Saturday, October 1, 2022

PBC School Board’s Investigation and Delray’s Budget Dilemma

The first part of the grand jury report that Gov. DeSantis used to suspend four Broward County School Board members wasn’t about Broward County.

It was about Palm Beach County.

In journalism, we call that burying the lead. The recommendation of the suspensions made news statewide. Much of the report dealt with what the grand jury considered lapses that led to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The grand jury has been investigating school district compliance with the post-Stoneman Douglas law that required a police officer or armed staff member at every school. This district has its own police department. Like other counties, though, Palm Beach didn’t have an officer for each campus immediately after the shooting.

Though the Legislature appropriated some money for districts, it wasn’t enough to cover roughly 240 traditional public schools and charter schools in Palm Beach County. The school board then rejected the idea of arming teachers in non-charter schools.

So the district contracted with a private firm, Invictus, to train security guards at charter schools. A year later, a sheriff’s office report slammed the company, calling the program a failure. After that, the sheriff’s office took over the training.

According to the grand jury report, the district spent “a significant amount of taxpayer money” to hire Invictus. Actually, it was about $97,000. After a lawsuit and a counterclaim, the district settled the litigation last February by paying Invictus $75,000. The new report asks why the district paid a private contractor when the sheriff’s office was available. At the time, though, the office wasn’t providing such training.

The report states, “One would think that important events like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shootings (sic) and their attendant loss of life would have made the stakes of failure clear and drove (sic) the various entities responsible for our children’s education and security to find cooperative solutions, but it appears that at least some officials within (the district and sheriff’s office) would rather engage in turf wars that produce no winners.” In fact, there was much confusion about how to implement the law. 

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri told me Wednesday that state investigators visited the district recently. The department’s inspector general will come “soon.” Another state official will be here Friday for a meeting.

“We welcome him,” Barbieri said. The district now contracts with the sheriff’s office to cover about 20 schools. The grand jury also excoriated the Broward board for poor oversight of the district’s construction program, but Palm Beach County builds schools on time and on or under budget, as an oversight committee regularly concludes. Of the state investigation, Barbieri, said, “I’m not sure what anyone can find.”

Delray’s budget dilemma

This month, cities hold two public hearings on their budgets. The meetings normally are free of controversy, since budget workshop meetings—no votes, just discussion— have come earlier and officials can meet regularly with city managers and budget directors. There almost never are surprises.

Then there’s Delray Beach.

During Tuesday’s first public hearing, city commissioners were asking line-by-line questions. Commissioner Ryan Boylston warned that he might vote against adoption of next year’s budget. City Manager Terrence Moore finally coaxed preliminary approval by a vote of just 3-2.

For Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Juli Casale, the issue was the police contract they had voted against. Casale claimed that the higher salaries in the contract meant that police captains were making more than department heads such as the utilities director. She referred to that as “compression.”

Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel disagreed. Boylston told me Wednesday that Casale’s definition of “compression” was inaccurate. “Compression,” he said, “is when subordinates are making more than the department head.” If disparity is a problem, he said, give department heads raises.

Boylston’s complaint was that the budget includes roughly $3 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) that Congress passed last year. That money, Boylston said, should go for something “transformational.” The city could make up the difference by taking the same amount from reserves, which still would leave an acceptable amount in the rainy-day fund.

“What we’re doing is wrong,” Boylston said. The city can’t argue this year that the pandemic is cutting revenue. If the ARP money stays in, Boylston said, he still might approve the budget, but he wouldn’t commit to doing so.

The city must have a budget by Sept. 30. The next hearing is on Sept. 19.

CRA to consider downtown townhouse project

On Monday, acting as the community redevelopment agency, the Boca Raton City Council will consider a proposed downtown townhouse project.

Reve del Mizner would be five, three-story homes just south of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church. The 0.4-acre site at Boca Raton Road and Mizner Boulevard is vacant. The developer bought it last July for $1.9 million.

City planners recommend approval, with minor conditions. The planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval. The developer already has a sales office that touts the project as an “ultra-premium townhome community” that is “part of the city’s urban evolution.”

Boca to discuss tenant notice rule

for rent
Photo by David Gales – stock.adobe.com

During Monday’s workshop meeting, city council members will discuss the new county rule that requires landlords to give tenants written notice 60 days before cancelling or non-renewing a lease or raising rents more than five percent.

Code enforcement officers would enforce the law. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte asked for the discussion. The law allows cities to opt out if they want. Mayotte wants to examine the law “to see how we would like to proceed.”

Road closings in Boca

The railroad crossing at East Palmetto Park Road in downtown Boca Raton will be closed on Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. because of construction on the nearby Brightline station. The crossing at Northwest Second Street will be closed on Sept. 17 and Sept. 23 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Detour signs will be posted.

Rebecca Mayotte and Nicky Mill married in Aspen

Boca Raton resident/tennis legend Chris Evert wasn’t with the ESPN broadcast team at the U.S. Open last weekend. Instead, she was in Aspen, Col., for the wedding of her middle son—Nicky Mill—to Rebecca Mayotte, Councilwoman Mayotte’s daughter.

Rebecca Mayotte is a sommelier at two restaurants in Aspen. Nicky Mill is a fly-fishing guide and podcaster who often collaborates with his father, ex-Olympic skier Andy Mill.

Mayotte said Evert, who underwent treatment for ovarian cancer, is cancer-free and is taking as many “opportunities as she can to spread the word about cancer screenings.” Evert has credited a prompt screening after her sister’s fatal cancer case for catching hers when it was still in Stage 1.

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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