Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Boca and Delray Await More Vaccine and Delray Takes on Panhandling

Boca Raton heard on Jan. 13 that the city would have 200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to give out. Staff had the website ready the next day. The appointments were gone in three minutes and administered the next day.

And now?

Those lucky 200 people will get their second doses on Feb. 12. In keeping with the uncertainty about the vaccine rollout, Boca Raton does yet not have those follow-up doses. But according to a city spokeswoman, “We have been assured that we will have the second doses.” Firefighters again will give the shots at the city complex on North Congress Avenue.

As Boca Raton waits with all cities and counties for more information, staff members take phone calls and emails from residents asking questions and expressing frustrations. Among other things, people wonder why there are no mass vaccination sites. “We try to reassure them,” the spokeswoman said.

Sometimes, the city must deal with issues beyond its control. People had complained, the spokeswoman said, about the lack of a centralized appointment system. On Friday, the state finally announced creation of such a system. In Palm Beach County, however, the health department and health care district still are working to deal with the backlog of existing appointment requests, so the system isn’t in place yet.

Delray Beach officials have heard the same frustration. It became heightened when the fire department got 200 doses of its own to dispense. A department spokeswoman said the appointments were booked in less than a minute.

“We heard from hundreds, maybe thousands of mostly elderly people who wanted the vaccine,” the spokeswoman said. “They called, sent emails, social media messages, and some showed up at the fire station. It was heartbreaking to hear their frustration and, in some cases, panic.”

As with Boca Raton, Delray Beach hasn’t heard when the city might get more doses. Fortunately, the department also did hear that there will be second doses for those lucky few. That will come in another couple of weeks.

You can understand why people in Boca Raton and Delray Beach would call the government closest to them. But the frustration will continue until there’s more information—and less confusion—from the state.

Board members get lucky

boca regional

I have been tracking the vaccines administered by Boca Raton Regional Hospital and its parent company, Baptist Health South Florida. Here’s the latest, according to a spokesman for Boca Regional.

“Baptist Health has administered over 30,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.” The company has 11 hospitals between Boynton Beach and southern Miami-Dade County. “We had opened slots for our community who were eligible—including those with conditions that put them at a high risk of serious illness from the virus.”

Because of “supply constraints,” Baptist Health is not booking new vaccinations. Those who got first doses will receive their second shots.

As to whether board members have received vaccines through Baptist Health, as has happened with other hospitals, the answer is yes. “Board members are critical to the organization’s operations,” the spokesman said, “and thus those who were eligible according to the criteria (age 65 or older or who have extreme vulnerabilities for COVID-19 as delineated by the governor’s executive order) were offered the vaccine.”

Barbieri endorses Scott

Constance Scott last week touted the endorsement of Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri in her race for Boca Raton City Council Seat C.

It wasn’t one of the normal endorsement in city elections, such as those from homeowner associations, public safety unions or the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. I asked Barbieri why he gave it.

Barbieri’s district includes Boca Raton and West Boca. He was elected to the board in 2008. Scott was elected to the first of two terms on the city council in 2009 and served until 2015, when term limits kicked in.

“Constance was always a great help when I was trying to get things for schools in the city,” Barbieri said. That same relationship continued, Barbieri said, when Scott moved to Florida Atlantic University as director of local relations. “When she asked, I was happy to help.”

Boca Raton will get two rebuilt, expanded elementary schools—Addison Mizner and Verde—through the sales-tax surcharge. In addition, the school board shifted to Boca Raton a new elementary school that had been planned for a site outside the city. That happened when the city donated roughly 15 acres next to Don Estridge Middle School.

Second semester sees Boca students returning 

phase 2

This week marks the start of the second semester on the Palm Beach County School District schedule. Barbieri said students at Boca Raton schools are returning to classrooms at a higher rate than those elsewhere in the district.

On-campus attendance at elementary and middle schools within the city, he said, will be about 70 percent, based on conversations with principals. Districtwide, about 48 percent of students are expected back in class. Hesitation among minority parents explains why the district is lagging.

Despite the irony, none of this is surprising. Though distance learning has been harder on minority students, they tend to come from families most at risk from COVID-19 because parents can’t work from home. Minority parents also are less likely to get vaccinated, due to historic suspicion of institutional medicine and public health. Groups inside and outside government are trying to change that view.

Given the amount of time spent out of class, Barbieri said, the district simply may have to have all those “lagging” students repeat their grade. “We can’t just promote them along.”

Delray panhandling ordinance


On Wednesday, the Delray Beach City Commission will hold a special meeting to discuss a proposed ordinance that would regulate panhandling.

It’s been an issue for several years and it presents a legal problem. Cities can’t stop people from asking for money, because the courts consider the request free speech and thus under First Amendment protection.

So the draft ordinance focuses on “aggressive” panhandling. It notes that some panhandlers use “profane language” and sometimes “physically touch or threaten” people. The police department has received “a significant number of complaints.”

As a result, the ordinance states, “aggressive panhandling or begging” has “become extremely disturbing and disruptive to residents, visitors, and businesses, and has contributed to an enhanced sense of fear, intimidation, and disorder resulting in the loss of access to and enjoyment of public places throughout the city.”

The ordinance would prohibit “aggressive panhandling” anywhere in the city. It would prohibit panhandling of any kind within 20 feet of commercial property, bus stops, ATMs, city-owned parking lots, public bathrooms, within 100 feet of schools and daycare centers, and within 20 feet of the beach pavilion. It also would be illegal to ask any occupant of a vehicle for money or to perform a service. Think minors who offer to clean windshields.

I’ve heard complaints about panhandling for a long time. Still, expect this debate to be complicated. Non-profit groups may complain that it would prevent them from soliciting for legitimate causes. And how would police officers verify that a panhandler had caused “ a reasonable person” to believe that he or she was “threatened with imminent bodily injury or the commission of a criminal act?”

The material for the meeting contains no recommendation from the legal department. I’ll update after the meeting.

GEO Group

One of President Biden’s early executive orders could affect a Boca Raton company.

That would be GEO Group, which operates private prisons and detention centers for the federal government. Biden ordered his administration to end contracts with the private prison industry, which houses about 10 percent of federal inmates.

GEO’s stock dropped about 12 percent after Biden’s announcement, though it has recovered most of that loss. The price remains about half of its pre-pandemic high.

GEO Chairman George Zoley downplayed the prospect of any damage. He noted that the federal prison population had been declining even through the Trump administration. “Unless there’s a change in border security,” Zoley told a reporter, “I don’t know that there will be much change.”

David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, considers the order to be very significant. Critics of GEO and other prison contractors say the industry lobbies elected officials to enact policies that promote mass incarceration. That criticism was a large reason for the public pushback that killed GEO’s deal for naming rights at Florida Atlantic University Stadium.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
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.

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