Friday, April 19, 2024

FAU Dental School Funding Rejected

Florida Atlantic University trustees meet Wednesday to approve a plan for financing more student housing. The bigger financial issue, though, probably concerns what didn’t happen in the recent legislative session.

FAU did not receive the additional $100 million-plus the university had sought for a dental school. That rejection could affect the dynamic of the next presidential search.

A year ago, the Legislature allocated $40 million toward the proposed dental school—$30 million for construction and other one-time costs and $10 million toward operating costs. The university noted that it also expected a $30 million private donation. Barbara Feingold, vice chair of the trustees, acknowledged that she had made the pledge. A rendering showed the school being named for her late husband, Jeffrey Feingold. She was appointed to fill his seat.

During last year’s session, State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said he had been approached about becoming FAU’s president. John Kelly had retired three months earlier. Fine helped secure that $40 million.

In retrospect, it’s likely that Fine was Feingold’s choice. Among other things, they have similar records of support for Israel. Feingold—who served as vice chair of the search committee—has declined interview requests, but she opposed the committee’s three finalists. Fine was not among them.

During the search, sources tell me, Feingold often cited her close ties to Gov. DeSantis and his administration. The Florida Bulldog website reported that a Feingold ally on the search committee was “Feingold’s wingman in trying to get Randy Fine over the top.”

Last October, Fine endorsed Donald Trump for president over DeSantis. Fine and the governor said Fine was no longer a candidate to lead FAU. That development and the failure on dental school money suggest that whatever influence Feingold might have had is waning. When Brad Levine resigned last month as trustee chair, the other members did not name Feingold to succeed him. The chair appoints the search committee.

If so, that means the dental school won’t be the backstory on the new search. It will begin after the Board of Governors approves policy changes to address what members considered violations from the first search that in December led them to invalidate it. There is no timetable for when that might happen.

Tallahassee politics still could play a role. DeSantis has installed favorites at other universities—in one case after the trustees had chosen other finalists. As things drag on, giving popular Interim President Stacy Volnick the permanent job will seem more and more appealing to the FAU community.

How FAU’s housing plans affect Boca

Those housing plans for FAU matter to Boca Raton.

In recent years, the university and the city have swapped ideas for creating a student-oriented district east along 20th Street east of the campus. Nothing came of it. City officials also have worried about more students living off campus, renting homes and disrupting quiet, single-family neighborhoods.

But FAU, after once saying that there wasn’t space for new dorms, now wants to add on-campus housing. Documents for Wednesday’s meeting show that the plan is for as many as 1,060 beds, based on enrollment projections. The first phase would add 670, with construction beginning in January and the facility opening for the 2026-27 academic year.

Total cost would be about $117 million. The proposal could go to the Board of Governors in June for approval.

Tom Carney accuses Ryan Boylston of defamation

Last year’s Delray Beach election included a defamation lawsuit. This year, there’s another.

Mayoral candidate Tom Carney accuses City Commissioner Ryan Boylston—Carney’s main opponent in the three-person race—of defamation. Carney cited a “voter alert” mailer from Boylston’s campaign saying, “Carney was “sued for auto negligence for crashing into a woman’s car whom (sic) alleged he was driving under the influence of alcohol.” The mailer accuses Carney of committing two hit-and-run accidents, for which he “refused to take responsibility.”

Delray Beach Commissioner Ryan Boylston

Carney describes the accusations as “actual malice,” meaning that Boylston knew they were false and used them anyway. That’s the legal standard in defamation cases. Carney said Boylston refused to take down the accusations after Carney asked him to do so.

Carney denies all the accusations. In his defense, he cites police reports and witness statements. Carney seeks “in excess of $50,000” in damages.

When Rob Long was running for city commission in 2023, he sued Chris Davey for defamation because of comments Davey made about Long’s votes on the planning and zoning board. Davey, the board’s former chairman, is an ally of Mayor Shelly Petrolia. She was backing incumbent Juli Casale.

