The Seat of Power in Boca

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Boca hasn’t turned over a new Leif in 15 years. During that time, the city manager has Become more than a fixture; he’s become an institution. As part of this issue’s feature on the people and entities that drive our local agendas, veteran journalist randy schultz (author of “city watch” at Bocamag.com) examines this unique consolidation of power.

Who runs Boca Raton? The discussion starts and mostly ends with the most powerful unelected local official in Palm Beach County—a man who also may be more powerful than any elected official.

Leif Ahnell has been Boca’s city manager for 15 years. In addition, Ahnell is director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which oversees downtown Boca. No other manager in the county has such a dual role, and Ahnell has it in the county’s second-largest city. Delray Beach has a separate CRA director, as do Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach.

Ahnell has no vote on the council. But neither does Mayor Jeri Muoio in West Palm Beach, the county’s only city with a strong-mayor system. Like Muoio, though, Ahnell hires all staff members and shapes the agenda for city council meetings and CRA meetings, when the council serves as the CRA board. Like a strong mayor, Ahnell controls the staff reports and recommendations that shape council votes.

But where Muoio must face the voters next year if she wants a second term, Ahnell rarely faces public criticism from Boca council members. He doesn’t face formal, written evaluations. And unlike West Palm Beach’s strong mayor, Ahnell doesn’t have to worry about term limits.

For more, pick up the December issue of Boca Raton magazine.