And Then There Were 5: Delray Winnowing Down List of City Managers

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Update: After deadline for this post, I learned that there now are just three candidates for the city manager’s job. According to a city spokeswoman, Scott Lambers and Jeff Yates will not be coming for interviews.

Delray Beach is down to five finalists competing to be the permanent city manager.

City commissioners and the recruiting firm cut the list to eight, Commissioner Ryan Boylston told me. Then three of the candidates dropped out. Commissioners will interview the five on Aug. 13, the day of their next scheduled meeting. A meet-and-greet with other city leaders will take place the next day. Commissioners then will hold a special meeting to make their choice.

The finalists are: Michael Cernech, the city manager of Tamarac, near Coral Springs in Broward County; George Gretsas, the city manager of Homestead, in southern Miami-Dade County; Scott Lambers, the city manager of Leawood, Kansas, a suburb south of Kansas City; Joseph Napoli, the deputy city manager of Miami; and Jeff Yates, the chief financial officer of Union County, a suburban area southeast of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Based on the resumes and applications, it’s a good field. After the abrupt firing of Mark Lauzier on March 1, there had been worry about Delray Beach’s ability to attract a qualified replacement.

A July 18 news release said the search had brought a “plethora of qualified prospects.” That might have been an overstatement. The headhunter did receive 48 applications. Some, though, were less than credible.

Two applicants touted their experience in Botswana and Egypt, respectively. Another has worked only for Yum! Brands, the fast food conglomerate. Several work in much smaller cities and would be unprepared. Or worse.

One of those is Chandler Williamson, the city manager of Pahokee. Williamson perhaps did not think that anyone would notice that this year the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General concluded that Williamson had improperly given employee bonuses and raises. That’s similar to what got Lauzier fired.

Still, it’s a good field—good enough that the commission may like someone so much that the option of offering the job to Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus doesn’t happen. If the commission picks from among the finalists, de Jesus would return to being fire chief.

Here’s a brief look at each finalist:

Michael Cernech

Michael Cernech

Tamarac’s population is about 70,000, roughly the same as Delray Beach. Cernech has been there for 18 years and has had the top job since 2011. He is well regarded. Eight years is double the normal time in office for South Florida city managers.

Unlike Delray Beach, however, Tamarac’s population is older. It began as a retirement community, but the city has begun attracting families because housing prices are lower than in other areas of Broward. When the city announced plans for a charter school, seniors who live nearby were hostile. In Delray Beach, Cernech would find wide support for better schools.

George Gretsas

George Gretsas

Homestead also is about the same size as Delray Beach. But it’s also in the middle of Miami-Dade farm country. Like Delray, however, Homestead has a fairly diverse population.

Gretsas touts his work continuing Homestead’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Among other things, the storm destroyed the spring training stadium Homestead built for the Cleveland Indians.

From 2004 to 2010, Gretsas was city manager in Fort Lauderdale. He left when the city commission declined to renew his contract. According to news reports, Gretsas had disputes with the police department. Homestead hired him several months later.

Scott Lambers

Leawood, Kansas, where Lambers has been manager since 2001, is half as large as Delray Beach. Lambers correctly describes Leawood as an affluent, well educated, growing suburb. The median household income is roughly $170,000. In Delray Beach, it’s about $50,000.

Lambers has been a city manager for three decades, starting in Chowchilla, Calif., (population: 20,000) and then in Ottawa, Kansas, (population: 14,000) before going to Leawood. Aside from income, the city also differs from Delray Beach in that it is largely white.

Joseph Napoli

Joseph Napoli

His background is much different from that of the other finalists. Napoli graduated from West Point with a degree in engineering. He retired as a colonel after a career that took him to, among other places, South Korea and Iraq.

Napoli has had the No. 2 job in Miami for a year. Previously, he was chief of staff at Miami International Airport. It’s one of Miami-Dade’s power centers. Napoli notes that in addition to its thriving downtown, Delray Beach has “some of the region’s most impoverished and destitute communities.”

Jeff Yates

He has worked in local government since 2001, always in finance. Yates hasn’t been a manager. Union County is a suburban county where families predominate. The county also runs the public schools.

In 2014, the Charlotte Business Journal named Yates one of its Chief Financial Officers of the Year. The publication recognized Yates for establishing a zero-based budgeting system that identified $10 million in savings and saved residents a tax increase.

I’ll have more before the commission interviews.

A note on the hunt for a city manager…

Interestingly, one of the other Delray Beach applicants was Edward Collins. The commission chose Lauzier over him in November 2017, though Collins was first choice of Shelly Petrolia, then a commissioner and now mayor. Petrolia made it unanimous for Lauzier when it became clear that the other four commissioners favored him.

