Check out the short list for Delray city manager

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City Manager short list details

Delray Beach city commissioners have the best and worst of it as they choose a permanent city manager.

The best is that the eight candidates, whom Delray’s consulting firm culled from nearly 100 applicants and recommends for consideration, have not only lots of experience but lots of relevant experience. Six of the eight have Florida backgrounds. Some of those backgrounds are extensive and close to home—very close, in some cases. Mayor Cary Glickstein says Delray Beach needs a “change agent,” and at least three of the candidates have engineered dramatic change at local governments they have run.

The worst is that some of those same candidates also have left jobs—or been forced out—because that drive for change may have had no cruising speed. Commissioners will have to decide who they believe was right in the conflicts involving some of the applicants. In addition, the commissioners will have to decide if the change in question is the sort of change they want for Delray Beach.

In a memo to the city last week, headhunter Colin Baenziger recommended that the commission this week pick five finalists, whom the commission would interview on Nov. 6-7. The commission would make its choice either on the 7thor the following Monday, Nov. 10. The city then would have to negotiate a contract.

To that end, and to make the system as fair as possible, Baenziger recommended that each commissioner simply put a check mark—no rankings—next to the name of someone he or she would like to interview. Baenziger said that a majority of the commissioners likely would agree on three or four names. After that, the commissioners would have to decide if they want to add any names. “This,” Baenziger wrote, “may engender some discussion.” They could fill out a new ballot, agree on a name after talking, or add a candidate whom one commissioner feels strongly about “as a professional courtesy.” The more candidates they interview, Baenziger wrote, “the more likely you are to see the right person.”

True enough, but the commission probably can dispense with two names quickly. Those candidates happen to be the ones who don’t have Florida experience. Government systems vary greatly from state to state, which means that the experience of public administrators varies as well. Delray Beach needs that relevant experience. So eliminate Andrea McCune and George Wagner.

McCune is administrator for Lancaster County, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country; the movie “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford, was filmed there. It’s pretty, and the county has 500,000 people, so the job is substantial. But the job also is much different. McCune deals a lot with criminal justice issues, given the government structure. None of that is relevant to Delray Beach.

Wagner is administrator for Huntingdon County in western New Jersey, which instead of commissioners has a Board of Chosen Freeholders. Cool. As with McCune, Wagner’s job involves criminal justice, including operation of a jail. Also, Wagner writes in his application letter that he is “very familiar with the beautiful city of Del Ray Beach. . .” How familiar can he be if he can’t spell the name right?

As for the other six applicants, the commission may want to exceed Baenziger’s recommendation and bring in all of them. Each has enough potential, background and intrigue to make him interesting.

Thaddeus Cohen: You want close to home? Cohen lives in Delray Beach. He had an architectural business in the city for 20 years. He served on the board of Delray’s housing authority.

Cohen is the only applicant who has run a state agency – the Department of Community Affairs, under Jeb Bush, before Gov. Rick Scott emasculated the state’s growth-management powers. Cohen, though, also has the slimmest local government experience—three years as community redevelopment director in Pensacola. Cohen claims credit for a $52 million project that, along with other programs, supposedly revived the city’s downtown. Commissioners would want to ask about Cohen losing his job as part of a new mayor’s “streamlining.” Cohen now works for a Broward County construction company.

Don Cooper: As city manager of Port St. Lucie from 1991 until 2010, Cooper oversaw transformation of what had begun as a giant subdivision into a fast-growing, full-service city. Cooper’s high point was creating a citywide, $180-million water and sewer system that was essential to progress but which many residents opposed because of the cost to hook up. He also saved the city millions through bond refinancing.

Even Cooper’s critics acknowledged his talent. But Cooper could be high-handed. In his application, Cooper discusses his 2003 domestic abuse case, but he doesn’t mention the Palm Beach Post report suggesting that he got special treatment from the police department. Commissioners would want to ask Cooper about his support for the 2010 deal to build a headquarters for the animation company Digital Domain. The deal will cost Port St. Lucie about $40 million, because the company went bust and laid off its employees in Port St. Lucie.

Roberto Hernandez: His application contains the least amount of controversy, probably because Hernandez has not run a city or county. But he is deputy administrator of Broward County, the state’s second-largest county in terms of population, and before that he was deputy city manager of Coral Springs.

