Monday, December 4, 2023

Mizner Arts Center Approved and Boca High School Gets Swatted

Boca Raton has approved the lease for a performing arts center in Mizner Park.

It happened Wednesday during a special meeting of the community redevelopment agency, which owns the parcel next to the Mizner Park Amphitheater. Afterward, the city council approved the ordinance that will implement the lease.

Even though the city and The Center for Arts & Innovation (TCA&I) had agreed on what appeared to be the last remaining issue—liability—things didn’t go smoothly.

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte proposed an amendment related to how much money TCA&I would have to raise and when. The main issue for the city has been ensuring that the center would have enough money not just for construction but for operating expenses in the first years without having to ask the city for financial help.

Mayotte’s amendment required TCA&I to have 75 percent of the construction costs three years after approval of the lease. That didn’t cause much controversy.

Then Mayor Scott Singer went back to his issue of how much the project would cost, given pandemic-related inflation. He wanted a consultant to review TCA&I’s estimates. Perhaps, he suggested, there should be a construction analysis before the council voted.

Singer’s comment drew a rebuke from Andrea O’Rourke, who has been the project’s most vocal supporter. At every point, O’Rourke said, “We keep moving the goalposts.” Never, she said, had the city asked for consultants. That drew applause from the project’s supporters in the audience.

As the council and TCA&I discussed other amendments to the agreement, Mayotte— running the meeting as CRA chairwoman—understated, “This is getting confusing.” Eventually, however, the council approved the lease 4-1.

Singer dissented, but he expressed support for the project. “I want to help you get there.” O’Rourke responded that after all the discussion, the city had to take what she considered a reasonable risk. “You have to jump off the ledge.”

Boca High School swatted, placed on red alert

Emergency response at Boca Raton High School Tuesday morning

On Tuesday, Boca Raton High School became another sign of these sad times.

A caller claimed that a shooter was on the campus. School officials went to a Code Red—basically a lockdown, the highest alert. Out went texts from students to parents, who converged on the campus.

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri represents Boca Raton. Barbieri said Wednesday that Superintendent Mike Burke called to say that it had been a crank call. At a function Tuesday night, Barbieri heard more reports that the call came from outside the country.

It wasn’t just Boca Raton. Similar calls—known as “swatting”—went to schools in Broward—where officials shut down all high schools—and Miami-Dade counties. They went to five counties outside South Florida, spanning the state from Naples to Orlando. There was speculation that the calls were timed to coincide with closing arguments in the penalty phase of the man who killed 17 and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Despite the disruption and panic, Barbieri said he had received no emails or calls accusing Boca High administrators of overreacting by assuming the worst. “I’d probably getting emails if they hadn’t.”

Weinroth fundraising shows no signs of slowing

County Commissioner Robert Weinroth

Though he has outraised his opponent by more than 10 to one, County Commissioner Robert Weinroth hasn’t let up in his fundraising efforts.

Weinroth, a Democrat whose district includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach, took in roughly $34,000 from Sept. 10 to Sept. 23. According to the most recent report, Weinroth has raised $355,000 for his attempt at a second, four-year term. Republican Marcia Woodward has raised $44,000.

Of Weinroth’s latest donations, $4,000 came from entities associated with Boca Raton-based developer Compson Associates. Another $2,000 from U.S. Sugar, which is based in Clewiston south of Lake Okeechobee.

Woodward just got $11,000 from the Republican Party of Palm Beach County. In this swing district, Weinroth in 2018 also had a huge advantage in money and name recognition, but he won by just eight points and got outpolled on Election Day. Early and mail-in votes supplied his margin of victory.

Delray officer charged with threatening police

Here’s irony for you. Delray Beach Police Officer Peter Sosa has been charged with interfering with and threatening law enforcement officers.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Sosa—a 12-year veteran of the department —drove over a five-inch hose on Oct. 2 when Palm Beach County firefighters were trying to put out a blaze in suburban Lake Worth. Sosa lives two houses away from the one that was burning.

After deliberately running over the hose and ignoring sheriff’s deputies at the scene, investigators said, Sosa sought to “flee the area” by attempting to run over one of the deputies who was providing crowd control. When the deputy pursued Sosa, he allegedly braked his vehicle so hard and so quickly that the deputy had to swerve to avoid him. The report concludes that Sosa’s action was deliberate.

From that incident, Sosa faces four charges, including failure to obey a law enforcement officer and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. But it doesn’t stop there.

Four days after the incident, prosecutors sought to revoke Sosa’s bond. The state attorney’s office alleged that Sosa had contacted the victim—the deputy he allegedly tried to run over—the arresting officer and the arresting officer’s ex-spouse.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Howard Coates declined to rule on that motion until Sosa’s arraignment on Oct. 21. But Coates ordered that Sosa have no contact with the victim or the deputies who were witnesses.

The department has placed Sosa on leave.

Boca Helping Hands names building after benefactor

During a 1 p.m. ceremony today, Boca Helping Hands will name a warehouse for Sun Capital Partners. The Boca Raton-based private equity firm has donated $1 million to one of the city’s leading charitable organizations.

According to a news release, a recent $100,000 gift brought the company’s lifetime donations to that seven-figure level. The Sun Capital Annex, as it will be called, is a warehouse at Boca Helping Hands’ main facility.

Such gifts, the news release said, have allowed Boca Helping Hands to triple its budget and staff over the last decade. The group now serves 27,000 people in southern Palm Beach County.

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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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