Gretsas Hearing Postponed, and Boca May Be Churning up Its Own Drama

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Delray Beach City Hall and Boca Raton City Hall

The Delray Beach City Commission has delayed the hearing scheduled for Friday on whether to fire suspended City Manager George Gretsas.

At a special meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the commission reset the hearing for Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. Gretsas’ attorneys had threatened to seek an injunction to postpone the hearing if the city did not turn over records Gretsas has requested for his defense.

As I reported Tuesday, Gretsas’ request produced 10,000 documents. In a letter to City Attorney Lynn Gelin, Gretsas’ attorney said the city had turned over only about 25 percent of them. Ironically, one of the charges against Gretsas is that he failed to preserve public records.

Boca’s turn for drama?

No city in South Florida can match Delray Beach for political drama these days. But Boca Raton may be about to have a little of its own.

Last week, Councilman Jeremy Rodgers sent a letter to his colleagues. Rodgers, a member of the Naval Reserve, has been absent since late June, when he was called to active duty in the Middle East. He is term-limited in March.

Rodgers said,  “It is my hope to return soon and finish out the remainder of my term, but there are still many unknowns. It’s probably time to fill my seat.”

Rodgers had a suggestion: his wife. Amanda Rodgers–known as Mandy–Jeremy Rodgers said, has a master’s in business administration from Florida Atlantic University and private sector experience. Jeremy Rodgers called her “the best choice to represent the voters who put me in office.” Rodgers said his wife has “no intent to run” to succeed her husband.

Andy Thomson liked that idea. He was the only one.

Monica Mayotte wanted to seek applications. So did Andrea O’Rourke, who argued that Amanda Rodgers “has her hands full” with four children. That seemed an oddly sexist comment coming from a woman. Mayor Scott Singer also wanted to ask for applications.

If the council intended to choose someone just to fill out the term, things would be simple. But they may be much more complicated.

Former Councilwoman Constance Scott has filed to run for Rodgers’ seat. So has community volunteer Yvette Drucker. Each is raising money.

The city won’t release names of applicants until after today’s 5 p.m. deadline. But Scott or Drucker—or both—might apply. If so, enter the complications.

If both apply and the council chooses one of them, that person would have the unfair advantage of being able to campaign as an incumbent over eight meeting cycles. Such an advantage especially could matter in March, when turnout won’t get a boost from the election aligning with a statewide primary.

Recent history shows what such an advantage can do. In late 2008, the council chose Mike Mullaugh–then the president of Ruth Rales Family Service–to fill the seat of Peter Baronoff until the March 2009 election. Mullaugh then drew no opponents.

Imagine also what could happen if Scott and Drucker applied and the council picked one of them. Those council members would have aligned themselves against the other, who then might win. Factional rivalries are tearing apart the Delray Beach City Commission.

According to a city spokeswoman, about 20 people had applied for the seat as of Wednesday afternoon. Council members will get the applications on Friday, review them over the weekend, question the applicants at Monday’s workshop meeting and choose someone at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Singer said, “I miss that fifth vote,” referring to the possibility of 2-2 ties. That fifth vote, however, was absent for the four months in 2018 between the arrest/suspension of former Mayor Susan Haynie and the special election for mayor and the council seat that Singer left.

Finally, the council next year will decide whether to approve a lease of land in Mizner Park for a proposed $101 million performing arts center. The “fifth vote” on such an important issue ideally should come from someone who has had to go before the voters and discuss the proposal.

Most responsibility for filling the seat falls on Singer. Based on his comments, Thomson wants to choose a placeholder. Siding with Thomson could head off any attempt to boost Scott or Drucker.

As Singer noted, a promise not to run doesn’t amount to a guarantee. But a broken promise would put that candidate at a disadvantage.

The campaign for Rodgers’ seat is underway. The council should stay out of that campaign.

The ghost of Midtown still haunts Boca

Not long ago, Boca Raton suffered from its own political dysfunction. In January 2018, that dysfunction caused the council to reject the proposal from property owners to redevelop the Midtown neighborhood.

I reported last week that the owner of the iPic building in Delray Beach had secured a second corporate tenant with International Materials. That tenant is Incapital, a financial services firm that specialized in bond underwriting.

Incapital’s local office is in Boca Center, one of the main office buildings in Midtown. It was to be the centerpiece of the makeover, which owner Crocker Partners told council members was necessary after three decades.

Mike Erickson of Tower Realty is Boca Center’s leasing agent. He said, “When Incapital looked at where they wanted to spend the next five to 10 years, they wanted a high-energy, live-work-play environment that would be attractive for their current and future employees. Unfortunately, I think they grew frustrated with the lack of development in Boca.

“The changes that have occurred in Delray Beach have fostered the kind of next-gen, quality-of-life environment that they felt would help them attract and retain quality employees.”

When the council debated Midtown, the now-defunct BocaWatch website was pushing anti-development demagoguery, especially about Midtown. Singer and O’Rourke are the council holdovers from that vote. Each rejected the owners’ proposal.

So the city gained a lawsuit, by Crocker Partners. And now the city is losing jobs.

Is Petrolia on the hot seat?

During public comment at Tuesday’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting, a speaker demanded that Mayor Shelly Petrolia resign. He blamed her for the acrimony that shows itself at so many commission meetings and for initiating the move to fire Gretsas.

At the end of the meeting, Petrolia denied that she is more to blame than any other commissioner. Critics would note that Petrolia regularly rips fellow commissioners, appears to take defeat personally and plays to Delray Beach’s social media culture.

Petrolia is up for re-election March.

Delray resumes in-person meetings

This week, the city commission resumed in-person meetings, capping attendance in Delray Beach City Hall chambers at 36 and 40 in the overflow space.

Commissioners and administrators wore masks, which are required of all attendees. Those on the dais sat in Plexiglas cubicles. Despite some problems, there was general approval of the return to chambers.

A city spokeswoman said Boca Raton has not decided on a return to in-person meetings. The city still is considering use of the facility at 6500 North Congress Avenue. Gov. DeSantis has said that cities and counties should prepare to end virtual meetings on Nov. 1.

Boat parade cancelled

The latest pandemic casualty is the Boynton Beach & Delray Beach Holiday Boat Parade.

Boynton Beach’s community redevelopment agency announced this week that the event, scheduled for Dec. 11, has been cancelled. It would have been the 49th parade. According to a news release, the CRA board made its decision “after analyzing directives” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health.

Will the Boca Bowl survive?

Another casualty may be the Boca Raton Bowl.

Before the pandemic, ESPN was in final negotiations with the city, the county and Florida Atlantic University on a new, six-year deal for the ESPN-produced game in late December at FAU Stadium. The 2019 game was the last in the original six-year agreement.

The college football schedule changes each week because of outbreaks within teams. FAU has played just one game, and last week the university reported 27 positive tests among players and staff.

City Manager Leif Ahnell said last week that the parties are trying to work out a one-year deal, with everyone reassessing in 2021. ESPN’s Doug Mosley confirmed that, adding that any agreement would have out clauses if the game can’t be played.