Tuesday, May 24, 2022

How Boca and Delray Are Faring Amid COVID Surge & More

Fortunately, the COVID-19 surge apparently has not affected services in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

According to City Manager Terrence Moore, Delray Beach has had “about 65 cases” among its employees since December. Most have been clustered in the fire and police departments.

A spokeswoman said the fire department had one positive test among all employees during the first two weeks of December and 31 more during the rest of the month. Through Jan. 15, there had been just eight positive tests. Both Moore and the spokeswoman said the absences did not compromise service, though overtime increased. Administrators worked from home.

A Boca Raton spokeswoman said the city has fewer than 20 employees out with COVID-19. As in Delray Beach, she said, services have continued without interruption.

Moore believes that the relatively low number of total cases—seven percent of the 932 employees—and serious cases vindicate the policy he put in place when he started in August. The city required all non-union employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested every week. The unions representing firefighters and general employees later agreed to the policy. Roughly 85 of the workforce got at least the first two shots.

In November, the Legislature made vaccine mandates all but impossible to implement, so Moore had to end the policy. But the benefits were in place until two weeks before the Omicron variant emerged in South Africa and quickly came here.

Delray Beach continues to require masks for employees and visitors in all public facilities. Boca Raton never enacted a vaccine/testing policy, but the city requires employees to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible and when riding with co-workers in city vehicles. For visitors, the city only encourages mask-wearing.

Boca Raton continues to hold council meetings in the Congress Avenue complex, which is much more spacious than the tight council chambers at City Hall. Other meetings remain virtual. Delray Beach City Commission meetings remain in the cramped City Hall chambers. Moore said—correctly, I believe—that Gov. DeSantis has ordered local governments to keep meetings of elected officials in-person.

So business in Boca Raton and Delray continues, but it continues to be different.

Old School Square Lawsuit Update

delray old school square
Old School Square

After a judge rejected early mediation in Old School Square for the Arts’ lawsuit against Delray Beach, the group will amend its claim in hopes of getting that mediation.

During a Tuesday hearing, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes indicated that he favored resolving the case out of court. Mediation, he said, would be “fruitful.” Indeed, judges regularly urge mediation of most significant civil cases, not just this one.

But Kastrenakes also took issue with some aspects of the lawsuit. Most notably, he asked about including Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson as individuals in addition to the city itself. Petrolia, Casale and Johnson voted last August to end Old School Square’s lease of the buildings that make up the complex.

Kastrenakes suggested that narrowing the case’s focus could raise the chance for the sort of negotiations that eight former Delray Beach mayors have asked the city to begin. Fewer defendants, Kastrenakes said, means “a lot less people in mediation.” The lawsuit also names former Old School Square Chairwoman Joy Howell and former Executive Director Shannon Eadon.

Marko Cerenko, who represents Old School Square, told Kaastrenakes that he would amend the lawsuit. On Wednesday, Cerenko told me that he intends to “clean it up” and address “deficiencies” that emerged during Tuesday’s hearing.

He will likely “get rid of a couple” of the claims against the city and may drop at least one defendant, Cerenko added. He also will add claims related to the state’s open-meetings law.

Old School Square alleges that a conspiracy outside of normal commission business led to the termination, which the group believes was politically motivated. The city argues that elected officials have immunity from lawsuits over their legislative actions. Howell and Eaton have attorneys separate from those representing the city.

Cerenko said he wants to complete the new filing by next week. The defendants then have 10 days to respond. On Feb. 9—the day that termination takes effect—Kastrenakes will hold a calendar call on the case. If he believes that the new complaint is more on point, Kastrenakes could order mediation. He also plans to schedule a two-hour hearing on the city’s motion to dismiss, if mediation has been unsuccessful.

Petrolia, Casale and Johnson ended the lease without scheduling it on the meeting agenda and without taking public comment. Five-plus months later, Delray Beach residents still don’t know with certainty why the termination happened—no explanation has emerged in the city’s legal briefs—beyond claims that Old School Square failed to file required documents. The group says it has submitted everything.

I’ll have an update when the new filing is in.

Downtown Boca parking plans

coronavirus cases in boca raton
Mizner Park

Boca Raton has talked for years about the problem of inadequate downtown parking at night. Those discussions usually have included suggestions to add automated and/or mechanical parking, which can get more cars into less space than a self-parking garage.

On Monday, the topic will get a hearing when the city council meets as the community redevelopment agency. On the agenda is a proposed ordinance to set rules for non-traditional parking. This month, the planning and zoning board recommended unanimously that the council approve it.

The ordinance would allow three types of systems, from those with some human involvement to fully automated, possibly staffed by robots. There would be far more requirements for such a system, though one issue affects all three: How would people get their vehicles if the power was out? Some vehicles also could be too big for systems to handle.

According to the staff memo, the proposal came from “outside parties.” Councilwoman Monica Mayotte is sponsoring it for debate. The memo also notes that the ordinance is “general” and contains “a number of inconsistencies, misspellings and unclear references.”

I’ll have more after the meeting.

Boca Housing Authority changes?

dixie manor
Photo by Randy Schultz

At its Monday workshop meeting, the council will discuss possible changes to the Boca Raton Housing Authority.

The agency drew much attention last fall after news that it may approve a makeover of Dixie Manor—the city’s main public housing complex—or a demolition and rebuild. Tenants accused the authority of poor communications and expressed their feelings at council meetings. Council members appoint the five board members, but the city has no involvement in the operations of Dixie Manor.

One suggestion has been to expand the board by two, supposedly to add more viewpoints. During last week’s meeting, Councilwoman Yvette Drucker said, “We should support that.” The council has the power to increase the board.

Others, though, agreed with Mayor Scott Singer that the council should hear from the authority’s executive director and board chairman at Monday’s meeting. They can make their case, Singer said, and the council can decide whether a bigger board would be a better board. The authority hopes to decide Dixie Manor’s future by summer.

Another big BRRH donation

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has received its latest $1 million capital campaign donation.

It comes from the Bernstein Family Foundation, which Steven E. Bernstein runs with his daughter, Abby Rose Bernstein Henderson. Steven Bernstein is founder and chairman of Boca Raton-based SBA Communications.

The campaign, called Keeping The Promise, has raised $215 million toward its goal of $250 million.

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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