New Delray Commission Alliances Take Shape, Boca Talks Trash and Other News

Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia

The Delray Beach City Commission may not know exactly how it wants to run the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), but the commission majority made clear Tuesday night that it wants the running to start now.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Adam Frankel and Shirley Ervin Johnson first voted to add a pair of members to the CRA board with Petrolia and the four commissioners. Commissioner Ryan Boylston then proposed that the commission wait two weeks to make the actual appointments. Doing so, he said, would allow as many residents as possible to apply.

Petrolia seems inclined to agree, but then she pivoted. The commission would choose that night from among people who already had applied. And we saw again the alliances of the new commission.

Boylston nominated Connor Lynch, son of former Delray Beach Mayor Tom Lynch and a leading civic and business figure. Bill Bathurst voted yes, but Petrolia, Frankel and Johnson voted no.

Johnson then nominated former Commissioner Angeleta Gray, who ran Johnson’s campaign last year. The same three who voted against Lynch supported Gray. I had foreseen this in my Tuesday post. Gray and Petrolia once were political opponents. Petrolia campaigned against Johnson. All apparently have become allies.

Frankel then nominated Pamela Brinson, who ran against Gray in 2014 when she lost her reelection bid to Jordana Jarjura. In the city’s new alignment, though, things have changed. The new majority supported Brinson. So did Bathurst, though it seemed he did so more as an attempt at collegiality. Boylston voted no.

“It felt very choreographed,” Boylston told me.

Indeed it did. As Boylston noted, the commission has had “zero workshops” on structure and staffing of the CRA after the commission takeover.

“We have no plan in place.”

Johnson’s stated goal for expanding the board was to have ample representation from the northwest and southwest neighborhoods that the commission wants the CRA to prioritize. Johnson lives in the northwest neighborhood, and Gray and Brinson are in the southwest.

That priority, however, came from the whole commission. Tuesday’s moves seem more designed to solidify Petrolia’s control. With the mayor agreeing, the commission made Petrolia CRA chairman. She will run all commission and CRA meetings.

It’s an odd new alliance. In 2014, having won office the year before as a reformer, Petrolia supported Jarjura against Gray. Petrolia especially had targeted the commission’s 2012 vote to extend the trash-hauling contract without seeking bids.

Gray voted for that extension, dismissing criticism that bidding would have produced a better deal. “Some say we left money on the table. There’s no proof the price would have come back lower if we sent it out for bid.”

Actually, there was proof soon after. Petrolia and others got the contract overturned. The new one saved customers roughly $8 million.

That Jarjura-Gray race split Delray Beach’s minority residents. By abolishing the CRA, the commission under Petrolia has frozen out those who backed Jarjura and given influence to those who backed Gray.

Delray Beach doesn’t know what’s ahead. But residents now understand who’s in charge.

Trash talk in Boca

While many in Boca Raton focus on the suspension of former Mayor Susan Haynie and the resultant special election on Aug. 28, the city is moving toward a big decision on a basic service.

That would be trash pickup in residential areas. Former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein called it “the daily little miracle: You put out your garbage, and in the morning it’s gone.” If the miracle doesn’t happen, residents get mad and go right to their elected officials.

A year ago, Municipal Services Director Dan Grippo told the city council that Boca Raton could not maintain trash pickup as a city service without considerable expense. The city would need new trucks and more space. At this year’s goal-setting session, Grippo estimated the capital cost at between $10 million and $20 million. Maintenance adds to the ongoing expense.

It’s also hard, Grippo said, to find “qualified” drivers. The city has eight vacancies.

So city administrators are preparing a Request For Proposal that will seek bids for the residential pickup. The proposal does not involve commercial pickup. Nor does it include pickup in the Midtown areas, which the city annexed 15 years ago. The city already outsources that under a separate contract, and the agreement will continue.

The question, though, is what happens when the proposals come back? The city council has taken no vote on whether to outsource, but the staff is working off “direction” from council members’ comments.

In an email, Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said the bids would be “evaluated,” with a recommended company going to the council for consideration “in early fall.” As for a policy decision, O’Rourke said “if” the council chooses to award the contract and outsource, the shift would happen next March or April.

Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers remembers things this way: “I believe the general council consensus guidance was to outsource. I wasn’t very in favor of privatizing at the time.”

Rodgers later emailed to say, “I reread your questions, and I don’t think any decision was final until we look at the RFP.” Rodgers also noted that Councilwoman Monica Mayotte has joined the council since the issue arose last year.

There is little doubt in Mayor Scott Singer’s mind: “The council has not yet decided whether to contract, but rather only to pursue an RFP. We will decide more after seeing the responses.”

Though development and school safety likely will dominate the special election campaigns for mayor and council, the decision on trash has more potential to affect every Boca Raton resident. Outsourcing might save money, but the city also would lose direct control over trash hauling, which could mean a slower response to problems. The city does plan to keep vegetation pickup and thus retain control over debris collection after a hurricane.

Trash-hauling contracts typically run for several years and are very lucrative. Even though the council hasn’t made a final decision, you might see contributions to the Aug. 28 candidates from companies that want Boca Raton’s business.

Delray parking plan

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Downtown Delray at night. Photo provided by the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority.

Delray Beach has a downtown parking plan.

The city commission approved it Tuesday night, acknowledging that it likely will need tweaking but wanting to get started. Good move. The decision means that tweaking can happen before the next high season.

Though commissioners mostly approved the rules and fees that City Manager Mark Lauzier had proposed, they made one notable change. There will be just one downtown zone, from Swinton Avenue to the Intracoastal Waterway and one block north and south of Atlantic Avenue.

Lauzier’s memo had proposed a separate zone for the block off Atlantic. Merchants and residents said that would lead to confusion as drivers moved their vehicle from one zone to another. The change simplifies the plan.

The city still needs a plan for how residents can use garages for their vehicles under the new law. There must be a program for downtown employees.

“We’re 75 percent of the way,” Commissioner Ryan Boylston said, “and that’s good enough to start.” Regarding the first-ever fee for parking on Atlantic Avenue, he said, “At $2 an hour, it’s a steal.” The city will not write tickets for the first month.

Any plan, Boylston said, “is based on assumptions.” On Monday, almost 10 years after declaring the need for a downtown parking plan, Delray Beach will begin to learn how solid those assumptions are.

Delray quiet zone

Another new feature of downtown Delray Beach is the absence of train horns. The city’s quiet zone took effect last weekend, just after Boca Raton’s.

The change is welcome, but it comes with concern. Brightline trains hit the Atlantic Avenue crossing at nearly 80 miles per hour. People who have been wining and dining will have to remember that the trains will approach with only the warning of the gates and lights. Don’t take a shortcut across the tracks.

Boca rec fees

It’s another light Monday coming up for the Boca Raton City Council acting as the community redevelopment agency and for its workshop meeting.

Expect lively discussions at the workshop, however, about parks and recreation fees for non-residents. Many city programs don’t have space to meet demand. This issue always generates very emotional comment from parents.

In addition, the council will discuss Boca Bash, which draws boaters to Lake Boca Raton every year. It’s not a city event and the council has no direct control, but a participant’s death this year brought calls for the council to ask organizers to make changes.

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