Thursday, October 21, 2021

BRRH News, Delray Wins Big (Again!), Boca Reviews its Top Employees

First, CEO Jerry Fedele will retire in August of next year, when he turns 65.

When he arrived in 2008, Fedele said, he was asked for a long-term commitment. He pledged five years, but said he would not work past 65. “For personal reasons,” he is sticking to that deadline.

Second, and not related to the first, the hospital announced Monday that it has formed a committee to examine whether Boca Regional should look for a “strategic partnership with another healthcare provider.” Fedele said Boca Regional made the announcement early because board members are sensitive to what happened in the mid-1990s, when the board was less than transparent about its plan to sell the hospital.

“We are not acting out of need,” Fedele said, noting that the fiscal year that ends next week will be the best since he arrived. Boca Regional is starting a quarter-million-dollar upgrade. But the trend in health care has been consolidation. Fedele points out that Boca Regional and Jupiter Medical Center are the only two independent hospitals in this area.

“We want to see if this is the right direction for us.” Fedele said. The committee probably will determine in the next couple of months whether to proceed. If so, Fedele said, the board would decide “in the next 12 months.”

Everybody’s All American

Delray Beach is an All-America City again. The National Civic League announced this year’s winners on Friday. Delray Beach thus becomes the only city in Florida to win the award three times

The league based its 2017 awards on the success of local governments in raising reading scores for at-risk children. “Working together,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said in a statement, “we have made meaningful and measurable progress in addressing one of our country’s greatest challenges—improving reading proficiency among our youth.” The only other Florida winner was the joint entry from Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Ahnell and Freiser pass with flying colors

Last Tuesday, the Boca Raton City Council conducted an evaluation of City Manager Leif Ahnell and City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser that was more like a lovefest.

Mayor Susan Haynie and the council members gushed over the only two employees who report to them. The consensus amounted to “great.” The review, such as it was, came at the end of a four-hour-plus meeting that had come after a two-hour-plus meeting. The day before, all parties had been through seven hours of other meetings. No one wanted to spend a lot of time.

Of course, the lovefest was more of an evaluation than the council had conducted since 2007, even though the contracts for Ahnell and Frieser state that they should be evaluated annually this time of year. Previously, council members simply said they made their own evaluations based on conversations with Ahnell and Frieser.

Both have held their jobs since 1999, which is beyond astonishing, given the politics of local government in South Florida. Delray Beach has had four managers since 2013, though there have been special circumstances. Ahnell and Frieser make nearly a quarter-million each in salary. In 2011, after the recession had forced budget cuts, the council didn’t give Ahnell and Frieser a raise but did give each a five-year severance if they were fired. That deal expired last year. The severance is back to 12 months.

Ahnell, who has entered the five-year mandatory retirement program, had prepared a list of 150 accomplishments. Some were noteworthy. Forty percent of building permits are now handled online, and the average wait for a permit is down to 30 days from 45 days. Permit delays have been a problem in Boca Raton for years.

But other numbers—75,000 building inspections in the last year, issuing 2,900 dog beach permits—simply reflect a growing city with a similarly growing demand for services. Getting the basics done is the manager’s job. As my old boss at The Palm Beach Post told me, “Don’t expect praise for getting the paper out each day.”

Similarly, running the city well should be the standard in Boca Raton. There’s also a way to tell a manager that he or she is doing well—even very well— and also set out strategies and expectations for doing better.

Implicitly, the council did this in its goal-setting session. Rather than propose new projects, council members asked for timetables for progress on current projects, such as the waterfront master plan and the student district near Florida Atlantic University. That demand indicated that the council wasn’t completely satisfied with the city’s progress.

Councilman Robert Weinroth previously had called for evaluations, but he got no takers. Yet Weinroth gave Ahnell an “A or an A-minus” and Frieser “a B-plus.” Weinroth acknowledged that he had backed off some, but told me that the evaluation amounted to “a starting point.” He would give the council “a C-plus” for Tuesday night’s effort and noted that Scott Singer had talked of a more formal process, which Weinroth would support.

For comparison’s sake, Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency board members evaluated Executive Director Jeff Costello in 31 categories, giving him a rating from five to one.

Here’s one specific reason the council should conduct more thorough evaluations. Council members regularly hear complaints that Frieser and the legal department needlessly delay development approvals. I hear the same complaints. I don’t know if they’re true. If they are, however, the council should deal with the issue. If the complaints are bogus, the council should publicly debunk the myth with evidence.

Here’s a hint for next year: Schedule the evaluations earlier in the meeting.

Midtown update

A big chunk of that seven-hour meeting doubleheader last Monday went to discussion of rules Boca Raton will set for the Midtown area. I would describe the tone as diplomatically testy.

Mayor Haynie had asked for the update on three land development regulations that, most notably, would allow residential development in Midtown, whose boundaries are Town Center Mall, Glades Road and Boca Center. The city has designated the area for Planned Mobility Development, focused around transit to reduce traffic. Current proposals would allow 2,500 residential units, all rentals.

Crocker Partners owns Boca Center and other key properties in Midtown. Angelo Bianco, Crocker’s managing partner, did most of the talking last week. He would like the proposals to go before the planning and zoning board in July, and to the council in September.

