Monday, December 4, 2023

FAU’s Proxy Fight & Boca Bridge Project Delayed Again

Florida Atlantic University’s presidential search has become a proxy fight.

In one corner, you have two Republican state representatives—Toby Overdorf and Mike Gialombardo. Last week, they sent a letter to the FAU board of trustees through Interim President Stacy Volnick. They wrote as “proud alumni” of FAU to “express our sincere admiration” for Barbara Feingold, the board’s vice chair.

The letter follows Feingold’s emergence as chief critic of the search. She has strongly criticized Brad Levine, who chairs the trustees and the search committee, on which Feingold also serves. Given the comments at last month’s trustees’ meeting, however, Feingold is an outlier.

Eleven of the 13 trustees backed Levine and the search, which State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues halted on July 7, two days after the committee chose three finalists. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, Gov. DeSantis’ preferred choice, was not among them. Feingold has donated $100,000 to the governor’s presidential political action committee and $6,600 to his presidential campaign fund.

On Wednesday, Overdorf said neither Feingold nor anyone on her behalf asked him to send the letter. Though he said Feingold has been “accused and berated” in recent weeks because of her comments and actions related to the search, Overdorf denied that controversy over the search prompted the letter. “This is about supporting Trustee Feingold,” he said, for her work on behalf of FAU. Asked about the search itself, Overdorf said, “No comment.”

Meanwhile, the FAU Faculty Senate on Monday recommended that the trustees offer Volnick a three-year contract to run the university. Volnick became interim president last year and did not apply for the permanent job.

Clearly, however, the faculty worry that Rodrigues will use the investigation he ordered to kill the search and tell FAU to start over. That outcome would prolong the uncertainty—interim appointees hold several other key posts—and increase the possibility of Fine getting the job.

Based on what I’ve heard publicy and privately, choosing Fine would be exceptionally controversial. He has sponsored several of the governor’s culture-war bills. Last year, Fine claimed that a “transgender girl” had attacked another girl in a school bathroom. Fine blamed the incident on what he called the Brevard County School District’s “open bathrooms” policy.

District officials had received no such complaint. A police investigation found “no evidence “ to support the claim.

Fine once threatened to shut down the University of Central Florida because of a disagreement over spending. The Florida Commission on Ethics is investigating an allegation against Fine for threatening to withhold state money to the city of West Melbourne because he wasn’t invited to a fundraising event.

I’m told that Feingold is leveraging her political contributions in this fight over the presidency. She, her late husband, Jeffrey Feingold, and their children have donated roughly $500,000 to state Republicans and GOP committees during the last three election cycles. In 2022, Barbara Feingold donated $10,000 to Fine’s committee.

And, of course, Feingold has pledged to donate $30 million toward FAU’s new dental school, set to be named for Jeffrey Feingold. She said at that trustees’ meeting that she is withholding her commitment to see who becomes president.

Amid all the turmoil, Volnick has drawn near-universal praise. Rodrigues said FAU has cooperated with the investigation. The trustees first would have to approve the faculty’s proposal. If that happened, the Board of Governors also would have to go along.

FAU sets freshman enrollment record

Ironically, all the uncertainty comes at a time when FAU is getting good news.

Volnick told the faculty on Monday that the university set a record for freshman enrollment —4,400. Because of new criteria, FAU rose 53 spots—to 209th—among national universities in the 2024 US News and World Report rankings. The new standards reward institutions with disproportionately high rates of graduates who are the first in their families to complete college. FAU has many such students. Overall graduation rates are up.

FAU, Volnick said, also has received record donations. The most likely reason is the Final Four run last season by the men’s basketball team.

West Palmetto Park Road bridge completion delayed again

Have you ever waited at an airport gate where a 20-minute flight delay turns into a two-hour delay? That’s how it is in Boca Raton with the bridge over the El Rio Canal on West Palmetto Park Road.

The project to replace the structure began in August 2021. County officials said the work would take a year. How funny.

According to the latest newsletter from County Commissioner Marci Woodward, who represents the city, the completion date is now “late December.” That’s a month later than Woodward said in last month’s newsletter.

The latest excuse is “additional work required to avoid the overhead electrical lines.” Nobody noticed the lines earlier? This is the same county government that in August mistakenly removed the memorial farther west on Palmetto Park Road to the victims of the 1996 car crash that killed five teenagers.

As the delays mount, so do irritation and inconvenience for drivers who regularly use Boca Raton’s main connection between Interstate 95 and downtown. The four-lane road is now just one lane in each direction.

It does no good to blame the city. Palmetto Park is a county road, so it’s a county project. I asked to speak with Woodward, who was elected last year. I did not hear back by deadline for this post.

Delray approves budget


City commissioners approved Delray Beach’s new budget during Monday’s second and final hearing.

The general fund, which finances basic services such as public safety and recreation, will increase to $185 million. That amount includes $7.3 million transferred from reserves.

The budget has 17 new positions, including three police officers and three firefighters. There’s a new position of director of special events and six new employees in the parks and recreation department. Four will be assigned to maintenance. Commissioners have made beautification a priority. 

Delray approves measure to discourage frivolous ethics complaints

I wrote Tuesday that the Ethics Commission dismissed the second of two complaints filed against Delray Beach City Commissioner Rob Long by Chris Davey, chairman of the planning and zoning board. On Monday, at the suggestion of City Attorney Lynn Gelin, the commission sought to discourage such frivolous complaints.

From now on, commissioners can seek reimbursement for legal fees in successful defenses of ethics complaints. Commissioner Ryan Boylston told me, “These always come up during election season.” Davey filed his this year during Long’s successful campaign against incumbent Juli Casale. Davey is aligned with Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who campaigned for Casale. The commission unanimously approved the proposal.

Boca honors Lois D. Martin

Lois Martin; photo courtesy of the Boca Raton Historical Society

On Saturday, Boca Raton will dedicate Lois D. Martin Way —part of Glades Road between Federal Highway and Dixie Highway. The name will honor, in the city’s words, the late “community activist, educator and lifelong resident of Pearl City,” Boca Raton’s historic Black neighborhood.

Ms. Martin, who was born in Boca Raton in 1928, served on numerous civic boards. The community center that serves neighborhood children already is named for her. Fittingly, the naming ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m., will be at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Ms. Martin taught Sunday School.

When she died in January 2022, Boca Helping Hands noted her many years of volunteer work for the organization and called Ms. Martin “a pillar of the community.”

Delray to honor Coco Gauff with parade

Cori “Coco” Gauff, photo by Aaron Bristol

Even before Coco Gauff won the U.S. Open, Delray Beach had given her a key to the city. After her first major championship this month, the city has bigger plans.

That would be a parade in Gauff’s honor. But not yet. During Monday’s meeting, city commissioners heard that Gauff is “traveling the world” as the newly third-ranked female tennis player in the world. Members of her extended family in Delray Beach say November sounds like a good time.

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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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