Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Boca City Council Fills Empty Seat, Delray Politics Flare Up Again and More

All but one of those who applied to fill a Boca Raton City Council seat wasted their time.

Tuesday night, after almost no discussion of the 32 applicants, Mayor Scott Singer and councilwomen Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke chose Yvette Drucker to replace Jeremy Rodgers until the March election. Rodgers has been on active duty overseas for the Navy since June.

Drucker is already a candidate for Seat C, which comes open in five months because Rodgers is term-limited. Drucker now can run as an incumbent against former Councilwoman Constance Scott, who said Wednesday that she intends to stay in the race.

Based on Drucker’s extensive volunteer record in the city, she clearly was a credible applicant. But so were nearly a dozen others.

The apparent fix became clear when Mayotte listed four candidates whom she had ranked highest and Scott was not on the list. Similarly, O’Rourke named five candidates and omitted Scott. Whatever one thinks of Scott’s previous service, it’s absurd to think that a two-term council veteran is not qualified. In addition, Scott remains involved with the city through her job at Florida Atlantic University.

Tuesday night’s script, though, appears as though it had already been written. Mayotte nominated Drucker. O’Rourke voted for her. Singer simply said “Drucker,” and that was that. There was no elaboration. Only Andy Thomson proposed other choices or to keep the seat open.

Before the vote, Singer and O’Rourke tried to explain why they wanted to fill this seat when they were content to leave one open two years ago before an election. Videotape of that 2018 discussion had circulated.

“I do see the need for five,” Singer said, having not seen the need previously. O’Rourke noted that a 2-2 vote amounts to a defeat. “That could kill a project,” said the woman who campaign against overdevelopment.

In an email, Singer said, “We were fortunate to have so many qualified and remarkable residents who wanted to serve. I thought Yvette Drucker’s expansive record of service on city boards and leadership roles in our city and her vision and dedication made her the best choice at this particular time.

“As discussed, I did not think showing an interest in (running for the seat) was an automatic disqualifier, especially as people in temporary roles often seek and gain election. I spoke with Yvette and all other of the applicants who had either called or emailed me.”

After the meeting, Singer emailed Scott to express “my sincere thanks for your continued desire to serve our community. If you watched tonight’s city council meeting, you heard us again express our deep gratitude.

“I realize that tonight’s decision is disappointing to you, but I greatly respect your years of service on the council and your longstanding and continued involvement in Boca. There’s no doubt you will continue your efforts for our community. Even though the meeting did not return you to the council tonight, I look forward to continuing to work with you at FAU and beyond.”

You could read that as an unsubtle hint to Scott that she should drop out. Singer said he did not “mean to imply anything about the race.” I asked Scott if she considered it a suggestion that she drop out. “Of course,” she said. I also asked Mayotte and O’Rourke for comment. Neither responded to my email.

None of this is a commentary on the relative merits of Drucker and Scott. It’s a commentary only on how Singer, Mayotte and O’Rourke needlessly injected themselves into a campaign. On this night, Boca Raton indulged in the sort of factional politics that are poisoning Delray Beach.

Delray politics flare up again


Speaking of those politics, they were on display again during Tuesday’s meeting of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.

City Commissioner Ryan Boylston wanted the staff to discuss with the Palm Beach County School District the agency’s potential acquisition of the 10.3-acre site where Plumosa Elementary School once stood. The property, in northeast Delray Beach, borders a church on one side. Otherwise, single-family homes surround it.

The district canceled plans to build a school for at-risk students, and the buildings have been condemned. Boylston presented a letter from Pulte Homes in which a company division president expressed interest in a partnership to build what Boylston said could be 50 units of affordable housing, some of it designated for teachers.

Immediate pushback came from Angeleta Gray, one of two appointed CRA board members, and Mayor Shelly Petrolia. They noted that the property is appraised at nearly $6 million and contended that acquisition would draw money from other promised projects. “I don’t want us to get off track,” Gray said.

Boylston responded that Pulte would put up some money–company representative Brent Baker confirmed that–and that the sale price could be much lower than the appraised value. The district has no use for the land. Perhaps the district would consider donating it. Commissioner Adam Frankel also wanted the CRA to contact the district.

But Gray and Commissioner Julie Casale, Petrolia’s reliable CRA allies, disagreed. Commissioner Shirley Johnson, running the meeting as CRA chairwoman, also said that she was opposed.

Boylston pointed out that the area around the site has received the least amount of CRA investment within the agency’s boundaries. The idea still died.

So an eyesore will remain without even a discussion of removing it.

One constant in Delray

Though City Manager George Gretsas remains under threat of being fired next month, Delray Beach for now seems to have stability atop the CRA.

Board members just gave Executive Director Renee Jadusingh a six percent raise after her annual evaluation. Jadusingh will make $153,700.

Delray water report


A report on Delray Beach’s reclaimed water program concluded that the many problems resulted from “a lack of institutional control.”

The problems presented themselves in late 2018, when some residents on the barrier island got sick from drinking reclaimed–semi-treated–water that had gotten into the potable water pipes. Delray Beach has paid about $1.1 million to fix the problems after the Florida Department of Health cited the city for violations.

The report, which the city commissioned, also cited poor communication and other issues. Before his suspension, Gretsas hired a new utilities director. Gretsas claims that his suspension resulted in large part from his aggressive moves to investigate the water program.

You can expect the issue to come up on Nov. 20 during the hearing into whether to fire Gretsas. It also will be a campaign issue in March, when Petrolia, Frankel and Boylston are on the ballot.

Is it safe?

Here’s more on Delray Beach and water:

Tallahassee-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has issued a news release saying that Delray Beach’s drinking water contains unsafe levels of toxic polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

As PEER notes, PFAS don’t naturally break down and can accumulate in humans, which is why they are known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS have been linked to cancer and can harm the immune system.

Especially relevant is that they can reduce antibody responses to vaccines. PFAS are used to make non-stick cooking surfaces, water-resistant clothing, cleaning products and firefighting foam.

According to PEER, a lab test showed PFAS levels in Delray Beach “many times above legal limits in several states. “Delray’s water would not be fit for consumption in New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and a growing number of states,” Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips said. PEER suspects a link between the PFAS levels and the city’s use of reclaimed water.

Delray Beach responded with a statement calling PEER’s statement “false.” The statement went on: “The truth is that recent test results confirmed that the city’s drinking-water PFAS levels are well below the established health advisory levels. Furthermore, the city’s drinking water meets, and exceeds, all regulatory standards set by local, state and federal authorities, including current regulations or advisories for PFAS.”

Latson apologizes

Former Spanish River High School Principal William Latson has apologized for telling a parent that he couldn’t affirm the reality of the Holocaust.

Latson released the video apology last week. The Palm Beach County School Board fired him a year ago for his email comments to a parent. Latson now denies that he is a Holocaust denier.

The apology comes as the school board prepares to reconsider its vote this month to reinstate Latson. An administrative law judge concluded that Latson’s conduct did not justify firing him. The new vote was scheduled for last week, but the board has to postpone it so members could listen to several days worth of public comment. They are doing so in their homes.

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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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