Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Boca Council and Mayoral Vacancy Updates, Qualifying Questions, and Other News of Note

Susan Haynie is no longer mayor of Boca Raton, but she will be part of the election to replace her.

At Monday’s city council workshop, former Deputy Mayor Scott Singer was sworn in (pictured above) to serve as mayor until an Aug. 28 special election. As the meeting ended, Singer started campaigning for the permanent job.

Before her arrest last month on seven public corruption charges, Haynie regularly cited a 2013 advisory opinion from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics that she could vote on matters related to James and Marta Batmasian. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser worked with commission staff members on the opinion.

After Haynie settled her civil case with the commission—and appeared ready to continue her county commission race—Ethics Commission Executive Director Mark Bannon said Frieser’s legal reasoning had been wrong. Haynie will be an issue in the election. Most likely, so will Frieser.

On Monday, Singer directed a series of Watergate-like questions to Frieser. The theme was: What did you know about Haynie’s relationship with the Batmasians and when did you know it? How much did Frieser speak with Haynie during discussions about the opinion? Did Haynie ask about the opinion after 2013? What more did Frieser know?

Outwardly, it all was very courteous. Frieser noted, however, “I’ve answered these questions.” True. That happened in November, after The Palm Beach Post reported on the contract Haynie’s company had with the master association of a Deerfield Beach condo where the Batmasians own most of the units.

But in November, there were no criminal charges against Haynie. Candidates for mayor will want to separate themselves as far from Haynie as possible—and perhaps as far from Frieser. Singer’s critics might argue that he went too easy on Haynie and Frieser six months ago. On Monday, Singer began going harder.

Rules for qualifying may change

There is no good reason for Boca Raton to change the rules on who can qualify to run for office. Yet the city council may do just that tonight.

Currently, candidates must pay a $25 fee and must have lived in the city for at least 30 days. Council members will debate whether to ask voters to toughen those requirements. The residency requirement would increase to one year, and the qualifying fee would end. Candidates would have to obtain signatures from 200 residents, with the supervisor of elections verifying that they are signatures from registered voters within Boca Raton.

When this issue arose in March, Haynie was still mayor. I wrote then that the changes would have benefited Haynie and the four council members in their most recent elections. The residency rule would have knocked out Jeremy Rodgers’ challenger this year and one of Andrea O’Rourke’s challengers last year. The signature requirement would have eliminated last-minute challenges to Haynie and Scott Singer in 2017 and Monica Mayotte this year.

Such changes clearly would favor incumbents and could make for insider tricks, such as faux candidates withdrawing late. Council members might argue that many offices outside the city come with the petition option, but those offices also allow candidates to qualify by paying a filing fee that usually is four percent of the office’s salary.

According to the staff memo, the supervisor might not complete the verification until qualifying had ended. So candidates who fell a few signatures short wouldn’t have time to obtain others and make the ballot.

One good change is among the proposals. Candidates would have to submit proof of residency when qualifying. When Paul Preste ran this year, he dodged the question of residency for weeks before showing a voter registration card. The burden should be on candidates to prove that they live in the city.

I could see raising the residency requirement to six months. Thirty days is not much time to start learning about the city. Otherwise, these changes seem designed to discourage contested elections. Government at all levels needs more of those, not fewer.

Special election?

The Boca Raton City Council tonight will set in motion the process for holding that special election on Aug. 28 to fill the mayor’s seat and the council seat of Scott Singer, who plans to run for mayor.

Among other things, the council must set qualifying dates. For the elections to be on the statewide primary ballot in August, candidates’ names must go to the supervisor of elections by June 22.

Some candidates aren’t waiting for the council to give specifics. Andy Thomson, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the council last year, has submitted paperwork for Singer’s Seat A.

Thomson got 41 percent in the three-way Seat B race that Andrea O’Rourke won. He serves on the Education Task Force, and he made clear after losing last year that he was interested in making another council run.

Tamara McKee, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway Realty, also told me that she would run for Singer’s seat. McKee serves on the board of the General Employees Pension Fund and served previously on the Elder Affairs Board. If elected, she would be the second council member—with Mayotte—from the Palm Beach Farms neighborhood in East Boca.

David Milledge, a lawyer for the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office, emailed Boca magazine to say that he also would run. Milledge told me that he has submitted his paperwork.

The council will not appoint someone to fill Singer’s seat until the special election. That makes sense. The appointee could attend only two meetings. Just hope that there aren’t any 2-2 ties on big issues.

