Delray Beach’s incoming city manager calls a new water plant “paramount.”
That was one of two main takeaways from my conversation on Friday with Terrence Moore. He will start Aug. 2. Delray Beach faces a $1.8 million fine from the Florida Department of Health for water safety violations over 13 years.
Moore noted that, during his conversations with residents, “infrastructure” came up often. Delray Beach has many such needs, such as projects to deal with rising seas. But the water plant is the most immediate need. Once he starts, Moore said, he will “review all the specifics and objectively assess” what kind of the plant the city should build and how the city will pay for it.
The second takeaway is how much Moore’s childhood shaped his personality. He grew up in a bad neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. His grandmother raised him. “She was it, man.” Unlike other young African-American men who lived nearby, Moore resisted the temptations of the street and graduated from the University of Illinois in three years. That requires relentless discipline and optimism.
Jack Longino was mayor of College Park, Georgia—south of Atlanta—for most of the seven years that Moore was manager. In a conversation with Moore, Longino told me, “I said to him, ‘Terrence, there were guys on the corner making $1,000 a week from dealing drugs.'” Moore, Longino said, responded, “’Yeah, but it doesn’t last.’”
Moore said, “I’m a person who is generally positive. I don’t embrace negative commentary.” Anyone who wants to be Delray Beach’s city manager needs both traits.
The last manager, George Gretsas, got suspended after just six months—the prelude to firing him in what remains a controversial decision. The manager before Gretsas, Mark Lauzier, also got fired and has sued the city. Don Cooper, who preceded Lauzier, resigned after two years in part because of personal issues but also because dealing with the job and the city left him burned out. Louie Chapman, who came before Cooper, was the default hire when a divided city commission couldn’t decide who would succeed David Harden. He was forced out.
Recent history likely gave some good candidates reason to consider Delray Beach a terrible career move. Plenty of “negative commentary” from city gadflies travels through social media. But Moore believes that he and Delray Beach can have a “mutually beneficial” relationship. He remembers Delray Beach from his four years as an assistant city manager in Deerfield Beach during the late 1990s.
Moore stayed at the Hyatt Place Hotel in Pineapple Park when he came for the two days of interviews on June 7 and 8. After arriving on Sunday, Moore said he walked around downtown, seeking comment from residents about what the priorities should be for City Hall.
As noted, Moore heard a lot about “infrastructure.” Next came “growth,” what some people called “unbridled growth.”
Moore said, “Residents’ impressions about the city vary.” Those who live east of Swinton Avenue, he found, generally think that Delray Beach is in pretty good shape. Those who live in the heavily minority neighborhoods west of Swinton see a different Delray Beach. Moore has noted the difference.
Managers in full-service cities oversee many functions, but they usually have particular expertise in one subject. For Moore, that’s “public finance and budgeting. My reputation is that of a strong numbers person. I depend on data analytics.” Though he will start about one month before the first hearing on the 2021-22 budget, Moore said that he nevertheless will “offer input” and may “suggest efficiencies.”
Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez will have been in that role for more than a year when Moore starts. At least one city commissioner, Adam Frankel, wanted to hire her. Alvarez, though, didn’t apply. Commissioner Ryan Boylston spoke of the “good morale” within City Hall.
One assistant city manager position is open. I asked Moore whether he would consider Alvarez. Moore noted “a lot of excitement and enthusiasm” among the department heads he spoke with, but would say only that he intends to “evaluate the structure” of city management. Moore plans to buy a house in Delray Beach, so residents know that whatever decisions he makes also will affect him.
Moore was a middle-distance track athlete in college. “I was a beast in the 800 meters,” he says. Having just turned 51, he now finds the 400-meter event—just once around the track—more to his liking, Moore said he trains regularly and has competed successfully in “corporate challenges.”
That training leaves him “exhausted as hell,” but Moore said the exertion helps him. The new manager also calls himself “a fairly capable sketch artist”—charcoal and pastels—and a “huge classic rock fan.”
Longino praised Moore’s work in College Park. He also points out, correctly, that even good city managers usually have a certain shelf life. Longino said he told Moore that after seven or eight years in Delray Beach, “He should think about moving on.” If Moore lasts seven years, that will be longer than the previous four managers combined.
“I am an upbeat person,” Moore said. Given his background, “I had to find the bright spots. That is my outlook.” Delray Beach will test that attitude.