Thursday, December 1, 2022

Delray to Claw Back OSS Funds, Officer Facing Charges & More

After conquering and destroying Carthage during the Third Punic War, the Romans reportedly salted the city— in what is now Tunisia—so nothing would ever grow there.

Some historians dispute that last part. But are we seeing a similar mindset in Delray Beach when it comes to Old School Square for the Arts?

The city—meaning Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson—already voted last August to terminate the group’s lease of the property that, over 32 years, it made into Old School Square. That vote took effect last month.

Then City Manager Terrence Moore struck a deal with the Boca Raton Museum of Art to operate the Cornell Museum, a key part of Old School Square. The agreement is for 18 months, but my sense is that the parties want the arrangement to become permanent.

Now the community redevelopment agency—on which Petrolia, Casale and Johnson serve—is seeking to take back from Old School Square $187,500 that the agency paid the group for programming. A memo from the CRA’s legal advisor calls it “recoupment” for Old School Square’s failure to provide requested documents.

The money dates to the 2020-21 budget year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Old School Square had been set to receive $750,000, paid in quarterly installments, in reimbursement for expenses. Other non-profits also get money from the CRA in return for contributions to downtown Delray Beach.

The CRA had paid Old School Square just one-fourth of that $750,000. Members of the Old School Square board had been negotiating with the CRA to get the remaining $562,500, which the group believed it was owed. Last week, however, the CRA board voted that Old School Square owes the agency that $187,500.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston did not vote to terminate the lease. But he voted with the majority on the $187,500 because the CRA staff and the agency’s legal team recommended it. “I have to take their word,” he said.

As has been the case for the last seven months, the city and Old School Square disagree on whether the group has provided documents to show compliance with terms of the lease and the CRA agreement. On Feb. 22, the CRA sent Old School Square notice of what the agency called its failure to submit all documents and gave the group until March 10 to respond.

Kim Phan, the CRA’s legal advisor, wrote that Old School Square “has failed to submit all the information requested. . .” As a result, the CRA cannot “fully evaluate” the group’s “performance, financial status and determine if the expenditure” of the $187,000 adhered to rules set out in the agreement.

In a letter to CRA Executive Director Renee Jadusingh, Old School Square Chairman Patty Jones said, “We have produced reams of documents, but the agency has consistently and predictably moved the bar.”

Jones added, “For the record, we made every attempt to comply with the CRA’s requests—which were always changing—because we were hopeful that the CRA would act fairly. We have produced clean audits and have a track record of success.”

Jones said that Old School Square would drop its request for the $587,500 because “we find it impossible to serve (the community) in this atmosphere.”

Having for the moment conquered Old School Square—pending the group’s lawsuit alleging wrongful termination—Delray Beach now seeks to plow salt by ending any change of the group returning.

“We have no office,” Jones wrote, “no program of work and no employees.” She added, “Old School Square has been singled out to be bullied out of existence.”

Crest Theater funding in question

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The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

One big order of business for Delray Beach is completing renovations to the Crest Theater that Old School Square began with a private donation.

After the lease termination, the donor withdrew the balance of the money. Barring something unexpected, the city will have to pick up that expense.

Moore told me Monday that he will speak about the renovations at the April 5 city commission meeting. Most likely, the money would have to come from the CRA. Moore said that while he and Jadusingh have discussed the issue, he has made no formal request.

Delray officer charged with theft and misconduct

jacaria stringer
Jacaria Stringer; photo from Delray Beach Police Department

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has charged a Delray Beach police officer with falsifying her timesheets.

Jacaria Stringer allegedly claimed to be on military leave when she was not, according to the probable cause affidavit. She faces two felony charges—for official misconduct and grant theft—for getting roughly $6,500 in salary when she was not on duty.

The alleged violations occurred between March 2020 and September 2021. The department became suspicious and called in the FDLE. Stringer, who was placed on leave when the investigation began, has pleaded not guilty.

Delray agrees to “corrective actions” for finances

Delray Beach has accepted the findings of a report by the Office of Inspector General of Palm Beach County into the city’s finances.

According to the report, which the office released last week, Delray Beach “had generally adequate controls” over accounts payable and cash disbursements. Investigators found weaknesses in credit card authorization limits, petty cash reimbursements and use of money in the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

Most notably, the report cited roughly $237,000 in food purchases for the Delray Beach Country Club. Three were authorized by previous city managers. The city commission approved another. These purchases formed the bulk of the roughly $271,000 in questioned costs that the inspector general’s office identified.

In all cases, according to the report, the city agreed with the inspector general’s findings and took “corrective actions.” The office regularly audits city’s financial policies as part of its mission. This happens even though cities aren’t paying to support the office’s work. Delray Beach could pay its share of the inspector general’s costs. Like all cities in the county, it has declined to do so.

Ahnell complies with city council demands

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Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell

I wrote last month that Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell appeared to resist a demand by city council members to provide them with police reports. During a council meeting, Ahnell expressed resistance—citing the amount of staff time involvedeven though the council members are his bosses.

Ahnell had sent the reports, but then stopped doing so. Based on comments at last week’s meeting, Ahnell has resumed distributing the reports.

Remembering Joan Joyce

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Joan Joyce; photo from NCAA.com

Having grown up in Connecticut and followed sports, I knew the name Joan Joyce a long time ago.

Florida Atlantic University’s softball coach since 1995 and perhaps the game’s greatest player, died Saturday at 81. The native of Waterbury, about an hour from New York City, was such a versatile and talented athlete that she made almost two dozen sports halls of fame.

As a semi-pro pitcher in Connecticut for 17 years, she had 105 no-hitters, 33 of them perfect games. During exhibition games, she struck out Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Ted Williams.

Joyce’s biography in the Softball Hall of Fame reads, “Softball is a team sport. But Hall of Famer Joan Joyce dominated it as if it were an individual sport.”

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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