Protest in Boca, Delray Beach City Commission is Staying Busy, and More

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Protesters on Glades Road in Boca Raton

Rumors flew Monday afternoon about demonstrations in Boca Raton to protest the death of George Floyd. Would they happen at Town Center Mall? Mizner Park?

The mall closed at 2 p.m., as a precaution. So the crowd gathered nearby, at Butts and Glades roads. It could have gotten messy. It didn’t.

Credit for that may go to the Florida Highway Patrol troops who wore riot gear but knelt briefly. Whatever the reason, the move deescalated the tension. It stood in contrast to tactics in other parts of the country. Perhaps it bought only a day’s respite. With luck, though, we will see similar action on both sides as the area and the country struggle through this crisis.

Boylston settles ethics complaint

Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston will pay $2,000 to settle a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The item is on the agenda for the commission’s Friday meeting. Chris Davey, who has run twice unsuccessfully for the city commission, filed two state complaints against Boylston in May 2019. Davey filed the same complaints with the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics.

According to the meeting packet, Davey made six allegations. He accused Boylston of improperly voting on projects involving Delray Beach-based Azure Development, which is a client of 2Ton, Boylston’s marketing company.

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Delray Beach Commissioner Ryan Boylston

Davey also claimed that Boylston, while serving on the Downtown Development Authority board before his election to the commission in March 2018, voted to approve DDA advertising in The Pineapple newspaper. Boylston at the time owned 25 percent of the publication, now called the Delray Newspaper. Boylston has sold his interest.

The proposed settlement concerns the DDA issue. The commission found no probable cause to investigate the Azure complaint. In what the commission calls a “joint stipulation,” Boylston admits to a pair of violations and would pay what the document calls a “civil penalty” of $1,000 for each violation if the commission approves the deal.

Ironically, the county ethics commission dismissed the DDA charges last December. The commission also dismissed the Azure allegation. Boylston told me Monday — as he told the ethics panel — that the issue arise when a principal in Azure brought a development application to the city in April 2019. Boylston asked City Attorney Lynn Gelin if he had to recuse himself because of his business relationship.

Gelin replied that Azure itself was not the applicant on that project. Therefore, Boylston could vote, which he did. As it turned out, however, Gelin’s opinion was “incorrect,” according to the county ethics commission. Azure was involved, and there was a conflict.

So the commission sent Boylston a “letter of instruction.” It said, in part, that “if a similar situation” occurs, Boylston should take “reasonable precautions” to determine whether a client has an interest in something before the commission. The letter acknowledged that the staff “paperwork” did not list Azure. It listed only the property owner and architect. The letter advised Boylston, though, to be “more diligent.”

The DDA issue came up during Boylston’s campaign. His defense, then and now, is that he abstained from voting on the line item for the advertising and voted only for the overall budget. So why not fight the state cases? Boylston said his attorney advised that doing so would cost $20,000 in legal fees compared with the $2,000 settlement. Boylston said the DDA sought an advisory opinion from the county ethics commission but not the state commission. “The state,” Boylston said, “sees this differently.”

Boylston plans to run for a second term next year. The settlement almost certainly will be part of any campaign against him. “In Delray Beach,” Boylston said, “the only reason these things are done is so they can be used in campaigns.”

Boylston wants more info on developments

According to Boylston, Delray Beach has implemented new procedures to ensure that commissioners know who is behind development application. Boylston said that he asked for them in the wake of the complaints filed against him.

Yet Boylston complains that two items on the agenda for today’s commission meeting don’t provide that information. Both are applications for “major” subdivisions. One is near the ocean, called Estates at Ocean Delray. The other is called Lake Ida Gardens.

In both cases, the staff memo notes the property address, but not much more. Boylston said that he will ask today about the seeming lack of information.

Delray Beach CRA seat to be filled

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Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

There could be an interesting discussion today when the Delray Beach City Commission fills a seat on the community redevelopment agency board.

Since April 2018, when the commission abolished the independent board, the CRA has consisted of the mayor, the four commissioners and two members whom the commission appoints. Pamela Brinson and Angeleta Gray are the appointees. Brinson’s term is up.

Based on votes and comments, Brinson and Gray are more aligned with Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who also serves as CRA chairwoman and runs the meetings. The other bloc includes Boylston, Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson. It also included Bill Bathurst, when he was on the commission. We saw that most dramatically when Petrolia tried to steer the contract for land next to the Fairfield Inn to Uptown Delray.

In March, Bathurst lost to Julie Casale, for whom Petrolia campaigned. At one point, it appeared that Casale would get the board pick and thus would renominate Brinson or choose someone to Petrolia’s liking. After discussion, though, the pick went to Frankel. Whomever he nominates could become the swing vote.

That’s the political angle. From the city’s standpoint, the field of applicants is depressingly thin. It includes no one with an impressive background in development or real estate or planning, which the CRA board could use, since no current board member has such professional experience. One applicant is a former football coach. Another was a fast-food worker. Brinson is a public relations consultant.

Much of the CRA’s work involves buying and selling properties and approving contracts. Perhaps the recent politics of the agency scared off more qualified applicants.

Boca COVID loans

Boca Raton began taking applications Monday for the city’s COVID-19 business loan program.

Owners who have lost at least half their revenues because of virus restrictions can get up to $5,000 from the $500,000 fund. To be eligible, businesses must have between three and 25 employees, annual sales of no more than $1 million and must have been operating in the city for a year before March 1. Companies that obtained loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program also are not eligible.

For information, call 561/367-7031, visit www.myBoca.us/SmallBusinessGrant or email smallbusinessrelief@myboca.us

Office Depot restructuring

Boca Raton-based Office Depot has announced plans to cut roughly 13,000 employees. The company hopes to save $860 million over the next three years.

Office Depot did not say how many stores or distribution centers its self-described “restructuring” might eliminate. The company intends to focus more on direct services to businesses and less on brick-and-mortar retail to individual customers. Roughly 2,000 employees work at the Boca headquarters.

FAU football players return to campus

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Photo: Alex Dolce, Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University has told football players that they can start returning to campus next Monday. The plan is for all players to be back by the end of June.

COVID-19 protocols, such as social distancing, will apply. Though players can begin working out, Conference USA has made no decision on a football schedule. The Board of Governors has told universities to plan for resuming classes on campus but has offered no direction.

County COVID update to come today

Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso will update the county commission today on COVID-19. Her comments could include whether the commission allows the reopening of such facilities as park playgrounds.