Friday, March 17, 2023

Delray City Manager Speaks on Vaccine/Testing Mandate, and a Look at Local Crime Stats

On Friday, Delray Beach’s new city manager spoke only of considering a requirement that everyone wear masks in all public buildings.

By close of business on Monday, his first official day of work, Terrence Moore had instituted a COVID-19 vaccine/testing requirement for some city employees and started negotiations toward extending those protocols to cover all employees.

What happened?

Several things, Moore told me Wednesday.

Most notably, he learned that the city’s fire department could administer the shots and perform the tests. That “capability,” Moore said, would make the protocols easily accessible for city workers.

In addition, Moore saw many other government agencies enacting such policies. Last week, Mayor Jerry Demings said all non-union Orange County employees must get vaccinations by the end of September. As in South Florida, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have spiked among the unvaccinated in Central Florida.

Finally, Moore said, he cited Indiana University. The school required vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff by the start of the academic year. This week, a federal appeals court upheld the trial judge who ruled that the policy is constitutional. Like Delray Beach, the university allows exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

Despite anti-vaxx and anti-mask protests elsewhere, Moore said he has received “nothing but a positive response from employees, residents and stakeholders. I hope and pray that continues.”

At this point, Delray Beach’s protocols apply only to non-union employees. Human Resources Director Duane D’Andrea, Moore said, is leading a “cooperative engagement” with the three unions—representing police officers, firefighters and general employees—about adding those protocols to collective bargaining agreements.

First responders are a concern because of how much contact they have with the public. A spokeswoman said 63 percent of Delray Beach’s fire department employees have been vaccinated. Forty-five employees, she said, have tested positive since the pandemic began.

As of Wednesday, I didn’t have numbers for other first responders in Delray Beach and Boca Raton. A spokeswoman for the Boca Raton Police Department, however, said, “We’ve had our challenges,” referring to employees who have contracted COVID-19.

Despite worries that vaccine requirements could cause mass resignations, one local example rebuts that argument. Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon instituted a requirement for her 315 employees. Only eight quit. Another 20 got exemptions and will be tested weekly.

Moore said the court rulings for Indiana University were a “compelling factor” in his decision. “That’s where it all began.”

Eight students claimed that the requirement violates their “bodily integrity.” The appellate judge who wrote the unanimous opinion said of Indiana University’s policy, “It is hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe while learning.”

In a similar spirit, Moore said, “We are acting to protect our employees and the public.”

City of Boca weighs COVID protocols

Meanwhile, according to a spokeswoman, Boca Raton “continues to monitor” what local governments are doing with regard to enhanced COVID-19 protocols. The city still has not required masks for everyone inside public buildings, though employees are wearing them.

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte on Wednesday called Delray Beach’s vaccine requirement “a great idea.” Mayotte recently attended a theater performance in Colorado at which proof of vaccination was required. “It made me feel very comfortable.”

The council doesn’t meet again until Aug. 23. Depending on the COVID-19 metrics between now and then, Mayotte said, she might “bring up” the idea of a requirement in Boca Raton.

Though Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature prevented businesses and schools from creating vaccine requirements, employers remain free to impose protocols. I will have more when I hear from other council members.

Crime stats in Boca & Delray

For the first six months of the year, the rate of serious crime declined 7 percent in Boca Raton and rose 4.5 percent in Delray Beach compared to January-June of 2019. That’s according to figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The state groups crimes into seven categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. Larceny is the most common. Fortunately, looking at other jurisdictions in the United States, murder is rare. During those six months, Boca Raton had just one murder. Delray Beach had none.

One notable statistic in Boca Raton was burglaries. The city had 244 in 2019. There were 89 in the most recent reporting period. Over 12 months, that rate would mean a significant decline for 2020. One reason could be that the pandemic kept so many people home.

In a statement, Delray Beach Police Chief Javaro Sims noted the number of people drawn to the city’s downtown. There have been “opportunities of criminal activity in the form of auto thefts, larcenies and vehicle burglaries.”

The department, Sims said, has “put many crime-fighting techniques and methodologies in place.” The response “has really minimized some of the things that could have potentially taken place. This could have been double what it is.”

Sims added, “We’re not happy about any increase whatsoever… This year seems to be a much better year for us and we will continue to remain vigilant in our effort to reduce crime in our city.”

Crimes vs. Charges

It might jolt the public to know how many crimes don’t lead to charges. For those six months of 2020, the clearance rate in Boca Raton was 24 percent. In Delray Beach, it was just 18.5 percent.

Those numbers don’t appear to be outliers. In Boca Raton, the clearance rates for 2018 and 2019 were 24.9 percent and 26.8 percent. In Delray Beach, it was 18.8 percent and 22.8 percent. I’ve contacted both police departments about those clearance rates. I’ll have more when I hear back.

Changes near Camino Square

camino square

The Camino Square residential project is helping Boca Raton even before construction starts.

Camino Square will bring 350 apartments to what had been a grubby, abandoned retail strip that was bringing down the neighborhood. Nearby, at Camino Real and Southwest Third Avenue, had been one of the city’s larger sober houses. Neighbors considered it a nuisance.

With her husband, Steve, Alana Manko owned and operated the sober house. During a debate on Camino Square, Alana Manko told council members that she would sell the property if Camino Square got its approval.

Sure enough, last June, the Mankos sold the two adjoining parcels–one facing Camino Real, the other facing Third Avenue–to RAM Realty of Fort Lauderdale for $9.05 million. The company already is upgrading the buildings for market-rate tenants.

The Mankos have a long history with Boca Raton. Steve Manko was the plaintiff who sued Boca Raton in federal court over the city’s attempt to restrict the locations of sober houses. Boca Raton lost, but the judge awarded Manko negligible damages. The litigation may have persuaded sober house operators to seek out Delray Beach.

New FAU fundraiser

Florida Atlantic University has hired a fundraiser.

The official title for Chris Delisio is vice president for institutional advancement. He comes to FAU from Ohio State University. In that role, according to a news release, led two fundraising campaigns that totaled nearly $1 billion and oversaw the program for donations of at least $5 million. President John Kelly said he wants Delisio to take FAU to the “next level of fundraising success.”

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Randy Schultz
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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