Monday, September 25, 2023

60 Minutes Fallout & Boca’s Wildflower Costs Climb

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story accusing Gov. DeSantis of a “pay-to-play” COVID-19 vaccine rollout momentarily became local news.

A key part of the segment —which also examined popup sites in affluent communities with ties to DeSantis and an early 1,000 doses to Palm Beach—discusses the governor’s decision in January to put Publix in charge of vaccinations in Palm Beach County. DeSantis claimed that he did so after consulting with county officials. But County Administrator Verdenia Baker and others dispute that account, saying the announcement surprised them.

The controversy prompted a testy exchange Tuesday between County Mayor Dave Kerner and Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. Kerner backed DeSantis’ story. McKinlay claimed that the governor had not been truthful.

McKinlay added that giving exclusivity to Publix deprived residents of towns around Lake Okeechobee —whom she represents—of an early chance to get vaccinated because Publix has no stores in the Glades.

Commissioner Mack Bernard was in the meeting with Kerner and the governor. Speaking Wednesday, he recalled hearing DeSantis talk about Publix as a potential option but making no commitment.

Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, waded in during Tuesday’s meeting. He called on CBS to apologize for the “60 Minutes” piece, titled “How the Wealthy Cut the Line During Florida’s Frenzied Vaccine Rollout.” On Wednesday, however, Weinroth—a Democrat—said he wasn’t defending the Republican governor. He was defending the county.

“This is a non-partisan issue,” Weinroth said. “My point is that we saw that Publix wasn’t going to meet all the needs out there, so we adjusted and moved quickly.”

Not only does Publix have no stores in Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, the company’s store in Riviera Beach—a minority-heavy city—was not part of the vaccine program. In other coastal cities, such as Delray Beach, Publix has no stores in minority neighborhoods.

When those gaps became clear, Weinroth said, county officials called the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Vaccine sites then appeared in the Glades and in underserved areas on the coast.

Weinroth praised Director Jared Moskowitz for being “constantly available over the phone.” The two worked to create a program for vaccinating Holocaust survivors.

“60 Minutes” linked the Publix decision to the company’s $100,000 donation to DeSantis’ reelection campaign. DeSantis denied it. So did Moskowitz. According to CBS, neither would consent to an interview.

Still, no one has explained why the governor chose Palm Beach County for the Publix experiment. The decision, which the governor made with no warning, caused the county health department to cancel appointments scheduled for dates after all new doses would be going to Publix.

CBS stands by the story. DeSantis is fundraising off the controversy, slamming the “New York corporate media.” Weinroth said the county commission will focus on getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

Pop-Up Sites


As part of that focus, Bernard helped secure vaccines for a popup site at Mount Olive Church in Delray Beach. Bernard’s district includes portions of the city. Mount Olive, which dates to 1896, advertises itself as the oldest Black Baptist church in southern Palm Beach County.

Delray Beach Police Chief Javaro Sims contacted Bernard about getting more doses to underserved parts of the city. Previously, the county had directed 200 doses to the fire department.

On March 27, 600 shots of the one-time Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered. With all adults now eligible and supplies more plentiful, perhaps sites like this one will be more routine.

Wildflower costs

Is the Boca Raton City Council willing to pay as much as $10.3 million for Wildflower/Silver Palm Park?

That is the guaranteed maximum price by West Palm Beach-based Burkhardt Construction in its draft proposal to the city. Council members will discuss the proposal at Monday’s workshop meeting.

The budget for the park, on either side of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge along the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, had been $6.8 million. Neither figure includes the cost of a new seawall on the Wildflower property, north of the bridge and named for the nightclub that stood there in the 1980s. Neither figure includes the bill for EDSA, the company that designed the park.

Burkhardt proposes a profit of roughly $640,000. The budget includes a contingency fund of about $530,000. It does not include the cost of obtaining permits.

The company based its proposal on construction starting in May. The numbers are good only through December, suggesting that the cost could be higher if the start is delayed and the work takes longer.

Add the $7.5 million that Boca Raton paid for just the 2.3-acre Wildflower site in 2009 and you have quite a lot of money for what looks like a neighborhood park, despite supporters touting it as the city’s next great gathering spot. Council members approved the purchase with the idea of leasing the land to bring in revenue. Negotiations with Hillstone Restaurant Group ended when voters in 2016 approved a referendum banning such use.

According to a city spokeswoman, it is “unlikely” that work on the park will finish this year. The council will discuss “priorities” for the park on Monday.

Delray-Highland Beach Fire Rescue

Delray Beach and Highland Beach are still circling each other on the question of fire-rescue services.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission put off any discussion until next week’s workshop meeting. Also on Tuesday, the Highland Beach Town Commission scheduled the issue for its April 20 meeting. Peggy Gossett-Seidman said she and her four commission colleagues are researching “different areas” of the contract and aren’t finished.

Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia had scheduled the item for Tuesday. Despite the delay, she weighed in.

Highland Beach, Petrolia said, might not want to pay for the standard that Delray Beach has set. The city now assigns three paramedics per truck. If Highland Beach doesn’t want to take on that expense, Petrolia seemed to suggest, the town should go its own way.

Delray Commission Goes Live

Delray Beach will resume in-person meetings on May 4. At Tuesday’s meeting, city commissioners agreed to switch from the virtual format that the city has used for much of the last year. The shift would have taken effect for the April 20 meeting, but City Attorney Lynn Gelin cautioned that some notices advertising the virtual format already might have gone out.

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Randy Schultz
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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