Weston applauds new gun law

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Even small victories in Florida for sensible gun control can seem big. That was the case Monday.

The city of Weston, in Broward County, held a news conference to tout Friday’s ruling by a judge that struck down penalties for local officials who pass local firearms regulations. Weston originated the lawsuit. Many other local governments, including Boca Raton, joined it. Delray Beach did not.

The Legislature enacted state regulation of firearms in 1987. Because the issue is so multi-faceted, however, some counties and cities enacted small measures that they believed still aligned with state law. Even those mild actions worried the National Rifle Association, which feared that courts might uphold some of them.

In the mind of NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, the Second Amendment is inviolate. U.S. Supreme Court rulings on firearms don’t agree, but facts rarely have stopped the woman who has ruled Tallahassee.

So in 2011, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill designed to discourage any more such attempts. Under the law, any local official who approves what turns out to be a preempted firearms regulation is subject to penalties that includes fines, jail time and removal from office. The official also is subject to civil lawsuits from aggrieved gun owners.

Weston officials refocused attention on this issue after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, when frustrated counties and cities were contemplating responses. Obviously, the penalties mean to prohibit local officials even from contemplating any action on firearms.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson, however, found that the 2011 law illegally stripped those officials of their local immunity. Essentially, Dodson said that a governor can’t remove an elected official just because of a difference over policy. The official must have committed misfeasance or malfeasance.

Dodson listed several firearms rules local governments could enact and still comply with the 1987 law. Attorney General Ashley Moody likely will appeal, and there’s no guarantee that Dodson’s ruling will survive the 1st District Court of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court. They’re stacked with appointees of Jeb Bush and Rick Scott, who pledged their fealty to the NRA.

But Dodson is right. And maybe, for a moment, Florida will do something sensible on guns.

Tax hike gets preliminary OK

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District board gave preliminary approval last week to a tax increase. Commissioners voted 4-1 at a special meeting, with Craig Ehrnst dissenting.

If the increase takes effect, the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay roughly $100 more. Commissioners will set the tax and approve the budget in September.

Based on district projections, the increase would raise roughly $9 million more in revenue each year. But according to Commissioner Steve Engel, the district still wants $20 million from Boca Raton for construction of the proposed Boca National Golf Course.

Yet Ehrnst said the increase would allow the district to build the course, though over two years and without a tunnel from one side to the other and without a permanent clubhouse. After that, if the district kept the higher rate and values continued to rise, the agency would start to “build cash” for the $24 million makeover of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center “if agreed upon.”

Ehrnst and Engel continued to criticize the city council’s plan to ask for cheaper design plans. Engel sent a chart compiled by the district’s designer, Price Fazio, that compared Boca National with the public course in Winter Park that Councilman Andy Thomson favors as a model.

Winter Park, the designer said, required no course design, tree removal, drainage improvement or landscaping upgrades. Boca National requires all of those. Price Fazio also said Winter Park required “minimal” shaping, while Boca National is flat and needs major changes.

In addition, Winter Park got only a “partial” irrigation system, which could lead to problems like those in Delray Beach, where residents have complained about poor course maintenance. Boca National would get a full system. Grass would be better – and thus more expensive.

Ehrnst called the council’s decision “very unfortunate and an incredible waste of everyone’s time. The entire approach fosters distrust and dysfunction, by constantly second-guessing and nitpicking rather than just saying ‘No’ upfront. . .I think my feedback summarizes the general frustrations of the district and people involved with the golf project development.”

Subculture Opening in Mizner Park

Subculture Coffee in Delray Beach (Photo by Abbi Perry)

The Palm Beach Post reports that Subculture Coffee Roasters will open a location in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. The website of parent company Sub-Culture Group said the location would be next to the Dubliner, another of the company’s properties, and will open in December or January. The Delray Beach location is one of the most popular sites on Atlantic Avenue.

Sub-Culture also operates Kapow! Noodle Bar near the Dubliner. The company’s presence at Mizner Park will get larger still with the opening of Lost Weekend. It will replace the now-closed Cheese Course near the IPIC theater.

Delray leading talks on city marina

Delray Beach will hold at meeting at 6 p.m. tonight to discuss improvements to the city’s marina.

The work is designed to reduce the regular tidal flooding in the Marina District. It is not part of the proposed $378 million plan from a consultant to deal with rising seas. The meeting will take place in the Veteran’s Park Community Center.

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