Long won, but a judge dismissed his lawsuit. He ruled that it amounted to an attempt to stifle public debate.

Delray developer’s “crusade” continues

Speaking of Delray Beach’s election, one player continues to misrepresent himself.

That would be Kurt Jetta, a city resident who has twice failed to persuade the city commission to allow expansion of his shared housing project. In response, Jetta is spending $20,000 to elect candidates who favor these 21st-century rooming houses aimed at people who can’t afford standard apartments.

Jetta’s vehicle is the Florida Housing Innovations Council, which sent the latest of its emails Monday. The name implies that there is a group of entities hoping to bring new living options. In fact, there is only Jetta.

The email criticizes Boylston and Casale, who is seeking a return to the commission. Boylston rejected Jetta’s proposal during a workshop meeting in January. According to the mailer, Casale expressed support for the idea in 2022 when she served on the commission but now opposes it.

Though Jetta is the only one financing the “council,” the mailer refers half a dozen times to “we,” “our” and “us.” Example: Boylston and Casale are “not with us.” Rarely has one person in a local election wanted more and been less transparent about it.

Development a priority in Delray and Boca elections

Compared with the hurly-burly in Delray Beach, Boca Raton’s election has been placid. Since Councilwoman Yvette Drucker is running for a new term against a fringe candidate, the only drama is the council race between Brian Stenberg and former Councilman Andy Thomson.

In both cities, development is an issue. In both cities, perspective matters.

Carney has criticized Boylston for approving 1,000 housing units during his six years on the commission. None of those projects, however, is downtown and thus would affect the traffic that Carney complains about.

In Boca Raton, a social media post in support of Stenberg laments the “Fort Lauderdaleizing of our downtown.” Boca Raton’s downtown height limit is 10 stories, with an option to go 40 feet higher if a project meets architectural guidelines.

In Fort Lauderdale, a developer just proposed two, 14-story downtown residential towers that the city commission likely will approve. These days, that’s small for the former home of spring break. Several projects topping 40 stories are rising across downtown Fort Lauderdale or have won commission approval. There is no credible comparison to Boca Raton.

South Florida’s population growth

But if you think that this region overall is growing rapidly, you’re right. According to the Census Bureau, the West Palm Beach-Miami metropolitan area added nearly 44,000 people between 2022 and 2023. That made South Florida the 10th-fastest-growing part of the country.

Second “Delray Defacer” pleads not guilty

Dylan Brewer, photo courtesy of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Dylan Reese Brewer pleaded not guilty last week to defacing Delray Beach’s LGBTQ Pride streetscape.

Brewer did so even though “multiple” witnesses, according to the probable cause affidavit, identified the truck Brewer was driving on Feb. 4. Multiple videos confirmed the identification. Brewer’s two passengers said Brewer was driving.

Because Brewer didn’t show for Thursday’s hearing, the judge first issued a bench warrant. He rescinded it after learning that Brewer had waived arraignment, but the clerk’s office hadn’t filed the document.

The next hearing is April 30. Brewer faces one count of criminal mischief involving more than $1,000 and one count of reckless driving.

Coco Gauff to attend unveiling of refurbished Pompey Park tennis courts

Cori “Coco” Gauff, photo by Aaron Bristol

Delray Beach native Coco Gauff will appear today at hometown event close to her heart.

To recognize Gauff’s victory last year in the U.S. Open—her first major championship—the United States Tennis Association created the U.S. Open Legacy Initiative. It will allocate $3 million nationwide to renovate public courts.

The first project is the courts at Pompey Park, where Gauff learned to play. Last year, when Gauff played on the American team for a Billie Jean King Cup match at the city’s tennis center, Gauff wore shoes with colors to honor the park.

The event takes place at 3 p.m. Pompey Park is at 1101 Northwest 2nd Street.

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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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