Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Boca Looks at its Stance on Gun Laws, the Delray CRA Challenge, and More Notes from Boca and Delray

Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, we have heard much in Boca Raton and Delray Beach about gun violence and school safety. But will any of that outrage lead to change? An indication should come tonight.

Before the Boca Raton City Council is an resolution to join the city of Weston in its lawsuit against the 2011 state law that imposes what City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser describes as “extraordinary penalties” on local officials for “enacting or enforcing” any rule that violates the 1987 law making firearms regulation the state’s purview. As with red-light camera tickets, Tallahassee sets the rules.

Those penalties include a $5,000 fine, removal from office, and exposure to civil liability by any person or organization that might allege harm from a firearms regulation. The law forbids city or county legal staffs from defending local officials who might get sued. The state preempts local regulation on many issues. Only with firearms, however, does the state impose such punishment.

Weston and cities that have joined the litigation are not challenging the statewide ban. They do object to the penalties that could hit local officials who don’t seek to regulate the sale of weapons or ammunition but want to limit where people can carry weapons. To understand how complicated the issue can be, consider how Boca Raton runs the Mizner Park Amphitheater.

For city events, according to a spokeswoman, people can bring their concealed weapons. Police officers who “wand” patrons ask to see permits. A private group that rents the facility, however, can ban firearms.

Miramar is near Weston in Broward County. Miramar is opening a new performing arts center, which the mayor wants to be gun-free. That’s one reason the city is joining the lawsuit.

Boca Raton hopes to create a new downtown government/civic campus that could include a performing arts center. What if Boca Raton wants that facility to be gun-free? The National Rifle Association pushed for the 2011 law because some cities had imposed safety rules, such as requiring trigger locks.

When Frieser briefed the council on the lawsuit, she recommended that the city join it. When Mayor Susan Haynie led the March for Our Lives in Boca Raton that drew 6,000, she declared that participants were “marching to change the world.”

In a text message Monday, though, Haynie said only, “I want to hear what my colleagues have to say. I supported having the city attorney bring (the resolution) forward.” Councilman Jeremy Rodgers told me in a text that he would not support the resolution.

Joining the lawsuit would cost the city no more than $10,000. For perspective, the previous council approved that amount for a putting green at Mizner Park. There was much hope for change among the marchers last month. If the council passes on the lawsuit, that hope will fade.

Boca Chamber on guns

Since the Stoneman Douglas shooting, businesses have increasingly joined the campaign against gun violence and on behalf of school safety. That campaign includes the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce.

After the shooting, Executive Director Troy McLellan issued a statement on behalf of the chamber. The organization expressed its support for reforms “to ensure that no community across the United States has to endure what Parkland, and many other communities, have experienced in the last two decades.” The statement correctly backed a menu of proposals. Among them:

  • A ban on military-style assault weapons like the one used at Stoneman Douglas and in many other mass shootings, plus a ban on devices like bump stocks that turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons;
  • Expanded background checks;
  • A stronger system of identifying those who might be mentally ill and should not be able to buy guns;
  • Raising the minimum age for firearms purchases from 18 to 21, with an exception for those in the military and with law enforcement;
  • Increased security at schools that would include having just one way in or out. Requiring armed police officers at every school.

After Stoneman Douglas, the legislature did raise the age for purchase—the NRA has filed suit over the change—and made it easier to take weapons from those who show suspicious behavior. Not surprisingly, implementing the latter has had early problems.

Tallahassee also approved money for added school security and required a cop on all campuses. But the Palm Beach County School District isn’t sure that the new money will be enough to hire the needed 75 officers and thus comply with the law. The district must have those officers in place by the start of school in August.

Until then, the Boca Raton Police Department is helping to fill gaps at the city’s 10 public schools. That has meant an increase on overtime, but Chief Dan Alexander told me last week that the department can handle the work for now. School district police officers patrol all campuses in Delray Beach.

For all the passionate student activism, Corporate America could shift the debate about gun violence in a way we haven’t seen since Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968. The chamber’s statement was gutsy. With luck, it will become a model for other chambers.

What the kids say

Still, students are driving the current movement. On April 18, the Boca Raton Community Advisory Panel will hold a forum at the Downtown Library to hear from the city’s students about gun violence and school safety.

According to a city spokeswoman, the panel has invited students from the city’s high schools—Boca Raton and Spanish River—and three middle schools—Boca Raton, Don Estridge and Omni. Adults issued the invitation, but their goal is to hear from the kids.

Proposed charter changes

At tonight’s regular meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will debate an attack on democracy.

