The Ongoing Vaccine Mess, Talks on Delray City Manager & More

vaccine
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Boca West and eight other area country clubs have offered to serve as COVID-19 vaccination sites.

General Manager Matthew Linderman made the offer in a Tuesday letter to County Commissioner Robert Weinroth. The other signatories in this area are Broken Sound Country Club, St. Andrew’s Country Club, The Polo Club, Addison Reserve, Mizner Country Club, Woodfield Country Club and The Club at Boca Pointe. Joining them is Wycliffe Golf and Country Club in Wellington.

Each club, Linderman said, “has the physical space and staff to manage the logistical process of administering the vaccines” and “work alongside health professionals.” Thirty-five thousand residents of the clubs, the letter said, are 65 and over. On Dec. 23, Gov. DeSantis abruptly made all Floridians of that age eligible for the vaccine.

Weinroth forwarded the letter to County Administrator Verdenia Baker. “Please advise,” Weinroth asked Baker, “how we can begin the process of implementing this proposal.” His office, like those of his colleagues, Weinroth said, “is being overwhelmed by constituents demanding to be allowed access to the vaccine.”

We heard similar frustration at Tuesday’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting. Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked if there was any way to involve the city in vaccine distribution. At this point, there isn’t. Like those clubs, the city’s offer must wait for vaccine doses and guidance.

In an email to constituents, Weinroth said that the county health department has received 25,000 doses and has 7,100 remaining. “Consequently,” Weinroth said, “everyone cannot be vaccinated in a week or even a month —it will take time.”

Weinroth added, “This is an unprecedented pandemic that has presented a myriad of challenges. I am hopeful that in the coming weeks, the state’s vaccination plan will be more expedient as more shipments of the vaccines are received.”

As Weinroth asked for patience, The Washington Post reported that Morse Geriatric Center in West Palm Beach was vaccinating residents who also were big donors to the facility. How did Morse get those vaccines? A call to the center’s director was not returned.

“As we talk about equity in the vaccine process,” Weinroth said, “this does not help.”

Meanwhile, glitches continued with Palm Beach County’s vaccine appointment system. I reported Tuesday that an email to chd50feedback@flhealth.gov would generate a do-not-reply confirmation of receipt. That was true for a while. But Health Director Alina Alonso told me Wednesday that those replies stopped when the system hit 10,000 emails. Alonso said all emails are being logged and asked that senders not send repeat emails “because it only makes it worse. Our (technology department) is trying to see if we can increase that limit.”

When DeSantis issued his Dec. 23 executive order, he changed the supply-demand dynamic. Millions of people statewide want vaccinations from a system that has too few doses and got no help from the state or federal government to gear up for the demand.

So local officials—from the county administrator on down—can’t answer most of the public’s questions. I will update as developments warrant.

City Manager talks

delray

During Tuesday’s meeting, Delray Beach commissioners discussed the hiring of the next city manager. It didn’t go well.

They did agree that the next commission should choose the manager, even if the next commission has all the same members. Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson will remain. Petrolia and commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel have opponents in the March 9 election.

But how to make that choice? Johnson proposed that the commission basically turn the work over to a committee of residents whom the commission would appoint. Fortunately, that won’t happen.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin pointed out that such a committee would have to operate under state open-meeting and open-records laws. Johnson seemed not to have considered that. Colleagues also pointed out that Johnson’s plan would amount to the commission outsourcing its most important decision.

When hiring Don Cooper, Mark Lauzier and George Gretsas, the city retained a search firm that advertised the job, screened the applicants and recommended finalists to the commission. Petrolia wanted staffers to see how other cities handle the work. Or maybe the staff or commissioners know of a manager in a nearby city who’s looking for a new challenge.

At the follow-up meeting they agreed to hold, commissioners no doubt will hear from staff that well-run cities hire headhunters. They will hear that you can’t simply approach a manager about leaving. He or she won’t want to express interest publicly and risk alienating a current employer until there’s strong interest.

Johnson complained that recent searches have yielded poor candidates, since the commission fired Lauzier and Gretsas. Actually, both those searches yielded better candidates than when the commission picked Cooper in November 2014. The last one produced Gretsas and Michael Cernech, both of whom were running cities in South Florida. They were just the type of candidates commissioners said they wanted.

The problem is not the method. The problem is what happens when the manager enters the buzz saw of Delray Beach politics, which means that the real problem is the Delray Beach City Commission.

And the rules?

As the commission discussed the manager hiring, Frankel noted the 2014 charter change that allows a 3-2 vote to fire the manager, rather than the 4-1 supermajority most cities requires and Delray had required. Perhaps, Frankel said, it discourages people from applying.

Petrolia responded with some history.

When the commission put that proposal before the voters, Petrolia, then-Mayor Cary Glickstein and then-Commissioner Jordana Jarjura were trying to fire City Manager Louie Chapman for cause. They had a strong case, including a critical report on Chapman by the Office of Inspector General.

But neither Frankel nor then-Commissioner Al Jacquet would provide the necessary fourth vote. With the change to a 3-2 vote almost certain to pass, Chapman at last accepted a settlement offer.

Maybe Frankel is right about going back to the old rule. But the new rule is there in part because of him.

New hope for Doc’s

There’s been a potentially helpful development in the plan to preserve Doc’s All-American in Delray Beach.

Last month, the city commission unanimously rejected a proposal for a mixed-use project that combined the Doc’s site on North Swinton Avenue and the adjoining parcel on West Atlantic Avenue that’s now home to a Dunkin’ Donuts. The parcels had different owners, and the city’s legal department saw no way to ensure that the historic designation to save Doc’s would follow on one site if the commission approved the project on the other.

Since then, however, the owner of the West Atlantic parcel has bought the Swinton parcel. The city can deal with the same entity on the site plan and the necessary historic designation. Neil Schiller, who represents the applicant, said, “The issues are now aligned.”

So at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Boylston proposed that the commission reconsider the previous vote. Reconsideration must happen at the next meeting. Otherwise, the applicant would have to wait a year.

Boylston made clear that the commission wouldn’t be approving the project it had rejected. The move simply would allow the owner to start work sooner toward what Boylston noted is a city goal: saving Doc’s.

Frankel liked the idea. Petrolia didn’t. She complained that the issue had arisen at the end of a long meeting. She complained about “blindsidedness.”

The mayor was alert enough, however, to pull what looked like a trick.

Petrolia and Casale opposed the reconsideration. Johnson seemed unclear about her position. Petrolia quickly presumed that Johnson opposed the reconsideration, which would have meant that it failed, 3-2.

But Frankel asked how Johnson had voted. She finally said that she was for it, if reluctantly. The measure passed 4-1, with Casale oddly changing her vote.

Boylston suggested that the applicant meet with members of the historic trust and the historic preservation board to talk about the project. Schiller said Wednesday that his client is “very willing to do that.”

Petrolia perhaps missed the irony when she complained about issues arising near the end of meetings.

In April 2018, she brought up abolition of the community redevelopment agency. In November 2018, she brought up termination of the city attorney. In both cases, there was no notice. In both cases, she prevailed.

Clarification

I wrote Tuesday about the sale of the former Mizner Trail Golf Course to Concord Wilshire. The proposal to develop the 125 acres west of Boca Raton is a venture between Concord Wilshire and North American Development Group, based in West Palm Beach.