Thursday, October 21, 2021

Equity Deal is Overturned, the Latest Singer vs. Zucaro Battle and More from Boca and Delray

In a surprise reversal Tuesday night, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency voted down the purchase agreement with Uptown Atlantic for three blocks of city-owned land on West Atlantic Avenue.

Previously, the CRA had voted 5-2 to proceed with Uptown. This time, though, City Commissioner Shirley Johnson and appointed board member Pamela Brinson switched. The rejection amounted to a personal defeat for Mayor Shirley Petrolia, who had backed Uptown and helped to negotiate the new purchase agreement.

The vote means that the CRA will put the property out for bid. Uptown’s principal, John Flynn, previously had failed to deliver a project on the site three years after a previous CRA gave him the contract.

I will have more on this in my Tuesday post.

Lauzier steps up

When Delray Beach commissioners hired Mark Lauzier as manager last fall, they wanted change and new ideas. They are getting both.

At Tuesday’s commission workshop, Lauzier presented his first budget. Ideally, Lauzier acknowledged, the document should come sooner. Budget hearings and commission approval happen last month.

Lauzier, however, focused more on management during his early months. Commissioners also had made that a priority. Discussion next year will start as early as February. But Lauzier’s imprint is on the budget.

A tree torn out of the earth by Hurricane Irma (Photo by David Shuff)

Most notably, Lauzier proposes that the city finally build an emergency operations center. When Hurricane Irma skirted the area last September, Delray Beach ran its response out of the fire-rescue station/headquarters on West Atlantic Avenue. The building leaked badly and lost power. Meanwhile, Boca Raton monitored developments from the Category 5-reinforced facility on North Congress Avenue.

At one point, Lauzier noted, Delray Beach considered putting the operations center at the city golf course. The only possible explanation may have been that it’s west of Interstate 95. Otherwise, the idea makes no sense.

Lauzier’s plan is to put the center at the fire station on Linton Boulevard just west of Federal Highway. It is being rebuilt with money from the sales tax surcharge. Another $3 million would come from money that the city had planned to use for a fire training facility. Inspectors found environmental contamination on the property the city had agreed to buy.

Fire Chief Neal de Jesus argued strongly for the training center, but he served as interim manager during Irma and spoke Tuesday night of the need for a reliable emergency operations center. Overall, the fire station/operations center would cost $11 million.

Commissioners had a few questions, but none expressed opposition. Delray Beach has talked about such a project for years. “This,” Lauzier said, “is the best opportunity” to stop wishing and have it. Budget creativity and what appeared at the time to be bad luck made the opportunity possible.

And the new assistant city manager    

Lauzier also wants to beef up the city manager’s office. He did so by bringing in one Delray Beach’s most recognizable and popular officials.

The police department website still lists Jeffrey Goldman as chief. In fact, he’s now acting city manager for operations, meaning that he supervises the police, fire, parks and recreation and community improvement departments. The plan is that Goldman will continue in what he calls “a trial run” at least until May.

After that, Goldman can’t serve as chief because he is in the mandatory state retirement program. The five-deadline for him to leave is May. If Lauzier and Goldman like how things are going, though, Goldman might stay on as a permanent assistant city manager. He could do so under state retirement rules.

Goldman told me Wednesday that Lauzier said “there wasn’t enough oversight” of individual departments. When Don Cooper was manager, commissioners similarly worried that routine work, which department heads should have handled, was eating up his time and leaving little for strategic thinking. Goldman will supervise the departments that keep the city running and consume most of the budget.

In the meantime, assistant police chiefs Mary Olsen and Javaro Sims will have their own trial runs. Each will serve as interim police chief for between four and five months until May, after which Lauzier presumably will pick one to succeed Goldman.

That’s how Goldman wants it to happen.

“I love Delray Beach. I love the department. I believe in servant leadership. I want to do everything I can to see that Mary or Javaro is the next chief. Either one of them would do a great job.”

And if Goldman doesn’t have a job in Delray Beach after May? “It was time to think about the best exit strategy” from the police department.

“If I’m not here, I’ll ride into the sunset and figure out the next adventure.”

Singer mailer

Scott Singer and Al Zucaro

In a new mailer, Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer makes a strong charge against BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro, Singer’s opponent in the Aug. 28 special election.

