Updates on issues in the news and the Tom Slade effect

tom-slade.jpg

Pictured: Tom Slade

Short Short list

And then there were five.

At a special meeting Tuesday the Delray Beach City Commission cut the list of city manager candidates from eight to five, which is the number of finalists the city’s consultant recommended. Commissioners are scheduled to interview the finalists one-on-one and as a group in two weeks before choosing the permanent manager.

Most of the choices are easy to understand. You knew that Interim Manager Terry Stewart would make the cut because the commission has been happy with his fill-in work for the last four months. The others are former Port St. Lucie City Manager Don Cooper, Assistant Broward County Administrator Roberto Hernandez, Lancaster (Pa.) County Administrator Andrea McCue and Boca Raton Assistant City Manager Mike Woika.

If one of the candidates drops out, the alternate is Pat Salerno, former city manager of Sunrise in Broward County and Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County. Salerno did big things at both places, but also had unhappy departures. In addition, the commission might have been concerned that Salerno in 2008 signed a contract to become city manager of Wichita, Kan., and then backed out.

Delray Beach soon will move on permanently from Louie Chapman because Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia pushed to remove Chapman last summer after two incidents in which he misled the commission and acted against the city’s interests. The commission had to approve a $73,000 buyout only because commissioners Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet refused to terminate Chapman for cause.

Interestingly, neither Frankel nor Jacquet was at the special meeting to trim the list of candidates. I contacted both to ask why, but I didn’t hear back. I’m told that Frankel was out of town. Jacquet, though, showed up for part of the regular meeting that followed the special meeting. Since choosing a manager is the most important thing a commissioner does—think board members choosing a CEO —one wonders what was competing for Jacquet’s time.

Boca Del Mar still on it

Palm Beach County has responded to the lawsuit by Boca Del Mar residents challenging the county commission’s approval last June of development on the former Mizner Trail Golf Course. The county’s argument is essentially this: We get to decide.

To get a court to review the decision, the plaintiffs—known collectively as the Boca Del Mar Improvement Association —must show that the commission ignored master plan rules by approving the 252 homes on roughly 127 acres. The county argues that approval was “supported by competent and substantial evidence,” and thus is not subject to legal review.

The county’s “competent and substantial evidence” includes the 5-4 vote in favor of the project by the Zoning Commission and changes that reduced the number of homes from 288 to 253 and added eight acres of open space, changed the housing mix and added landscaping and buffers to minimize the impact on existing homes. Problem is, the owners of those existing homes don’t want any development, no matter how overgrown the property has become. As County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who represents the area and voted against the development, said, the neighbors “like their own little Serengeti” more than the prospect of townhouses.

Indeed, the residents contend that a 2008 court ruling from a previous attempt to build on the property concluded that the property had no inherent development rights, since the open space was required for approval of the overall Boca Del Mar plan more than 40 years ago. In its current response, though, the county argues that the court ruling has “no value whatsoever” because at that time the county was opposing a particular development plan, not development of the site.

Finally, the county argues, “Absent some easement or other contractual or statutory requirement, the property owner has no legally cognizable right to a view.” If that legal view prevails, the county will have set a major precedent, given the number of shaky golf courses.

The residents dispute the idea that the changes summarized above make the project legal, thus justifying the staff’s decision to recommend approval of the new version, having rejected the old one in January. The staff, the residents claim, “merely accepted arguments that it previously had rejected.”

The residents also dispute the county’s interpretation of the 2008 court ruling, contending that the county was opposing all development, not just that plan—one of several—to build on the golf course. The residents further argue that the county based its argument six years ago on the master plan, not the deed restriction, and now can’t have it both ways.

Complicated? Yes, in some ways. But in another way, it’s simple: Has Palm Beach County illegally granted development rights? Given what’s at stake, the arguments should continue.

Still not all on board

Though votes this week in Miami-Dade and Brevard counties will help All Aboard Florida secure financing for its Miami-Orlando passenger rail service, there is no sign that opponents are letting up.

The Coast Guard had scheduled hearings for this month to get public comment on how All Aboard Florida’s 32 trains a day will affect navigation. Bridges that otherwise would be locked down will have to be raised each time a train passes. That isn’t a problem between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, but it could be a problem for the New River in Fort Lauderdale, and it could be a big problem for the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie rivers in northern Palm Beach County and Martin County.

The Coast Guard delayed the hearings and has not set new dates. You can assume that the reason for the delay was that officials expected a lot of comment and that most of it would be negative. It seems unlikely that the hearings will take place before Election Day.

All Aboard Florida is a major issue in the District 16 U.S. House race between incumbent Patrick Murphy and Carl Domino. Despite all the federal issues to argue about, Murphy and Domino are competing to show who could stop All Aboard Florida. In fact, neither could. If the company gets its (now private) financing and the Coast Guard signs off—perhaps after issuing conditions to minimize delays to navigation—All Aboard Florida will start running as planned in 2016.

The Slade Effect

Republicans hold commanding margins in the Florida House and Senate. Republicans have won the last four elections for governor. The state’s congressional delegation includes 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Yet in the early 1990s, things were much different. Democrats had controlled the Legislature for decades, and Florida had elected just two Republican governors since Reconstruction: Claude Kirk in 1966 and Bob Martinez in 1986. Each lasted just one term.

Many factors explain the shift. A big one was Tom Slade, the former state senator who served as state Republican chairman from 1993 to 1999. Mr. Slade, brother of former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel, died this week. He was 78.

Slade made it his business to get Jeb Bush elected governor. Despite a campaign he dubbed “Operation Wipeout,” Slade failed in 1994 against Democratic icon Lawton Chiles—whom Slade never could beat, and to whom Slade paid tribute when Chiles died near the end of his second term. But by 1996, Republicans had control of the Florida House.

For the 1998 campaign, Slade cleared the GOP primary field for Bush. Slade persuaded Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford to endorse Bush—in exchange for the GOP not running a strong challenger to Crawford. Slade even lobbied GOP legislators to back off a phone deregulation bill that he thought would have been unpopular with voters. (It passed in 2003.)

In the 1998 election, Republicans won the Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature for the first time in modern state history. The 2014 governor’s race is close, but there won’t be much change in that legislative dominance. These days, Democrats must be wishing for their own Tom Slade.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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.