In assessing Delray Beach’s needs, Hernandez correctly calls the current fire and police pension system “unsustainable.” Since 1992, all of his experience except for three years as deputy manager of Fulton County— meaning Atlanta—has been in Florida. Commissioners would want to ask themselves if they want to hire another second-in-command from Broward, as they did with City Attorney Noel Pfeffer. Of course, Pfeffer has impressed the commission, and he probably would have a good working relationship with Hernandez.

Pat Salerno: In terms of personal accomplishment, Salerno probably ranks first. From 1990 until 2008, he oversaw the transformation of Sunrise—in western Broward, with about 35,000 more people than Delray— from a retirement community into an entertainment destination, based around the county-owned BB&T Center. Salerno touts the city’s coming Metropica development—$1 billion worth of high-rises, shops and offices—as something he helped to attract. As manager of affluent Coral Gables, home of the University of Miami, from 2009 to last April, Salerno by all accounts saved the city from financial ruin during the recession and left it healthy.

Salerno, though, was forced out of both jobs, despite what critics acknowledged were many accomplishments. Commissioners would want to ask about those departures, and whether Salerno understands that what Delray Beach wants in the way of redevelopment may not be what Sunrise wanted.

Terry Stewart: If there’s an inside track, he has it. Stewart has been Delray’s interim manager since June, when the commission forced out Louie Chapman. Mayor Cary Glickstein speaks well of Stewart. Morale among city employees seems to have improved.

Stewart was city manager of Cape Coral, north of Fort Myers, from 2002 until 2009. He was town manager in North Fort Myers from 2010 until last April. Cape Coral has almost 170,000 people and North Fort Myers less than 7,000, so Stewart has done large and small. He’s a former fire chief who has sung the National Anthem at many events and rides a Harley.

Like Salerno, Stewart did good things at both places and was forced out in both places—in Cape Coral over public works projects that became controversial and in North Fort Myers Beach over approvals of. . .above-ground swimming pools. As with Salerno, commissioners would have to sort out who was to blame for those departures.

Mike Woika: He has been assistant city manager in Boca Raton for 10 years, so he knows Delray Beach as well as any neighboring government official can. Woika is part of the team that includes City Attorney Leif Ahnell and Deputy City Manager George Brown.

Like Hernandez, because he hasn’t been in charge Woika doesn’t have the same amount of controversy in his file as other applicants. But Woika did make a silly remark when activists were pressing Boca to increase protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. As a “pet lover,” Woika said, didn’t he also deserve protection from discrimination?

Woika served previously as the city’s utilities director, which is useful experience. He touts the modernization of the department as one of his accomplishments. Commissioners would want to ask if Woika would be able to model city government based on Delray Beach’s needs and not just after what he has observed in Boca Raton.

It’s a good field—much better than what the search that produced Chapman offered. The consultant’s work is nearly done. Now, the commission steps up. No pressure. It’s only the biggest decision commissioners make.

Water, water everywhere

Our (sort of ) cool weather marks the beginning of the end of the rainy season. What a good rainy season it was.

As of last Friday, the South Florida Water Management District reported, the level of Lake Okeechobee—the region’s backup water supply—was nearly 16 feet. That’s almost a foot above the historic average for that day and slightly above a year ago. The three water conservations area that stretch from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade also were at healthy levels.

That should ease any drought worries until next spring, unless the dry season is unusually dry. Now the state has to finish the job of cleaning that water before it gets to the Everglades. That is less about Mother Nature and more about Mother Politics.

Atlantic Crossing is b-a-a-a-a-ack

At tonight’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission is being asked to approve an updated development agreement for the Atlantic Crossing mixed-use project just west of Veterans Park.

Among the new conditions, the developer would be required to provide a shuttle service—costing $175,000—add traffic signals and traffic calming, build a bus shelter and donate $500,000 toward the Veterans Park master plan. All of that is designed to address concerns about traffic and the project’s compatibility on the site.

Neighbors have filed two lawsuits challenging the approval of Atlantic Crossing. The courts have not ruled. The agreement is designed to prevent the city from being held liable as part of any legal action. Interestingly, the city attorney has made no recommendation to the commissioners. At least one of them, Shelly Petrolia, has “a lot of unanswered questions and concerns.” The Atlantic Crossing story continues.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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.