtime activist Yvonne Odom, who had been the choice of Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura. No one spoke for Josh Smith, who had been the choice of Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia. Odom and Smith are African-American, and many of the speakers lamented the potential lack of minority representation even for a few weeks.

Odom herself spoke. Her assumption, Odom said, had been that the commission wanted someone who would not run for a full term in March, wasn’t controversial and hadn’t “been rejected” at the polls. Smith lost a commission race in 2015, and Odom presumed that decades of helping Delray Beach’s kids made her non-controversial.

Under the charter, the commission is supposed to schedule a special election within 60 days of a second failure to fill a vacancy. A resident has filed a lawsuit to force a special election.

City Attorney Max Lohman, however, called scheduling an election “an impossibility.” Because Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher must handle Palm Beach’s town election, nothing could happen through her office until Feb. 8. If Delray Beach ran the election, the city clerk would have to find what Lohman estimates at between 100 and 150 pollworkers and polling places. Delray Beach would pay all the costs.

Lohman also said there could be a legal problem with overseas absentee voters, who would be “foreclosed” out of participation. The schedule would overlap with the regular election on March 15. “I don’t believe that there is any reason,” Lohman said, to hold a special election.

Jarjura again proposed that, to break the tie, the commissioners list their top three choices from the 10 applicants. The last vote had been between only Odom and Smith. Katz and Petrolia weren’t interested. “We don’t have an avenue,” Petrolia said, “to take this any further.”

About then, Glickstein blew. Katz had just argued against an election, saying that not much might come up between now and March. Glickstein expressed similar sentiment to me after the first failure.

Tuesday night, though, Glickstein berated Katz for not recognizing that “there could be big issues.” He accused Katz of supporting Smith out of “politics, control and power,” answering to “some stoolie who’s telling you how to vote.” Katz ripped Glickstein for “attacking” him, mockingly calling the mayor “Dad.”

Glickstein shot back, aiming at Katz and Petrolia. “I’m ashamed to sit up here with the two of you saying (support for Smith) is not about politics.” Glickstein also blamed himself for the lack of “collegiality. I own that. It is on me.” But he referenced residents for whom “local government is a blood sport,” adding that Katz and Petrolia “can’t get out of their own way” and back Odom. “She’s not our choice,” Glickstein said, “she’s their choice, meaning the audience.

The overall rudeness continued. The crowd booed as Katz responded, saying that his father had walked out on the family when Katz was five, and he didn’t need “another father” – Glickstein – lecturing him.

So Delray Beach has a four-member commission, a lawsuit and frayed nerves. At the end of the meeting, Petrolia said she had been prepared to “start with some choice words about the mayor.” Having heard her colleagues express holiday wishes, however, Petrolia demurred. Glickstein apologized “to the extent that (the commission vacancy discussion) was personalized.”

Glickstein adjourned the meeting. The skies cleared.

For a while.

 



All love for Fire-Rescue Chief Neal De Jesus

Tuesday night’s meeting validated the opinion of those who believe that the Delray Beach City Commission has a split personality. Whatever else the commissioners may disagree about, they agree that everyone loves Fire-Rescue Chief Neal De Jesus.

After the catfight over filling Al Jacquet’s seat, the city commission faced another potentially hotwire discussion – choosing an interim city manager. If the struggle over Jacquet’s seat was a struggle for the commission majority, the struggle over who would follow Don Cooper could crackle even more.

Before the commission were recommendations from the city’s headhunter and Cooper on which candidates to interview. Instead, the commission will shift DeJesus from his current job to the manager’s office until the new commission – two seats are up on March 15 – chooses a permanent manager. DeJesus doesn’t want the job.

The obvious problem is that DeJesus already may have the most important job in Delray Beach, given the city’s heroin epidemic and the strain it is putting on the fire-rescue department. During U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel’s session last week on the opioid crisis, DeJesus said mental health counselors work with his paramedics because of all the overdoses and deaths they encounter.

Cooper was “very reluctant” to opine, but said he had spoken with DeJesus and believed that the department could carry on while the chief temped at City Hall. DeJesus will become acting city manager at 5 p.m. on Dec. 30. Before then, he will name an acting fire-rescue chief. That person will become an assistant chief – the position is open — when DeJesus returns to the department. Next month, the city will start advertising for a permanent manager.

Glickstein, “It’s not a split personality. I stated before that the business of the city is unaffected by the differences.  I’m not aware of any agenda item that has gone unaddressed in a timely manner.” Yvonne Odom might not share the mayor’s sentiment.

 



More info on sober house regulation

As promised, Delray Beach is moving quickly to consider sober house regulation after the new federal statement on group homes.

At Monday’s meeting, the planning and zoning board will discuss an amendment to the city’s land use regulations covering accommodations. The details are technical, but Planning, Zoning and Buildings Director Tim Stillings said the changes would require conditional use approval for sober homes of more than six people, annual recertification of sober homes, a minimum distance between sober homes and changes to the definitions.

In an email, Stillings noted that Delray Beach adopted a process for reasonable accommodation requests in 2007. This is the process for an accommodation from a zoning regulation for someone with a disability.” Those in recovery are considered disabled.

