City Councilman Robert Weinroth shook up Boca Raton politics on Wednesday with his decision not to seek a second term in Seat D.
Instead, Weinroth (pictured above, left) will run for the District 4 seat on the Palm Beach County Commission. His opponent is Mayor Susan Haynie.
Because Boca Raton is the largest city in District 4, and because her record dates back for more than a decade, Haynie had appeared to be the heavy favorite. Haynie also is a Republican and the district leans GOP. Unlike city council races, county commission elections are partisan.
In late October, though, The Palm Beach Post published an article about the contract that a company owned by Haynie’s husband had with a Deerfield Beach condo. James and Marta Batmasian, Boca Raton’s largest private landowners, own 80 percent of the units.
Haynie obtained an advisory opinion in 2013 from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics that she could vote on matters involving the Batmasians. But BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro, whom Haynie defeated last March, has filed complaints with the county and state ethics commissions related to the votes and to Haynie’s financial disclosure forms.
Weinroth is betting that Haynie’s won’t emerge clean enough from those investigations to win. In an email Wednesday to the city council, city manager and city attorney, Weinroth said Haynie’s campaign “has faltered” and “it has been difficult for her to gain the traction necessary to mount an effective campaign” for the seat of Steven Abrams, who is term-limited after November.
Weinroth’s move most immediately affects the Seat D race. It had shaped up as one between Weinroth and Monica Mayotte, whom BocaWatch is backing. After Weinroth’s announcement, however, former Councilman Mike Mullaugh qualified for Seat D. So did Armand Grossman, who ran briefly in 2015 before withdrawing.
Mullaugh previously served for eight years on the council in Seat B, ending in 2017. He was appointed to fill out two years of a term and then won two three-year terms. Because Mullaugh will have sat out for a year after term limits kicked in, he can run again.
“I like the idea of being one of five voices setting policy in Boca Raton,” Mullaugh told me Wednesday. “I think the council should look out for the long-term interest of the city and that sometimes the focus is too narrow.
“And I have no desire to run for anything else.”
Though Weinroth had raised a remarkable $115,000, Mullaugh should be able to get a campaign running quickly. He has widespread respect and will be a tougher target for BocaWatch than Weinroth, even if Mullaugh’s positions tend to align more with the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, another object of criticism from BocaWatch.
So the presence of Grossman is interesting. Last year, a three-way race split the vote and helped put Andrea O’Rourke on the council. Since Grossman never has run, his positions aren’t known. A three-way race could help Mayotte as it helped O’Rourke.
There’s another Seat D candidate: Paul Preste. But it’s unclear whether he lives in the city.
Meanwhile, Seat B incumbent Jeremy Rodgers still faces what appears to be token opposition in Kim H. Do. She appeared at Monday’s meeting to ask people to vote, but otherwise has had no public profile.
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Speaking of the chamber, it will have to re-interview in Seat D. The group already had endorsed Weinroth.
Not just Haynie herself could see Weinroth’s challenge as a personal betrayal. Though Weinroth is a Democrat, he and Haynie have been political allies. They have used the same campaign consultants.
Assuming Haynie stays in the county commission race, the campaign could get nasty. It easily could spill over into the dynamic of the city council and thus the city’s business. In Delray Beach, two city commissioners—Jim Chard and Shelly Petrolia—are running for mayor, but they haven’t had a close political relationship.
If Haynie leaves the commission race and decides to serve out her term as mayor, there would be no special election for mayor next year. Councilman Scott Singer already is campaigning for that race. His kickoff event is next week. Former planning and zoning board member Glenn Gromann filed paperwork this week as well.
Even before this week, four of the five council members were running for something else. Now, two of them are running against each other. Hang on.
Ocean Breeze update
The deal for the former Ocean Breeze golf course in Boca Raton remains on, but it’s quite different.