Delray lifeguard stands

Shelly Petrolia
Mayor Shelly Petrolia

During last week’s Delray Beach City Commission, a resident complained that he had been losing sleep over the city’s purchase in December of eight lifeguard stands for a combined $1.2 million.

I can think of many more things over which one more properly could lose sleep, but Mayor Shelly Petrolia responded, “I feel your pain.” Petrolia had been the only dissenting vote, and the mayor clearly implied that she believed the man’s anger to have been justified.

Petrolia, however, didn’t say that she joined a complaint over the purchase with the county’s Office of Inspector General. Petrolia also didn’t say that investigators determined that all six issues Petrolia raised were unsubstantiated. The office’s March report said the price was found to be “fair, reasonable, and within the market range,” based on all factors.

Only Shirley Ervin Johnson remains from among the four commissioners who approved the purchase. Perhaps that’s why no one responded to Petrolia. At that December meeting, staff members answered all the commissioners’ questions about the purchase. They may be wondering why the city’s new mayor threw them under the stand.

Delray public information officer?

On another point during Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Petrolia was dead on.

She spoke of the need for Delray Beach to have a public information officer. The city has one for the police department, but that’s it. Though Petrolia focused on what she perceives as the need for Delray Beach to better tout its accomplishment, reporters often need a source just for basic information.

Boca Raton created a full-time public information officer in 2015, and the department now has four positions. Much of the work involves trying to head off, or responding to misinformation on social media. Overall, though, the department improves community outreach and makes for a more transparent city.

Boca Bash should be bashed?

After the drowning 10 days ago of a 32-year-old participant at the annual Boca Bash, it’s time for the city council to ask whether the annual marine boozefest is worth to Boca Raton what it costs the city in services.

The council, of course, has no direct control. Boca Bash happens on state-regulated waters, so the city couldn’t shut down the event even if the council wanted. Council members, however, could ask the organizers to take the event elsewhere or ask that they do more to protect the safety of boaters who anchor in that area of the lake, which is near the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

For Boca Bash, not to be confused with the annual March Boating & Beach Bash at Spanish River Park for people with disabilities, the police department uses resources to keep things under control. Because boaters tie their vessels together, though, it would be hard for officers to respond promptly if a problem came up amid the marine scrum.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers acknowledged that if Police Chief Dan Alexander could make the call, he probably would cancel it. Still, Rodgers said, “It’s an event that a lot of the boating community really looks forward to and it’s a great spot to hold it.”

At Monday’s workshop, Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said that while “there’s no emergency, it’s time to address” Boca Bash. She asked that staff schedule it for discussion “as soon as possible.”

Good call.

Ocean Breeze update

On Wednesday, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District will update the Boca Raton City Council on renovation of the former Ocean Breeze golf course.

The district board has picked Price/Fazio to redesign the course. Chairman Bob Rollins told me that Art Koski, the district’s attorney, has prepared a contract detailing what the district wants from the company. Price/Fazio now will tell the district how much the work will cost, and the negotiations will start.

David Coppa donation to Holocaust Museum

A provocative new exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum got a $500,000 donation from David Coppa, a resident of West Delray. The story behind the donation goes back more than 90 years.

According to a release from the museum, Coppa and his family made the gift in memory of his late grandfather, Simon Konover. He and his wife, Doris Konover, were among the museum’s founders. Simon Konover spent most of his professional life in Connecticut, building a large real estate company. When Konover died in 2015, however, he was living in Delray Beach and had started a Deerfield Beach-based subsidiary of his company.

Konover was born in a Polish shtetl. After the Nazis invaded, he was sent to a labor farm. He escaped to Russia, but was forced to be a driver during the war and then spent a year at hard labor. His obituary quoted Konover as saying that during those six years he lived “minute by minute, not hour by hour.” After the war, his shtetl was gone and he had lost 50 members of his family. Konover told The Hartford Courant that behind his impressive philanthropy was a desire to “make a better world.”

The new exhibit, titled “Americans and the Holocaust,” examines how events and media coverage shaped attitudes about the war in Europe and the fate of European Jews. As the curator says, it also asks what Americans knew about the Holocaust and questions “why more wasn’t done to save the Jews.”

The timing is appropriate. The ADL recently reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent last year—the highest increase on record. More than two-thirds of American millennials, the ADL found in a survey, cannot identify Auschwitz.

Every year, more survivors like Konover die. They bore direct witness. The annual March of the Living, which includes a visit to Auschwitz and is timed to coincide with Israel’s founding, stresses that participants thus become the new generation to bear witness. We need them all.

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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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