Of course, that’s not how Mayor Haynie and the council members portray it. At the March 26 workshop meeting, the proposed charter changes seemed to arise spontaneously. Fortunately, the voters would have to approve the changes, which would apply to how candidates qualify to run for mayor and council.

One change would raise the residency requirement from 30 days to one year. The other would require candidates to submit 200 signatures from registered voters within the city. Currently, candidates can pay a $25 fee and qualify for the ballot.

During their earlier discussion, council members cast these changes as civic improvements. Candidates should know the city. Candidates should have to demonstrate a modest level of support.

Here’s another perspective: If these changes had been in place for the 2017 and 2018 elections, all five of Boca Raton’s elected officials likely would have won their posts without having to be elected.

The petition requirement probably would have barred BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro from challenging Haynie last year. He filed on the last day of qualifying and would not have had time to obtain the signatures. So did Patty Dervishi, who ran against incumbent Scott Singer.

This year, Armand Grossman entered the Seat D race on the final day. Otherwise, Monica Mayotte would have won without opposition. Kim Do didn’t decide to challenge Jeremy Rodgers until late December and submitted her paperwork with only a week to spare.

Last year, Andrea O’Rourke ran against Andy Thomson and Emily Gentile. Thomson was the stronger candidate. Though he was well versed on issue, he had lived in Boca Raton for less than a year. The residency rule also would have disqualified Do.

Of those five candidates, only Dervishi was unqualified. She gave incoherent answers at every forum where I saw her. Do didn’t know city issues very well, but she still got 45 percent. Zucaro ran after trying to have surrogates challenge Haynie, but he got 45 percent and certainly knew the issues.

Thomson was thoroughly qualified and might have beaten O’Rourke if it hadn’t been a three-way race. Grossman had to enter late because Seat D incumbent Robert Weinroth dropped out to run for the county commission after raising more than $100,000.

Council members may argue that the city saves money if it doesn’t hold an election. Yet Haynie, Singer and Rodgers approved for the ballot in 2016 the charter change that will allow the special election for mayor next March. Because Boca Raton otherwise did not have an election scheduled, that vote will cost the city at least $100,000. Singer proposed the change.

If the council does insist on asking the public, the vote should come in this year’s general election, not the primary. Turnout in the 2014 mid-year general election was 30 points higher than in the primary.

When they take office, council members basically swear to uphold democracy. In securing that office, however, they wish to dispense with democracy.

Boca Royale

Also on the agenda for tonight’s Boca Raton City Council meeting is a development project that seems to have no chance of approval.

The developers of Boca Royale want to put 101 homes on 55 acres of the former Hidden Valley Golf Course in the north end of the city. Among other things, the project would require a land-use change, which requires four votes, not just a simple majority.

Almost all the neighbors who have spoken in meetings oppose the project, mostly because they worry about traffic. The planning and zoning board recommended denial. So do city planners.

After staff reviews, development projects go to the planning and zoning board and then to the council as ordinances for consideration. A council member, though, must introduce the ordinance, at which point it would be scheduled for a public hearing. But there is no requirement to introduce an ordinance. If every council member opposes Boca Royale, no council member should introduce the ordinance. The project would die. At least for now.

The Delray CRA issue

Last week, the Delray Beach City Commission voted to acquire the community redevelopment agency. The package came labeled “Some Assembly Required.”

At tonight’s workshop meeting, the commission will discuss what City Manager Mark Lauzier calls the “transition” from an independent CRA board to commission oversight. It’s all happened quickly. The item got on the agenda very late. Former CRA board members point to what they consider the agency’s good record and question the decision.

Former Mayor Cary Glickstein, though, defended the vote. If he had remained in office, Glickstein told me, he would have brought up the takeover—even though Glickstein voted against a takeover last year.

Community redevelopment agencies use tax-increment financing. Revenue from increases in property value must stay within the CRA boundaries. That rule also applies to revenue that otherwise would go to a county.

Commissioners last week stressed that they were not “abolishing” Delray Beach’s CRA. Doing so would cost the city roughly $9 million in money that the county would get. Glickstein argued that the money—perhaps $150 million over the roughly 30-year life of the CRA— explains the redevelopment success.

Perhaps the CRA once needed to be independent. At this point, though, it makes more sense to combine the agency and the city as much as possible. Without that county money, Glickstein said, “there’s no reason for the CRA to exist.”

Reminder: Camino Real bridge closing

This is a reminder that the Camino Real Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway will close Thursday for a year while county contractors rebuild the span. Built in 1939, it’s the oldest Intracoastal bridge in Boca Raton.

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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