At first, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District was going to pay $24 million for the entire, 200-acre site in Boca Teeca. The city would underwrite bonds for the purchase, with the district reimbursing the city each year for the bond payments.
Issues arose, however, about aspects of the deal. The city council discussed some of them during Monday’s workshop meeting. After that, City Manager Leif Ahnell and District Executive Director Art Koski worked out the terms of a new deal.
The district will buy the portion of Ocean Breeze that is east of Northwest Second Avenue for $5 million. The district will pay for the land out of reserves. The city will underwrite bonds for the $19 million purchase of the property that is west of Second Avenue. That land will become the main, 18-hole course, eventually replacing the western municipal course that the city is selling.
For the city, it means a slightly smaller financial commitment, although the district will be back for a separate bond underwriting to finance renovation of the closed course. City and district residents also will get discounts and tee time preferences at the new course, which the council had wanted. The district won’t own the western portion until the bonds are paid off and the city is fully reimbursed. The district also agreed to public attendance at the presentations by companies seeking to create the new course. And the city council will get input into the design.
For the district, it means control over property that includes a site for a hotel. Because private companies might use that land, there had been concern that using cheaper tax-exempt bonds might not have been legal.
With that control, and by paying cash, the district can try to make money off the property from activities tied to the golf course, such as a teaching academy. District Chairman Bob Rollins told me this week that differences between the city and district did turn on “revenue.”
When some issues were unresolved Monday, council members said they would be willing to meet Tuesday with the district commissioners. After the Ahnell-Koski meeting, the district will approve the deal on Tuesday and the council will do so at its Jan. 23 meeting. Closing on the sale is scheduled for Feb. 28.
Koski has said that acquiring and running the new course wouldn’t force the district to give up any current projects or raise taxes. That forecast, however, didn’t presume a $5 million hit to the district’s reserves.
In an email, board member Craig Ehrnst said the district “will need to reevaluate projects and prioritize. Between the city and the district, I think there are more than sufficient tax revenues and reserves. The golf course redevelopment decisions will need to be factored into the planning process.”
Board member Steven Engel said, “Our budgets have always provided for reserve funds. It’s my understanding that the money for the purchase of the eastern part of Ocean Breeze would come from these reserve funds and therefore not impact any projects we have pending.”
Rollins said the district’s financial consultant concluded that the $5 million wouldn’t affect projects such as the new swim and tennis center near Town Center Mall. He also noted that the district’s $1 million annual payment to the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency will end in 2019, freeing that money for other uses.
So now it’s on to remake Ocean Breeze into Boca National. This has all come together in less than two years. If everything works out, the city will have a better golf course that pleases residents and draws outsiders, and the city will have $65 million from selling the current course.
If you’re Mayor Haynie, Boca Raton and the Midtown property owners are “closer than it appears” to agreement on rules to govern redevelopment of the area east of Town Center Mall. If you’re Councilman Scott Singer, you believe that resolution remains more problematic.
That’s how things stood after the first hearing on Midtown at Monday’s council meeting. Before the council were two ordinances and three rezonings for the Planned Mobility District the city created in 2010 and for which, by state law, the city should have approved rules the next year.
Landowners object to city planners’ contention that a Tri-Rail station is built before construction of any residential units. The landowners call that distinction “arbitrary” and almost certainly will sue if the council approves such a restriction.
Landowners also object to the staff’s position that all new public works—sidewalks, streetlights, etc.—precede residential development. The landowners want that work to happen as part of the residential building. Otherwise, they say, the landowners might have to tear up something that didn’t fit with their plans.
The final major issue is building height. The city wants a cap of 105 feet. The landowners want 145 feet, the height of the tallest existing tower in Midtown.
Though council members resolved none of those issues Monday, they did move things forward.
No one supported the demand from Andrea O’Rourke for a “master plan” of Midtown before any action on the three items. The consensus was that the items themselves made up a master plan.