Three years ago, Singer claims, Zucaro “pitched a scheme for Boca Raton to give up 10 acres of public land for his dream development: a new World Trade Center campus that would have let him profit personally.” The mailer includes references to Zucaro’s attempts to leverage his World Trade Center license when he served on the West Palm Beach City Commission two decades ago.

According to Singer, Zucaro asked to meet with then-Councilman Singer and came with Michael Miller, the CEO of SoundHealth. Miller describes it as a “medical innovation company.” Singer said another participant was Daniel Martell. At that time, he was president of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County.

Miller and SoundHealth had received some coverage on BocaWatch. Emails show that the meeting was scheduled for Oct. 12, 2015. If Zucaro asked for the land, such an audacious request would play into Singer’s campaign theme that Zucaro is out for himself more than the city. Zucaro has been unable to parlay that World Trade Center license into any profitable venture.

I wanted to check Singer’s claim, but I couldn’t independently verify it. I called Martell, who is now a lobbyist in Tallahassee for Florida Power & Light, but my message wasn’t returned. Singer said Miller is dealing with a family medical issue. I didn’t speak with him.

So we are left to hear only the political opponents. Zucaro called Singer’s claim that he asked for the land “delusional.”

Singer said, “My recollection is clear. I had no problem sending out the mailer.”

Hospital rankings

Boca Raton Regional Hospital

There’s one story in the new US News hospital rankings. Then there’s another story.

For Boca Raton Regional Hospital, the headline is that the facility is ranked 13th in Florida out of 300 and third in South Florida, tied with – among others – Holy Cross in Fort Lauderdale and Memorial South in Hollywood. Boca Regional moved up three places on both lists. The magazine defines South Florida as Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The second story is that Cleveland Clinic in Broward County ranked first in South Florida. Boca Regional recently chose not to strike a partnership with Cleveland Clinic and instead picked Baptist Health. The hospital based its decision largely on Baptist’s regional presence.

And as it turns out, US News ranked Baptist Hospital second in South Florida. So Boca Regional clearly narrowed its final choice to the two best candidates.

Downtown development changes?

Meeting Monday as the community redevelopment agency, the Boca Raton City Council will discuss 16 proposed changes from City Manager Leif Ahnell to the ordinance that governs downtown development.

Many of the proposals would substitute staff approval for council approval. Example: One would allow the staff to approve any new project or renovation of less than 5,000 square feet. For perspective, the limit would be space that is roughly 70 feet square.

I recall how what should have been a 30-minue council discussion of a downtown ice cream shop took nearly two hours because of all the needless questions. Still, with development an issue in the special election it will be interesting to see what the council says.

Rumor control  

During Boca Raton’s goal-setting session last spring, the facilitator reminded city council members and administrators how quickly false rumors can spread on social media. The city has increased its communications staff, to debunk those rumors.

Example: Last week, a Boca Square resident who said that she lives “just off Camino Real” near Interstate 95 expressed on the Nextdoor site her suspicion that the city is secretly “promoting Camino Real to become a main artery for the city traffic. I know everyone says that they are not adding an on/off ramp for I-95 but it sure does look like that’s the plan.”

For good measure, the resident added, “This is an election year. Our city leaders have tremendously let us down but (sic) their greed. This is our opportunity to speak up and get changes that effect (sic) all of our property value.” She set up a poll.

That was at 12:24 p.m. Hearing of the post, a member of the city’s communications staff responded at 2:39 p.m. by posting a news release from the Florida Department of Transportation. The work at Camino Real was part of the project to create what the state calls two “express lanes”—they’re really toll lanes—on the interstate. This portion covered the stretch from Hillsboro Boulevard in Broward County to Glades Road. As part of the project, the state is widening the I-95 overpass at Camino Real.

The resident might have considered that a Camino Real interchange is unlikely, since there’s one at Palmetto Park Road just north. The state also just completed an interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, making the prospect of one at Camino Real even less likely. One call to the city would have brought the correct information. The resident did note that she had called the state.

Social media, though, caters to conspiracy theories of all degrees at all levels. As the facilitator explained, people tend to mistrust government. Previously, Boca Raton had to knock down rumors that the council was about to sell the Mizner Amphitheater land to a developer.

Getting the facts out helps. Debunking silly rumors, though, distracts the staff from work on real issues. But that’s life in the social media age.

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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