Boca City Council Frozen in Headlights, the Delray CRA Takeover News and Other News of Note

Fortunately for members of the Boca Raton City Council, only a few residents were present Wednesday afternoon when the council ended its three-day so-called strategic planning session.

Not much of a plan emerged, much less a strategic one. Facilitator Lyle Sumek kept asking council members Wednesday to list their priorities for the staff, and the council kept deferring to the staff. Perhaps the council members forgot that they are the supposed policymakers.

Sumek offered a lifeline. He will ask the staff how much time and money each “priority” involves, relay the information to the council and ask again for consensus.

Good luck.

Though the work of the city proceeds, everyone in the room understood that by September the council could have two new members. Scott Singer is running for mayor, to fill the vacancy Haynie’s suspension has created. That election and another to fill Singer’s seat will happen on Aug. 28.

Perhaps Singer was reluctant to commit because of his upcoming campaign. Perhaps Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte held back because they anticipate being part of a philosophical majority on the next council. Jeremy Rodgers just won his second term and faces no election, but he didn’t offer much as Sumek prodded the council.

The indecision left Constance Scott especially frustrated. The former council member is director of local relations for Florida Atlantic University. She asked the council to allocate $50,000 over each of the next three years to Tech Runway, FAU’s jobs incubator.

Scott told council members that they could take the money from the city’s nearly $6 million business recruitment and retention fund. After those three years, Scott said, the private-public program would be self-sufficient. FAU had sought state money for several years without success. The council approved $500,000 as a one-year bailout for this year’s senior pro golf tournament.

Yet the council wouldn’t commit even on Tech Runway. And, curiously, Singer wanted a priority to be creation of a technology job hub. Boca Raton already has one: the Research Park at FAU, which is a supporter of Tech Runway.

Some council members also listed as a priority the “small area master plan” for Midtown. That priority arose, however, only because the previous council—Robert Weinroth in Mayotte’s seat—refused to negotiate with Midtown landowners over redevelopment rules.

The largest landowner is now suing. Another is working on a scaled-back plan. When the “small area master plan” is done, it might not matter. The enticing, comprehensive Midtown redevelopment could have come and gone, to the city’s detriment.

Such planning discussions might seem irrelevant to Boca Raton residents, but this is the time of year when the staff begins serious work on next year’s budget. Department heads can’t wait for the election results and the new council’s priorities, because the budget year starts about a month after that.

So the council and staff will try to align in a couple of weeks. The date that matters more, however, might continue to be Aug. 28.

Short-sighted?

As an example of how short-term focused the Boca council is, Sumek on Monday asked the members to list key issues that would arise over the next five years. Not one council member noted that Ahnell is in the mandatory retirement program to leave by 2022.

Ahnell has been the manager since 1999. His top aides also are nearing retirement age. Replacing them will be key to Boca Raton’s future. The manager and the city attorney are the council’s only two hires. To paraphrase Butch Cassidy, some cities may have vision, but Boca Raton is wearing bifocals.

Delray and the CRA takeover

Apparently, the Delray Beach City Commission intends to carry out the least hostile takeover possible of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and the commissioners officially installed themselves as the CRA board, replacing the seven-member independent board. On Monday, they will discuss how often to meet and whether Petrolia also will serve as CRA chairman. In Boca Raton, the mayor historically has not also run the CRA meetings.

On Tuesday, the commission will decide whether to add a pair of appointed members and thus keep the board at seven. Sentiment seems to be running that way. Petrolia and commissioners Shirley Ervin Johnson and Adam Frankel expressed support for that structure, while Bill Bathurst and Ryan Boylston were opposed. Boylston was the only vote last month against the takeover.

It seems odd that the commission would want to retain two independent CRA members. What was the point of the takeover? But it also was odd to hear some of the ousted board members praise the commission for its action and for the commission to praise the ousted board members.

In addition, there’s no consensus as to how the commission would pick the two members. It probably won’t be through individual appointments. That worked when the CRA board had seven members and appointments rotated regularly among the commissioners, subject to a vote by their colleagues. So the commission would have to choose collectively from among the applicants, using a vote system that the commission hasn’t determined.

And who would the applicants be? It seemed suspicious when Johnson asked that the commission accept no more applicants after Tuesday night. How could anyone apply if he or she didn’t know for sure that the commission was going to create the two positions? Some applications, according to the clerk’s office, date to last April.

Other comments indicated that commissioners knew things about the CRA that they weren’t willing to discuss publicly. Adam Frankel referred “shenanigans” and evidence” about “things that have been done.” He paused and added, “It’s not kosher.” Former CRA board member Daniel Rose spoke of former colleagues who he said had “personal interests” and wanted “favors.”

Johnson wants the CRA to refocus on its original mission of “eliminating slum and blight.” That’s her way of saying the CRA should emphasize the northwest and southwest neighborhoods, not the revitalized downtown and East Atlantic Avenue. If the commission wants to exert control, however, it would make sense for the commission alone to be running the CRA.

Looking back at Boca’s CRA

Like Delray Beach, Boca Raton started with an independent Community Redevelopment Agency when the city set out almost 40 years ago to create a new downtown.

That CRA’s lasting accomplishment is Mizner Park. It’s impossible to imagine Boca Raton without it, but the fight in the late 1980s was intense. Cormac Conahan, who had been the CRA attorney, disagreed so strongly about Mizner Park that he organized a petition drive to ask voters if they wanted to put the council in charge of the CRA.

Voters approved the change in February 1991—one month after Mizner Park opened. Two years earlier, voters had approved the referendum that allowed the CRA to proceed with Mizner Park. Sentiment had shifted, however, because the promised cultural uses hadn’t materialized.

There has been no or little support in the last 27 years for changing the structure.

Delray parking rules

The Delray Beach City Commission had been set to pass new parking rules Tuesday night, but City Manager Mark Lauzier asked for a two-week delay. He wants to consult further with the Downtown Development Authority, whose members have the most to gain or lose from the new policy.

Boca gets a little more green   

Delray Beach has had a sustainability officer for many years. On Monday, Boca Raton will have its first.

The city hired Lindsey Nieratka, who has been the environmental sustainability coordinator for Hollywood. That city’s sustainability plan contains 32 goals and 99 methods for meeting those goals. Hollywood’s mission statement says the city “strives to be a model of sustainability by recognizing the environment as an asset, and as such, works to reduce the impacts of municipal operations and empower residents, business owners, employees, and visitors to. . .create a resilient, accessible, attractive, healthy, and prosperous city.”

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