“Homes exceeding the number of unrelated persons were previously treated as group homes under a different review process,” Stillings said. “Then this shifted to the accommodation process. The proposed amendments are updates.” They are Delray Beach’s attempt to regulate what, to the city’s great detriment, has been an unregulated industry that exploits patients and savages neighborhoods.

 



 FAU makes splash with Lane Kiffin hiring

Lane Kiffin will become head football coach at Florida Atlantic University in a short-term marriage of convenience.

After three straight 3-9 seasons and attendance that would be low for high-school games in Texas, FAU needed someone who could sell tickets before the team got better. At 41, Kiffin has been head coach of the NFL Oakland Raiders and college football royalty — the University of Tennessee and the University of Southern California. He’s now the offensive coordinator at Alabama, which is favored to win the national championship and – as one person said Tuesday – gets FAU-sized crowds when the team walks from the bus to the stadium on game days.

In return, Kiffin gets the chance to be a head coach again and leave FAU as soon as possible. For all his talent designing offenses, Kiffin is damaged goods as a head coach. When the Raiders fired him, owner Al Davis called Kiffin a “flat-out liar” who had brought “disgrace to the organization.” When Kiffin bolted from Tennessee after one season, his brother-in-law – one of Kiffin’s assistants – found out about it by watching television. Southern Cal fired Kiffin after another string of controversies.

Yet Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban then hired Kiffin. FAU figured that if the best college coach in the country could give Kiffin a fourth chance, FAU could give him a fifth. Despite making $1.4 million and having his pick of talent, Kiffin wanted to be in charge again.

For that, he is willing to make $450,000 less, and FAU is willing to pay him $450,000 more than Charlie Partridge made. FAU also is willing to hear all the unfavorable comparisons.

Paul Finebaum, who hosts a national college football radio/TV show, said, “They could go undefeated for three years and no one would care about Florida Atlantic University.” One CBS Sports commentator called Kiffin’s move “desperation,” saying, “Boca Raton is cool. It’s getting younger, rebranding. But a sun-splashed South Florida town is the last place you would expect to find Lane Kiffin. . . at least coaching football.” Indeed, Kiffin had shopped himself for higher-profile openings. No takers.

FAU, though, is smitten. Kiffin had his introductory news conference on Tuesday, and the university took out full-page ads Wednesday in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post. “Unbridled ambition,” the ads read. “Be daring. Be bold. Be FAU.”

For all of President John Kelly’s presence, Kiffin at the moment is the face of the university. In typical fashion, he started with controversy. Kiffin’s first junior college recruit for FAU is quarterback De’Andre Johnson. Florida State kicked him off the team and out of school in 2015 after he hit a woman in a Tallahassee bar and pleaded guilty to a battery charge. He went on “Good Morning America” to apologize to the victim.

Kiffin’s contract is for five years, which would be longer than any job he’s had. The contract has buyout requirements, but bigger-name schools have the money to absorb such payments if Kiffin shows that he has grown up enough to win and act responsibly.

Even a short marriage, though, could work for both sides. For FAU, it hardly can go worse than the attempt to name the stadium for a private prison company.

 



 FAU wants to move quickly on student-centric area

I wrote recently of the meeting between FAU and Boca Raton to discuss a student-centric area just east of the university along 20th Street. The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council ran the session and will send the city council a report next month.

Kim Delaney is the planning council staff member in charge of the project. I caught up with Delaney this week for her thoughts.

Delaney noted that the meeting was the first between Boca Raton and FAU since 2009, and that both agreed on the need to meet more often. Dr. Kelly wants to make FAU more of a traditional campus, and that will affect the city. The goal is to make that change work on campus and off.

I discussed earlier Kelly’s wish to have all traditional – four-year, full-time – students live on campus for two years, based on what an FAU spokesman said were studies showing that “students who live on campus perform better across the board.” Research also shows that students who are on pace to graduate after two years do so more often.

About 4,100 students live on campus now – an occupancy rate of nearly 99 percent, according to the spokesman — and Kelly previously had said he wanted no more dorms. Boca Raton has worried about the number of students living off-campus. Delaney said the city now could help FAU lobby the Legislature for money to overcome “the financing challenge” of adding dorms.

Delaney said other numbers came out of the meeting. FAU wants housing for 10,000 students “within walking distance” of the campus. The FAU spokesman said it would be “built by private partners and operated by FAU as part of the larger FAU community,” meaning that FAU would provide basic police services. Student resident advisors would supervise such housing, as they do in the dormitories. Delaney said models for such complexes exist at the University of Central Florida, another commuter school in transition.

About 6,000 students drive to campus every day. So Delaney said a student zone must have “walkability” and access to mass transit. Portions of the area around 20th Street are zoned industrial. “There’s a need for a master plan of the area,” Delaney said, “maybe by next year.”

Residents of one neighborhood that adjoins the campus have complained about makeshift fraternity houses. The spokesman said FAU may consider building fraternity housing, but it would be off-campus and would start with sororities. A master plan could include that component.

Delaney said the council’s report won’t include detailed recommendations on things like zoning, but the time for them is coming fast. FAU wants to move quickly. So should the city.

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Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.