Sunday, July 14, 2024

Delray Police Union Holds Out On Vaccines, Old School Square Update and More

The Services Employee International Union has joined the International Association of Firefighters in agreeing to Delray Beach’s COVID-19 protocols. On Aug. 2, his first day of work, City Manager Terrence Moore said all non-union employees would have to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. He could not order such a change for union members because the requirements were not part of their contracts.

Very quickly, however, the fire union agreed. Moore said Monday that the SEIU, which represents general employees, also has agreed. Moore hopes to bring that contract to the city commission for ratification at its Nov. 2 meeting.

That leaves the Police Benevolent Association.

I spoke with Lt. Vinnie Gray, a department veteran of nearly 30 years who is one of the union’s representatives. Gray said COVID-19 protocols are part of current contract negotiations between the PBA and the city. Moore confirmed it.

But why has the police union been the holdout? What makes the officers so resistant? Wouldn’t police officers, of all people, want to protect themselves and the public?

In 2020, COVID-19 killed more police officers in the line of duty than any other cause. In September, a Coral Springs officer became the fifth in South Florida within a week to die of complications from the virus. Two West Palm Beach officers have died from COVID-19. Neither was vaccinated.

Gray told me that some Delray Beach officers believe that the pandemic “is being dragged out” intentionally by the federal government under President Biden. I pointed out to Gray that the summer COVID-19 surge—almost exclusively among unvaccinated Americans—is a big factor in Biden’s lower approval ratings, despite his repeated calls for people to get the shots. Why would Biden want the pandemic to continue into the midterms and the 2024 election? Like most conspiracy theories, that one makes no sense.

“Hey, don’t shoot me,” Gray said. “I’m just the messenger. I’m telling you what people are thinking.”

Some female officers, Gray added, worry that the vaccines could affect their ability to have children. No credible study supports any link between COVID-19 vaccines and infertility. Every credible public health expert recommends that women of all ages— especially pregnant women—get vaccinated.

After some back and forth on these supposed excuses, Gray said Vice President Kamala Harris had been hypocritical. She didn’t get vaccinated while Donald Trump was president, but she did after Biden took office.

Actually, Harris said during the 2020 vice-presidential debate with Mike Pence that she would get the vaccine if Dr. Anthony Fauci—as opposed to Trump—advised that it was safe. Critics of the former president had accused him of pushing for federal regulators to approve a vaccine before the election. Another refutation of Gray’s comment is that the vaccines didn’t become available until almost after Trump had left office.

Even before Trump became president, police unions had aligned themselves with the Republican Party. This shift began in Florida 22 years ago, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature approved a change that forced cities and counties to raise pension benefits. It gained momentum last year during protests over the murder of George Floyd.

In Delray Beach, things haven’t reached the point they have in some cities. In Chicago, the union president compared the mayor’s vaccine mandate to the Holocaust. In Baltimore, the union told officers not to disclose their vaccination status.

Boca Raton has not required vaccinations of any employees. Gov. DeSantis is threatening to fine local governments that do so. Moore said Delray Beach will keep pushing to make the COVID-19 protocols part of the police union contract. “I hope for a favorable outcome.”

Delray seeks management company for Old School Square

delray old school square
Old School Square

On Monday, Delray Beach officially began seeking a company to run Old School Square. In his Friday newsletter, Moore said the city has issued an “invitation to negotiate for operations and management services.” He directed applicants to the website for the city’s purchasing department.

Nine weeks ago, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson terminated the 32-year lease with Old School Square for the Arts. They told Moore to find a replacement. Moore said the city seeks “qualified and capable entities interested in partnering with the (city) to help expand cultural and artistic activities, events, and functions at the Old School Square campus.”

Moore expects to get “a variety of proposals” in the next 60 days. At that point, Moore said, his office will name a selection committee “to help review and evaluate considerations accordingly, with the goal of offering a recommendation to the city commission early in the new year.” A spokeswoman for Old School Square said the group has no plans to apply.

School Superintendent Burke making the grade

When the Palm Beach County School Board made Mike Burke the new superintendent two weeks ago, the vote was unanimous. But Frank Barbieri was especially happy.

The board chairman, who represents Boca Raton and West Boca, had been high on Burke when the board chose him in July to replace Donald Fennoy on an interim basis. Barbieri liked the fact that Burke has been with the district since 1999 and that he had been financial officer before taking over the top job.

Though other recent superintendents had academic training, Burke understands where the district must spend money to improve performance in the classroom. When the district lobbied newspaper editorial boards and community groups to support recent referendums on money for schools, Burke made the clearest and most persuasive presentations.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive comments,” Barbieri said of Burke’s appointment. Barbieri worried about the district conducting a search just as many other large districts—including Broward County—were looking for superintendents.

Because Burke is in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, he could not remain as superintendent past June 2025. Staying that long “would give us stability,” Barbieri said. Naturally, Burke had the relevant statistic. If he stays that long, he will have served longer than the last four superintendents.

R.I.P. Bill Hager

Bill Hager, who represented Boca Raton on the city council and in the Florida Legislature, died last week.

Hager served on the council from 2002 until 2009. In 2010, he was elected to the Florida House seat that includes Boca Raton. Hager held the seat until he was term-limited in 2018.

Though property records list Hager as owning a condo in Boca Raton, the obituary said he had moved back to his native Minnesota. A cause of death was not listed. Hager was 74.

Boca seeking artists

Boca Raton is seeking applicants for the city’s latest Art in Public Places project.

The city will display this one in front of South Beach Park. Entries must be of recycled material, with the goal of “inspiring sustainable activities.” Works must be no wider than six feet and no taller than eight feet. The winner will get “a stipend for expenses” and the public exposure. The deadline is Nov. 15.

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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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