Thursday, May 23, 2024

FAU’s Staffing Vulnerability & More on Pearl City

I have written a lot about the now-suspended search for Florida Atlantic University’s president. Among faculty members, suspicion is high that the State University System investigation will be an excuse to reject the three finalists and hire State Rep. Randy Fine, Gov. DeSantis’ stated choice.

Fine has no higher education administrative experience, but he has championed DeSantis’ attempt to purge what the governor calls “woke indoctrination” from state universities. Critics believe that Fine would lead a right-wing, ideological purge, driving off faculty and students and damaging FAU’s economic benefit to Boca Raton.

FAU is in a particularly vulnerable position. Not only is there an interim president, there is an interim vice president of administrative affairs, the university’s chief operating officer. An interim is serving as provost—chief academic officer. Those are arguably the two most important jobs after president.

But there’s also an interim dean of undergraduate studies. Interims lead the research department. There’s an interim vice president of advancement—the key fundraising job—and an interim dean of the medical school.

Whoever becomes president can consider those interim positions vacancies. Whoever becomes president thus quickly could shape FAU in his or her image, regardless of the consequences. Since DeSantis appointees took over New College in Sarasota, 36 percent of the faculty have left.

Though Fine didn’t become a finalist, I reported that his campaign account paid for a meal in Boca Raton last month on a day the search committee met. And if DeSantis, who said that Florida “is where woke goes to die,” is directing events, Fine continues to audition.

In an Axios poll released this week, only 18 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 said they are “extremely proud” to be an American. Fine tweeted, “There is no greater example of the evil that is wokeism permeating education in this country.”

Boca withdraws support for Pearl City historic designation

dixie manor
Photo by Randy Schultz

Boca Raton has withdrawn its support of historic designation for the Pearl City neighborhood.

As I reported Tuesday, members of the city’s housing authority board had warned that the designation could affect construction of Martin Manor, the apartment complex that will replace Dixie Manor north of Glades Road. Federal designation, they said, would require federal approval of the design, not just approval by the city council.

Monica Mayotte, who had asked for the resolution of support, asked to withdraw it during Tuesday night’s meeting. Like John Scannell, the authority’s executive director, Mayotte said she had been misled last month when a state official explained the designation process to the group Developing Interracial Social Change.

Mayotte said a hasty designation also could hinder the effort to find housing vouchers for Dixie Manor residents who are displaced during construction. She said a better idea would be to submit Pearl City’s application after completion of Martin Manor. The designation would apply to Martin Manor and the neighborhoods of Pearl City and Lincoln Court.

More Pearl City/Dixie Manor concerns

Council discussion of Pearl City and Dixie Manor, however, didn’t end there. Not by a long shot.

Brown began by addressing complaints about lack of security at Hughes Park. It borders Dixie Manor on the east and serves as the neighborhood park.

Homeless people, Brown said, had “approached children” on several occasions, asking to see their “private parts” one speaker said. The view from one security camera had been obstructed. Brown said the obstruction is now gone, and the city has increased police patrols.

Compounding residents’ frustration was the possibility that the city might move two buildings from the Children’s Museum complex near City Hall to the property that includes Hughes Park. City officials may use the museum site for a new office housing the building department. The council has hired an architect to offer ideas.

Though the museum has been closed since the pandemic, Brown said those two buildings still could be useable. Discussion about where to put the building department could become part of a wider discussion about a new government complex. Council members stressed that they have made no decision. But if the building department goes where the museum is, the city has no home for the buildings.

Brown said the city “is not closing” Hughes Park. Singer said it was just “the first time talking” about moving the buildings. Suspicion remained.

One woman said Pearl City/Dixie Manor has “no baseball field.” While council members recently have spent hours talking about better “walkability” for downtown Boca Raton, Pearl City children are hemmed in by traffic on Dixie Highway and Federal Highway. More traffic comes from parents going to and from Torah Academy northeast of Dixie Manor. The council, the woman said, has “created” the problem.

Ellyn Okrent is CEO of the Florence Fuller Center, which has a facility near Dixie Manor. Okrent told the council that there is enough room to hold the buildings without encroaching on the park. The need for youth services has increased, Okrent added, since the Wayne Barton Center closed.

“The park needs to stay,” Okrent said. Her organization remains committed to the area. She suggested that the city assign a planner to the issue.

It all was a reminder of how much less diverse Boca Raton is than Delray Beach. Black speakers are rare at council meetings. Collectively, these speakers were telling council members not to overlook those in Pearl City.

GL Homes proposal vote delayed

agricultural reserve
PBC Agricultural Reserve. Image: © Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA Wire

County officials have delayed a vote on GL Homes’ controversial proposal for the Agricultural Reserve Area.

The company wants to trade land outside the reserve for permission to build 1,000 luxury homes in the reserve northwest of Boca Raton. Such a swap would be unprecedented and would invite similar swaps that could lead to unchecked home building and drive out what farm-related businesses remain.

County commissioners had scheduled a final vote on the swap for Aug. 30. The new date is Oct. 24. Former County Commissioner Karen Marcus, now president of Sustainable Palm Beach County, believes that county planners asked for more time to review all aspects of the complex proposal.

GL would agree to build a water project on that land outside the reserve. There are questions about how much new water that project would deliver. The transaction also would require new zoning to allow those 1,000 homes.

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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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