Delray Beach is dealing with another city employee scandal.
Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus announced in a news release Wednesday that Neighborhood and Community Services Director Michael Coleman has resigned. So has Coleman’s assistant, Jamael Stewart.
The resignations obviously were not voluntary. They come as the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, the Office of Inspector General and the Commission on Ethics investigate what de Jesus called “the department’s distribution of grant money to various organizations.”
Through a city spokeswoman, de Jesus said the investigations began from inside the city in March. As to which grants are involved, de Jesus said, “That will be determined through the investigations.”
According to the city’s website, the Neighborhood and Community Services Department “bridges and engages Delray Beach’s diverse residents with resources to maintain, revitalize and promote healthy communities.” Translation: the department spreads around money from various sources, from the federal government on down.
In addition to the resignations at the top, three other department employees have been “reassigned to other departments during the investigations.” Police captain David Weatherspoon will run the department until the city chooses a successor to Coleman. The news probably will surprise many Delray Beach residents. Coleman is well-regarded. The former police captain regularly gets praise at the annual goal-setting meeting.
Delray Beach has been here before. In 2016, an investigation into the purchasing department led to the arrest of three employees. Then, as now, the city uncovered the problem. That time, it was through an audit. It led to policy changes. Based on that case, the scope of this investigation could spread. De Jesus said the department would be “run with professionalism and fairness moving forward.”
MSD Partners’ purchase of the Boca Raton Resort and Club closed on Tuesday.
John Tolbert, the resort’s executive director, confirmed the closing. He would not disclose the price. Tolbert called the new owners “amazing partners” and said any changes or additions to the resort would be announced “at the appropriate time.”
More on Boca National
During Monday’s workshop meeting, the Boca Raton City Council again will discuss Boca National Golf Course. Based on comments from council members and board members of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, the impasse over the course will continue.
Last week, the council and district met to talk about their differences over the course. As I have reported, the council prefers a more modest design than the $28 million version the district has proposed and wants the council to approve.
After that meeting, the district held its own discussion on Monday. Out of that, the district on Friday will submit to the city what board member Steve Engel calls an “ask” of the council. That could be money—perhaps as much as $20 million—based on what one board member has suggested.
Engel said, “We are looking for a partnership with the city, where responsibilities and benefits would be shared.” Board member Craig Ehrnst and Interim Executive Director Brian Harms will be at the council’s Monday meeting, he said.
Ehrnst said, “The district will provide the city with as much time as need to get up to speed with design issues and goals. If we reach the same conclusion, we both will go forward with building the course and structure an amendment” to the interlock agreement between the two agencies.”
Ehrnst added that the district’s designers—Price Fazio—would try to meet with council members before Friday. Council members believe that the design is too grandiose for a municipal course. At those meeting, Ehrnst said, Price Fazio would try to “answer any questions they may have and explain why the design is best” for the former Ocean Breeze course.
The district’s new plan is to build the project in at least three and possibly four phases. There would be 18 holes on the west side of Second Avenue and a shorter, 11-hole course on the east side, with a driving range.
Unfortunately, the main problem remains. The district has one vision for the course and the city has another. But the district can’t realize its vision without financial help from the city, which has a more modest vision.
In an email Wednesday, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte called the price to buy Ocean Breeze—$24 million—and to build the new course—that $28 million figure—“far too much to spend on a golf course. Once an estimated cost figure is developed for the conceptual design, the next step is to determine how to modify the concept to bring the cost to a more realistic figure. I don’t think the (the district) has gone through this step yet.” Mayotte believes that the district is “standing firm” on the design that the council doesn’t want.
Councilman Andy Thomson expressed similar sentiment. He would “not be inclined” to commit the amount of city money necessary to build the district’s preferred design.
The council is unified on this issue. But district board member Erin Wright said at the joint meeting that the idea of phasing the course was new to her. She also said, “(The district) can’t afford to build this course.” Wright said she is “not willing to put other projects on hold.” isn’t until July, because of the summer schedule. Nothing will happen soon.
Recreational needs meeting
On June 13, Boca Raton will hold a public meeting to launch a campaign that will determine recreational needs over the coming decades.
The meeting will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the downtown library. The city has hired a consultant that specializes in this area. According to a news release, the company’s survey will be complete by February or March.
Despite the dispute over Boca National, the assessment is a joint effort of the city and the beach and parks district. A city spokeswoman said there would be meetings with smaller groups. The assessment, she said, will be comprehensive, covering “parks, facilities, beaches, libraries, programs (including athletic programs) and services.”
The Ray in Delray
The Menin Group will hold a groundbreaking next week for The Ray, its boutique hotel in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove. In a news release, Menin also said construction on the company’s nearby food hall, Delray City Market, would start this summer, with a planned opening in late 2020.