Bianco’s voice never rose, but he suggested that the city has been “treacherous” toward the property owners. Though Bianco said the property owners “don’t want to steamroll” the process, the prolonged delay made it seem that the city wants to “take away our rights as landowners.”

One frustrating aspect for all sides is that while the property owners presented renderings of development that might work in Midtown, there can’t be actual renderings of projects until the city approves the rules. Design drawings, Bianco said, would cost “seven figures.” Until the city sets rules, any plans are only “aspirational.”

The staff memo noted that the council had sought a “reset” on Midtown. Near the end of the meeting, as Bianco made his request for that July planning and zoning review, Robert Weinroth cautioned Bianco to be patient. “You’re in the red zone. It’s the last 10 yards.” (Actually, that football term refers to the last 20 yards before the goal line.) It would be “a mistake” Weinroth said, to push too hard.

Haynie concluded things by asking the property owners to “please work with (Deputy City Manager George Brown) to move” the proposals “in an expeditious manner.” Bianco told me afterward, “I am encouraged by last evening’s workshop. It appears that all interested parties are ready to work together to finalize regulations to set the framework necessary for property owners to begin the Midtown Boca design process.”

And after Weinroth’s comment, Bianco said that if the issue “rolls over” past his preferred date of July, “I will be back here with a smile on my face.”

Meter invasion

After a decade of talk, there will be paid parking in Delray Beach on public lots and on downtown streets.

At last week’s workshop meeting, the city commission agreed with members of the Downtown Development Authority and the Parking Management Advisory Board to install meters. The primary aim is to help downtown merchants by forcing spaces to turn over more quickly, thus freeing those spaces for customers, but the new system also could help reduce traffic in congested areas.

In separate conversations, Commissioners Jim Chard and Mitch Katz both said that it was time to “stop kicking the can down the road.” Chard recalled the speaker who once told the city “that there really is no such thing as free parking.” Katz said the timing finally worked because the city has a better management system, the meter technology is available and plans are being developed for employee parking and resident plans. Katz suggested that a phone app could alert residents during slow periods that the meters have been turned off.

Because the rate system is contained in an ordinance, Katz said, the commission will have to approve the new one. Chard and Katz said that should not take long.

Swinton Commons

A decision may be coming soon in Delray Beach on the Swinton Commons project.

According to the chamber of commerce, Swinton Commons will go before the historic preservation board on June 26 and the city commission on Aug. 1. Most of the project area is on the two blocks south of Atlantic Avenue between Swinton and Southwest First avenues. The other portion is on the east side of Swinton.

After a verbal drubbing from the historic preservation during its first review, the developer has made significant changes. Last week, the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition unanimously endorsed Swinton Commons. I will have more on the project if that Aug. 1 date holds.

More CRA appointments

At tonight’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will make the other two appointments to the community redevelopment agency board. Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia are scheduled to make the choices.

Two weeks ago, the commission reappointed Chairman Reggie Cox (Mayor Cary Glickstein’s choice) and Morris Carstarphen (Commissioner Jim Chard’s choice.) Some applicants failed on a 2-2 vote, with Katz absent. Katz or Petrolia could renominate any of those applicants tonight. The four-year terms start July 1.

Senior living complex

A different kind of downtown development project will go before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board on Thursday.

The applicant seeks to replace a two-story apartment building at 375 East Royal Palm Road with a 193-unit complex for seniors who need assisted living and more. Sixty-three units would be for what the backup material calls “memory care,” presumably seniors with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Under current downtown rules, there is not enough space for that many units in the section along East Palmetto Park Road between Mizner Boulevard and Fifth Avenue. So the developer would take space from the southwest section, near Camino Real and Dixie Highway.

The staff recommends approval, but cautions that the project would require more emergency service calls than standard multi-family dwellings. Adult congregate living facilities (ACLFs), the report says, generate 1.19 calls per bed compared to .76 calls per bed. That’s more than a 50 percent increase. Calls also take longer. Expansion of ACLFs, the report says, will demand more tax revenue to support emergency service demand.

Which brings us to a related item on this week’s planning and zoning board agenda.

Goray Senior Living LLC also wants to build an ACLF. It would include 151 beds and a medical center on Congress Avenue north of the Interstate 95 interchange.

But Goray would need a land-use change and a rezoning. Four of the five council members would have to approve the land-use change. The current land use is designed to encourage Planned Mobility Development projects. If the city approved this change, the staff report says, similar projects could follow, thus dramatically changing the character of the area. The report calls the proposed change “incompatible.” Staff recommends that the planning and zoning board deny the request.

Campus note

I wrote Thursday about the idea of The Related Group participating in Boca Raton’s government campus, most likely by building city hall and other facilities in return for developing residential on the campus or elsewhere.

Three of the five council members gave their opinions, or lack of them. Scott Singer later responded that he thought I had covered the issue. I also heard from Jeremy Rodgers, who said, “On the face of it, I don’t really have enough information on it. Resident units on city campus doesn’t seem like the best idea to me, but I’m always willing to hear someone out.”

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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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