Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Back to the Drawing Table for a New Delray City Manager

Not only did Delray Beach begin this week with an interim city manager, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners were in Tallahassee to lobby legislators as part of Palm Beach County Day.

So Fire Chief Neal de Jesus, back for his second stint as interim manager, began the week by telling all the department heads that while the city is in “another transition,” people still expect services to continue. In an interview Wednesday, de Jesus said he told the staff, “Whatever happens above us will happen.”

Still, de Jesus needs guidance from the commission, which doesn’t meet again until March 28. So when commissioners get back from Tallahassee, de Jesus will meet with them individually “to get their priorities and get us back on course.”

One item will be the scheduled goal-setting session on April 26. The event draws all high-level administrators and requires weeks of planning. So the commission must decide whether to proceed, knowing that Mark Lauzier’s successor almost certainly won’t be on the job yet.

The related item is the manager search. De Jesus believes that he can get consensus from the commission on which headhunting firm to choose without having to wait until that March 28 meeting. Expenditures less than $65,000 don’t require commission approval, and the search probably will cost much less. De Jesus hopes to spend as little time in the manager’s office as possible.

Finally, de Jesus must decide whether to retain India Adams, who had been Lauzier’s chief of staff, and Vince Roberts, whom Lauzier had brought to Delray Beach on a management fellowship. Internal Auditor Julia Davidyan flagged those hires in the report that led to Lauzier’s firing at last Friday’s special commission meeting. Another assistant cited in the report has resigned.

De Jesus rejected a recommendation to fire Adams and Roberts, noting that the city manager “has the sole right to hire and fire those who report to him.” (Lauzier might find that comment ironic.) De Jesus said he would meet with Adams and Roberts, consult with City Attorney Lynn Gelin and the city’s labor lawyer and base his decision on “the totality” of what he hears.

When does de Jesus expect to decide? “More sooner than later.”

And what comes next?

After Lauzier’s firing, I heard from Delray Beach residents who wondered about de Jesus being in the audience and the quick motion to have him step in. Couldn’t there have been someone else?

Probably not.

One option might have been Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman, who had been an assistant city manager while assistant chiefs Mary Olsen and Javaro Sims took turns auditioning to succeed Goldman. Lauzier chose Sims.

Goldman, however, will leave Delray Beach on April 5, with Sims taking over during a change of command ceremony. A department spokeswoman said Goldman will become director of security services for American Express. Between now and then, Goldman will work with Sims on the transition.

The commission might have picked Assistant City Manager Caryn-Gardner Young. Since the other assistants have resigned or been suspended, however, Gardner-Young would have had to run everything herself.

And de Jesus had gone on the job for 11 months in 2017. Whatever one thinks of the firing, the commission had no good option for a replacement except de Jesus.

Boca finally to meet with Park District

The long-delayed meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District may happen next month.

According to a city spokeswoman, the city is trying to schedule the meeting for the week of April 22. District Chairman Bob Rollins told me Wednesday that his agency will ask the council to approve the site plan for Boca Raton’s new public golf course and ask council members for help with financing construction of Boca Raton National. The city already underwrote bonds for the district’s purchase of the property, which had been the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. Boca Raton also must approve the permits.

Rollins said he thinks that the council will like the design. “We’ve gone through eight months of questions” from residents. As for the financing part, Rollins said only that the district will “make an ask.” The agency is still discussing options for revenue, such as allowing a hotel on the roughly four acres where a hotel once stood.

In addition, the district is creeping closer to hiring a permanent executive director. Briann Harms, the former assistant director, has the job on an interim basis. Art Koski, who once functioned as executive director, attorney and project manager, now is under contract only to oversee completion of the course.

Rollins said the district has completed the job description and is working on a benefits package. When that’s done, the district will seek applicants.

BH3 upcoming update

(Rendering by BH3)

On Tuesday, Executive Director Jeff Costello will update the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency on negotiations with BH3.

At its Jan. 29 meeting, the CRA board chose the company to develop the roughly nine acres on West Atlantic Avenue next to the Fairfield Inn. The board gave CRA staff and BH3 60 days to draft a contract.

Costello said Wednesday that the talks are “going well.” Neil Schiller, BH3’s attorney, also sounded optimistic. The two sides, Schiller said, are “moving forward” and are “very close to signing.” The latest meeting was Wednesday.

To meet the 60-day deadline, Schiller said, the CRA might have to schedule a special meeting to discuss a contract. Costello would not comment beyond saying that he will “get direction” next week.

Plastic straws

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

The Delray Beach commissioners may have heard from legislators about the city’s new ban on plastic straws.

Senate Bill 588, which would impose a five-year moratorium on cities and counties from banning single-use plastic straws, passed its first committee vote on Monday. The House version was introduced this week as the Legislature opened its session.

Senate sponsor Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, said the moratorium would allow the state to study the issue. Other Republicans noted that advocates for the disabled have said that some of their clients can’t use paper straws.

Such concern is a dodge. Hutson and other are caving to the hospitality industry and its members who are less enlightened than the Delray Beach restaurant owners who support the ban. So does the chamber of commerce.

More important, Delray Beach’s ordinance allows exemption for a restaurant customer “based upon a medical or physical condition for which non-plastic straws would be unsuitable.” The exemption also covers hospitals and senior living facilities, since older people also may have difficulty using non-plastic straws.

SB 588, which for now would not be retroactive, is one more example of the Legislature’s willingness to preempt home rule at the urging of a powerful industry. Another bill would prevent local governments from banning sunscreens that harm coral reefs, which already are under threat from climate change.

Education task force

Boca Raton’s education task force will present its final report at Monday’s city council workshop meeting, but the conclusions may be anticlimactic.

The council formed the task force when concern over school crowding had become a political issue. Since then, the city and the school district have taken many steps to deal with the problem—donation of land, attendance crackdowns, more capacity. Full results won’t be apparent for perhaps three years, but the trend is good.

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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