FAU Tenure Controversy, Delray CRA Debacle and More

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Photo: Alex Dolce, Florida Atlantic University

A controversial proposal that would put Florida Atlantic University trustees in charge of awarding tenure has been pulled from the board’s Tuesday agenda.

Under current procedures, FAU President John Kelly makes the final decision, based on recommendations from administrators. If the proposal passed, Kelly still could deny tenure but the board would control who received it.

According to the proposed language, “a short bio” of the faculty member and “such other information as the board may request” would have to accompany any request to award tenure. The board’s decision would “constitute final action.” An FAU spokesman gave no reason for the postponement except to say that items get pulled regularly.

It is highly unusual to allow trustees “final action” on tenure. Opinion among the 13 board members has been divided. The most supportive has been Barbara Feingold. In January, Gov. DeSantis named her to the board. Her husband, Jeffrey Feingold, had served two terms himself. Barbara Feingold works for the national chain MCNA Dental. Her husband founded it.

Based on her comments, Feingold doesn’t believe that the proposal goes far enough. “One paragraph doesn’t tell us a lot about a professor, his viewpoints, his research, his political affiliations or potential donations,” she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “I’m concerned about tenure moving forward. I speak not just for myself but for the governor. I can’t think of any other position out there where people have a job for life.”

Actually, all federal judges have that distinction. But Feingold’s reference to the governor will worry those who believe that this change is part of a move by Republicans in Florida to control academic instruction.

On the Florida Board of Education’s agenda next Wednesday is a proposal to change the standards for civics education in Florida’s public schools. It would ask students to understand “the influence of the Ten Commandments” and characterize “disorderly protesting” as “irresponsible citizenship.” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, whom DeSantis chose for the job, recently expressed his wish to purge “all of the crazy liberal stuff out” from state schools.

“We really see (the tenure proposal) as a threat to academic freedom,” Nicole Morse told Insider Higher Ed. She’s second vice president of FAU’s faculty union. “(The trustees) are looking to go from having no role to having a very invasive oversight role.” This year, the Legislature allowed college students in Florida to record their professors.

Morse said, “We are constantly hearing that Florida’s higher ed system is one of the best in the country, and that’s because we have some really great faculty. But it’s hard to imagine being able to attract and keep those excellent faculty if they’re going to be facing these conditions.”

The governor appoints six of FAU’s 13 trustees. The Board of Governors, which supervises the university system and whose members the governor also appoints, chooses five. The other two come from the Faculty Senate and the student body.

Frederick Hoffman is a math professor at FAU. “It’s scary,” he told the Sun Sentinel, “just the idea that a political board would go in and make these academic decisions. It just seems like undue influence.”

Delray CRA restructuring

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The debate over changing the structure of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency went about as I expected. It was a hot mess.

City Commissioner Ryan Boylston proposed eliminating the two commission-appointed members who—with the five commissioners—make up the CRA board. He believes that having the commission itself in charge would make the CRA and the city operate more smoothly together and place all accountability on elected officials.

Both of the current appointed members—Kelcie Brooks and Angie Gray—are Black. Mayor Shelly Petrolia opposed the change. So did Gray, who is Petrolia’s political ally. As Boylston put it, Petrolia and Gray “twisted it into a race thing. That’s not what this was about.”

Sensing what was coming, Boylston said Wednesday, he asked to postpone the vote. Commissioners will interview city manager candidates next week. He didn’t want them to see Delray Beach at its most vitriolic. But Petrolia and her reliable commission partner, Juli Casale, opposed a delay.

So those candidates saw a classic example of Delray Beach’s social media-driven politics. Accusations flew around the room. A motion to table the issue failed. Eventually, the commission voted to keep the current structure. For now.

Boylston said, “If my colleagues can’t have this discussion in a productive way, we don’t need to have it right now.” His mind, though, hasn’t changed. He cited all the agreements between the city and CRA that need approval and maintained that the same people should make them for each agency.

Otherwise, Boylston said, politics can dominate. Politics certainly dominated on Tuesday.

If all four candidates to be Delray Beach’s next city manager still want the job, here’s what they will go through next week to get it.

On Monday from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., candidates will tour the city with department heads. Between 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., the candidates will have one-on-one interviews with city commissioners and a panel of citizens.

On Tuesday between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. members of the public and city employees will have a meet-and-greet with the candidates at City Hall. Over the next three hours, each candidate will have a 45-minute “public interview.”

Throughout this prolonged search, some commissioners have stressed the role of the public. Ultimately, though, commissioners must decide. This approach either will be a creative way to vet the city’s next CEO or an excuse for the commission to duck the hard decision.

Each commissioner got to invite two members of the public for the screenings. Among the notable names: Boylston chose the directors of the Downtown Development Authority and chamber of commerce. Petrolia chose a political ally, Chris Davey. Casale chose Gray. Adam Frankel chose his own political helper, Andre Fladell, and Menin Development President Jordana Jarjura, a former city commissioner.

Boca Center gets an upgrade

Six years ago, Boca Center stood to become the centerpiece of a new neighborhood called Midtown. But the city council killed that idea. Now the owners are trying their own remake.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based investment management firm Barings acquired Boca Center in 2014 in partnership with Crocker Partners, now CP Group. Tom Crocker built Boca Center in the late 1980s. After the council rejected the Midtown proposal, Crocker withdrew from the partnership.

In the next few months, according to a news release, Barings will make “a multi-million-dollar investment in the property, including new exterior enhancements, modern paint scheme, upgraded light fixtures, refreshed landscaping, and outdoor furnishings and signage.” Barings also plans to upgrade Boca Center’s office space.

Crocker had envisioned Boca Center as a “foodies’ paradise.” Similarly, Barings touts the arrival of a gourmet market—longtime tenant Joseph’s Classic Market decamped to Town Center Mall in 2019 —a wine bar and more restaurants. Total Wine and More is expanding to fill the space left when Panera closed.

Chick-fil-A on Palmetto?

Chick-fil-A soon could come to East Boca Raton.

The city’s only outlet of the ballyhooed fast-food chain is at Town Center Mall. On tonight’s planning and zoning board agenda, however, is a proposal to demolish a former bank branch on East Palmetto Park Road and replace it with another Chick-fil-A.

The location is on the south side of the Palmetto Park Square shopping center. Nearby is a gas station/car wash. Chick-fil-A devotees are known to wait in long lines for drive-through service, but the staff recommends that the board approve the project as compatible with the neighborhood.

According to the staff memo, the restaurant would provide 44 parking spaces where 45 are required. But the company would add trees and improve the “pedestrian experience.”