Thursday, June 20, 2024

Is FAU’s Presidential Search About to Restart?

Florida Atlantic University’s second presidential search may start today when the FAU trustees meet. But even after the previous search ended under unusual circumstances, there still might not be much public discussion.

On the agenda is an item that would allow Chairman Piero Bussani to choose a search firm and seek an analysis of how much FAU should pay the person who succeeds John Kelly. Or the board could allow Bussani to choose a firm that the board could approve “later this summer.”

Also on the agenda is an item related to the search committee. The trustees must tell the committee the “scope” and “timeline” of the search and define its “responsibilities.”

Under new policies, Bussani must get approval from Board of Governors (BOG) Chairman Brian Lamb on whom he picks to chair the committee. That person will choose the members. Under those policies, Bussani cannot name himself to chair the committee. Brad Levine, Bussani’s predecessor, did that.

FAU Interim President Stacy Volnick

To recap, State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues suspended FAU’s search 11 months ago after the previous committee chose three finalists but did not include State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred choice. The BOG nullified the search in December. Stacy Volnick has been interim president since January 2023.

I wanted to ask Bussani about today’s meeting and his guess on when the new search might start. But FAU’s media relations office has been unable to secure an interview. In February, after becoming chair, Bussani sent a letter to the trustees promising to take FAU “past the negative press.” He has offered very little since. At the April trustees’ meeting, he promised an update today.

As I have reported, interim appointees hold several of FAU’s high-level administrative posts. This has been the case since Volnick took over. The expectation was that the new president would take over at the beginning of the 2023-24 academic year and start filling them. FAU remains largely in limbo until Kelly’s successor arrives.

Based on my reporting, I believe that the first search went bad because Barbara Feingold, vice chair of the trustees, insisted that FAU start a dental school that would be named for her late husband after she donated $30 million. Fine helped get money for the school through the 2023 Legislature. Like the governor, Feingold favored Fine.

This year, though, the dental school got no money. FAU did not include the school in its latest budget request. It will be interesting to see if Feingold makes that an issue.

I’ll have more after the meeting.

FAU to lead Office of Ocean Economy

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Speaking of FAU, it will be the home of a new state entity designed to encourage the state’s “ocean economy.”

The effort for the Office of the Ocean Economy began this year in the Legislature with a stand-alone bill from Reps. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton. Skidmore said Monday it was the third time she had tried to get the proposal approved.

As in past years, the bill referred to the “blue economy.” That’s the definition accepted around the world for the sector that seeks to conserve marine resources while using them to create sustainable businesses related to energy and food.

From what I’m told, however, someone in the DeSantis administration considered “blue” a reference to the Democratic Party and objected to the bill for that reason. It passed only after legislators folded it into a much larger education bill that deals with charter schools taking over traditional public schools, book bans and disciplinary programs.

Despite the process, Skidmore said she’s excited about the potential benefits. The program ostensibly will be under the Board of Governors, but Skidmore said the board has given FAU control of day-to-day operations.

Though the program will be based in Boca Raton, which will be the hub, Skidmore looks at it as a “pipeline” to ideas from throughout the state. “We hope to show the world that Florida can be a leader in this economy.”

Guns on college campuses?

Speaking of State Rep. Randy Fine, he said in April that if elected to the Senate this year he will sponsor legislation that would allow students at Florida’s public colleges and universities to have guns on campus.

Fine, who is Jewish, said the change would allow Jewish students to protect themselves against anti-Semitic attacks. When this proposal has arisen in Tallahassee, every university president and police chief has opposed it.

Delray Pride intersection case postponed—again

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Delray Beach Pride intersection, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

There’s been another delay in the case of the man accused of defacing Delray Beach’s LGBTQ Pride intersection.

Dylan Brewer had been scheduled for his first hearing on April 30. Both sides agreed to continue the case until today. Last week, however, came another continuance to July 10.

Prosecutors again did not oppose the delay, despite considerable evidence that on Feb. 4 Brewer burned his truck tires three times across the intersection in Pineapple Grove. He faces one felony charge of criminal mischief and one misdemeanor charge of reckless driving. The probable cause affidavit said investigators got testimony from two people in the truck, along with several witnesses and video. Court records show that both sides wanted “time to complete discovery and entertain plea negotiations.”

This is the second such incident at the intersection. The first came two days after the city dedicated it in June 2021. Brewer had a Donald Trump flag on his truck. The first offender was driving in a birthday parade for Trump.

On Saturday, Delray Beach will hold an LGBTQ Pride festival from 4 to 7 p.m. at the intersection. City Manager Terrence Moore said the city has repainted the intersection. As of Monday, the paint was curing. The work, which Moore said cost about $5,700, will be done by Saturday.

Rand Hoch founded the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. In an email, Hoch said, “It would be justice for the court” to take Brewer’s truck, sell it and use the money to reimburse the city for the repainting. “That would send a strong message that actions have consequences.”

The Crest Theater discussion continues

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The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

At today’s meeting, Delray Beach city commissioners can pitch any ideas for reopening part of the Crest Theater.

This meeting follows one at which the commission rejected all six bids to operate the renovated classrooms and new kitchen. The rejection ended the “cone of silence” that prohibited any contact with what the staff memo calls “external partners.”

As I wrote after last month’s failed attempt to choose a bidder, the commission must decide collectively what it wants for Old School Square, of which the Crest is a part. That’s the point of today’s discussion. I’ll have more after the meeting.

Traffic “safety solutions” in Boca

Boca Raton has received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation toward what the city calls “safety solutions” on public streets.

In 2022, the city council designated Boca Raton as a “Vision Zero City,” with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious crashes. Florida regularly ranks among one of the most dangerous states for cyclists and pedestrians. A previous $300,000 grant enabled the city to create its plan toward achieving that goal.

Delray takes on climate change

Undeterred by Tallahassee’s recent declaration that climate change is no longer a priority in Florida, Delray Beach is seeking residents’ thoughts on the topic and how the city should respond. Gov. DeSantis touted the bill when he signed it last month—during what was just determined to have been the hottest May on record in Florida.

You can take the survey here.

Correction

In a recent post, I referred to Fran Nachlas as the vice mayor of Boca Raton. Nachlas chairs the community redevelopment agency. Yvette Drucker is vice mayor.

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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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