There also seemed to be general agreement that the public works requirement would be too restrictive. I also sensed agreement that the residential units be allocated by sector in Midtown, similar to the rules for downtown projects. Otherwise, less desirable projects could get priority just by applying first. This is a particular issue of Simon Property Group, which owns the mall that is about to undergo a major makeover.
As the major Midtown landowner, Crocker Partners has led discussions with the city. Angelo Bianco, the company’s managing partner, told me after the meeting that he’s “optimistic” even though the second and final public hearing looms on Jan. 23.
“We have a deadline,” Bianco said, “and that focuses everyone.” The landowners’ lawyers will meet with city officials on Thursday to discuss the next steps.
Pension reform update
Four years ago, police and fire pensions were a major issue in Boca Raton’s election.
Susan Haynie ran on a campaign of pension reform, Her opponent, Anthony Majhess, opposed reform. Majhess is a county firefighter.
Administrators had identified public safety pensions as a long-term financial problem. Negotiations with the unions stalled, leading the city to declare an impasse.
After more talks, the city and unions agreed to new contracts that gradually reduce pension benefits, with most of the changes affecting new and recent hires. Financial projections over 30 years showed that the changes made the fire and police pension funds more solvent, thus reducing the risk that the city might have to bail them out.
The contracts expired on Sept. 30. Negotiations went on, but this time they were calmer. Monday night, the city council approved a new, three-year contract with the International Association of Firefighters that will be retroactive to October. None of the key reforms changed, and the financial projections haven’t changed.
As with the old contract, Jeremy Rodgers was the only vote against the new deal. Rodgers believes that the terms, which include annual cost-of-living adjustments for pension payments, remain too generous.
According to a city spokeswoman, negotiations on the police contract—which also expired last fall—are proceeding, but slower.
Nursing home generators
Boca Raton’s push for generators at all adult living facilities in the city is losing steam.
Staff proposed the requirement after 14 residents died in a Hollywood nursing home that lost power after Hurricane Irma. Gov. Rick Scott wanted a similar requirement for every such facility in the state.
Boca Raton already had the requirement for new facilities. City Manager Leif Ahnell said at Monday night’s meeting during discussion of the ordinance that the city has approved three since the rule was in place.
All those facilities, though, are higher-end. Design also could incorporate the generator. But operators of existing facilities—especially non-profit groups— complained that the requirement would be excessive, and thus expensive. The city wants the generator to power 100 percent of the building. Operators also argue that they couldn’t meet the deadline of June 1, when hurricane season starts. One said that a powerful hurricane would tear off air-conditioning units anyway.
Ahnell noted that the proposal came in January, hinting that the operators have dragged out the discussion. The council seemed resigned to seeking some sort of short-term compromise after waiting to see what happens with the statewide rule. The legislative session ends in early March. The council agreed to delay a decision and gave no date taking up the ordinance again.
Boca Hospital gets a windfall
Board members of Boca Raton Regional Hospital put their money where they spend their time.
On Monday, the hospital announced $35 million in gifts toward Boca Regional’s $260 capital program that includes a parking garage and a makeover of the main building. Here’s the breakdown:
- $15 million will come from Christine E. Lynn, whose name is on the hospital’s institute for women’s health, where the announcements were made. She chairs the hospital’s board of trustees.
- $10 million will come from Barbara and Richard Schmidt and the Schmidt Family Foundation. Like Christine Lynn, they are among Boca Raton’s most generous philanthropists. Richard Schmidt is a past president of the hospital board.
- $10 million will come from Marilyn and Stanley Barry. He is chairman of the hospital foundation’s board.
At 400 beds, Boca Regional is far smaller than most hospitals that hold high-level aspirations. As CEO Jerry Fedele has acknowledged, however, Boca Regional is lucky to be in an area with outsized philanthropy compared to the population. Here is more evidence of that philanthropy, and it’s hardly the first for any of these donors. Lucky doesn’t begin to describe it.
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