Thursday, July 18, 2024

FAU’s Search Investigation Deepens & More On Proposed ALF

Another day, another development in the search for Florida Atlantic University’s next president.

On Friday, an emailed letter went out from the search committee’s consultant—AGB Search —to the roughly 60 people who applied to succeed John Kelly. Company President Roderick McDavis said AGB is responding to a demand from State University System (SUS) Inspector General Julie Leftheris for names of all applicants and “a copy of all written communications between any AGB Search employees and any applicant” after Jan. 1 of this year.

On July 11, SUS Chancellor Ray Rodrigues suspended the search and asked Leftheris to investigate. Rodrigues cited what he called “anomalies” in the search. Six days earlier, the committee had announced its three finalists and scheduled campus visits for the week of July 10.

One of those “anomalies” was a question to applicants about their sexual orientation. Presumably, that issue at least partly explains McDavis’ letter.

A new law requires that applicants’ names remain confidential unless they become finalists or disclose their application. In the letter, McDavis quotes Leftheris as saying that her office will comply with the law because all records will be “received and stored in a confidential manner and maintained as such within our investigative case files.”

As it happens, Brad Levine—who chairs the FAU trustees and the search committee—used the same argument to defend the search. The committee, Levine said, was unaware of the question because AGB asked on its own. The question was voluntary, and AGB did not share any responses.

Rodrigues was not persuaded. Levine’s “admissions,” he said, “underscore our concern…” Recent legislation in Tallahassee, which Gov. DeSantis has supported, seek to restrict or eliminate discussion of gender identity.

The letter is one more sign of a drawn-out investigation, which many at FAU believe is by design. Rodrigues involved himself two days after FAU announced the finalists, who did not include State Rep. Randy Fine, the governor’s preferred choice.

William Trapani is a professor in FAU’s School of Communications and Multimedia Studies. He applied for the presidency, so he got McDavis’ letter.

In text messages, Trapani questioned the inspector general’s inquiry. The letter, he said, “will be seen as a politically motivated fishing expedition searching for a reason to justify the investigation and to undo the search committee’s results.”

Trapani added, “This investigation could and should have been handled in a week and could have been completed prior to our finalists being announced. There are real questions and confusion over what the state is doing here and why the investigation is taking so long and becoming more bloated by the day.”

As I have written, the widely shared suspicion around FAU is that Rodrigues intends to drag out the inquiry long enough that the finalists will take the hint and withdraw. None has.

“I can only hope,” Trapani said, that Rodrigues “is reflecting on the toll this process is taking on the institution and [the State University System] and that he will draw this investigation to a close as quickly as possible and allow us to get back to the next stages of our search process.”

No more parking for school drop-offs at proposed ALF site

boca square
Proposed ALF Property in Boca Square

Car lines are longer during drop-off and pickup at Boca Raton’s Addison Mizner School. That’s because the nearby parking lot at a closed church is now off-limits to parents.

That change happened after Whelchel Partners bought the 3.6-acre site in April. The company wants to develop an adult living facility (ALF) on the property. In March 2022, after strong neighborhood opposition but before any review hearings, the city denied the application. Whelchel Partners then sued.

In an interview, Jay Whelchel noted that that the land is “private property” and cited liability concerns for blocking off what he called “a terrible parking lot.” The church, he said, still uses the building “a little. Mostly legacy stuff.” In recent weeks, the property has become more overgrown.

Whelchel said he contacted the Palm Beach County School District, the Addison Mizner PTA and the city to see if any of them wanted to pay what he estimates would be the $20,000 cost of making the lot suitable for school overflow parking. None, he said, was interested. Whelchel doesn’t want to pay it because, “We’re going to demolish the building.”

The city argues that the project would require a change to the city’s comprehensive plan. Four of the five council members—not the usual three—then would have to approve it. Whelchel contends that no such change is necessary and that city officials had told him that repeatedly. He wants a judge to order the city to process the application.

A lot is riding on the litigation. Approval would open up several other areas of Boca Raton to such facilities. The project got as far as it did only because Councilwoman Monica Mayotte agreed to sponsor a text amendment to zoning on that site.

The case goes to mediation Wednesday. Whelchel and two attorneys will represent the developer. Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson will represent Boca Raton.

Divide over Moore performance review

Terrence Moore, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

I reported last week that Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore got a 4.1 percent raise and praise from all city commission members except Mayor Shelly Petrolia. I have since read the individual evaluations, which reveal the sharp divide over the manager’s performance.

Rob Long ranked Moore as Outstanding in all 16 categories. He wrote that Moore treats staff with “dignity and respect.” Adam Frankel rated Moore as Outstanding in 10 categories. In five others, Frankel’s grade was Exceeds Expectations. The only category in which Moore got a Meets Expectations was Follows Direction.

Like Long, Angela Burns has been on the commission only since March. She also gave Moore high marks—eight ratings were Outstanding and eight were Exceeds Expectations. Burns cited Moore’s “resilience and commitment.” Ryan Boylston was just slightly less enthusiastic, giving three Outstandings and 12 Meets Expectations. He cited Moore’s ability to find “a path to solutions” but also advised the manager that when responding during meetings, “Sometimes, a short answer is best.”

Petrolia, however, gave Moore just one Outstanding—for responsiveness. She gave nine rankings of Needs Improvement and two of Unsatisfactory, in the categories of Budgeting and Decision-making.

Notably, Boylston said Moore began to hit his stride in “March/April,” meaning after the election in which Petrolia-backed candidates lost to Long and Burns. I had heard from several sources that the elections results boosted morale within City Hall because of fears that Petrolia might have tried to fire Moore after the election if results had been different.

Instead, Delray Beach is moving ahead on several, long-delated public works project, such as a water plant. Petrolia leaves office next March because of term limits.

PBC Sheriff’s Office using red flag law in school shooting threat case

Fernando Rodrigo Gaete, photo from Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is using the state’s red flag law against Fernando Rodrigo Gaete. The 22-year-old was arrested on Aug. 17 for allegedly making threats to shoot up Logger’s Run Middle School in West Boca Raton.

That day, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Donald Hafele granted a temporary risk protection order under the law that the Legislature passed after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hafele concluded that Gaete “poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others” by possessing firearms. On Wednesday, Hafele will hold a hearing on the sheriff’s request for a permanent order.

Goldberg refuses plea deal in Boca Bash case

cole goldberg
Cole Goldberg; photo from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Cole Preston Goldberg did not accept the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office plea deal in his case stemming from last year’s Boca Bash. The deadline was Aug. 18.

As a result, according to an office spokesman, prosecutors will raise the charge against Goldberg from domestic battery by strangulation—he is accused of choking his girlfriend at the event—to attempted second-degree murder. That will happen at the Oct. 4 calendar call for the case.

Under the deal, Goldberg would have served six months in the county jail and been on probation for 36 months. The maximum sentence for attempted second-degree murder is 15 years in state prison.

Clarification

In my Thursday post about the FAU presidential search, I used a quote from Alan Levine. He’s the Board of Governor’s member on the search committee.

I wrote about the state’s criticism of a straw poll by committee members and noted that Levine said he opposed such polls. I should have noted that Levine made his remark in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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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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