What’s Lauzier Thinking? What’s Up With Brightline?

brightline

During his shakedown period since early November as Delray Beach’s city manager, Mark Lauzier has been pleased to discover this: “What I thought I needed to focus on is what I need to focus on.”

We spoke just before the holidays. Lauzier had moved into a house in the Oakmont neighborhood. His wife was back in Tacoma, Wash., where Lauzier had been an assistant city manager, supervising the move. Lauzier was going “all over town taking the pulse.”

Lauzier listed his priorities as:

  • “Assessing the organization and senior staff”;
  • “Meeting with as many stakeholders”—groups and individuals—“as possible. I still have quite a few to go.” Pause. “There are a lot of them”;
  • “Knowing the breadth and scope” of services Delray Beach provides. Each city’s menu is different, but Delray Beach’s offerings cover everything. Lauzier also must get to know the people and operations of the community redevelopment agency. Its boundaries include 20 percent of the city, including the downtown area that is the heart of Delray Beach’s tax base.

Some of Lauzier’s efforts involve what one might call Management Speak. He wants employees to know the city’s “values” and boil their work to “the simplest essence” and thus make it easier to deliver the best services. He is stressing “teamwork” and “responsibility.”

Already, though, Lauzier has identified a specific problem. Not only is his point dead-on, in making it Lauzier shows a willingness to be blunt with his bosses.

“The city commission,” Lauzier said, “has had more of a role in operational matters than is healthy.” Translation: The five supposed policymakers have been micromanaging city government. “We’re going to talk about that” when the new commission takes office after the March elections. “We’re going to have that conversation: ‘Here is your role.’”

It happens in Boca Raton, too, but especially in Delray Beach small clusters of residents can have outsized influence if they complain to commissioners, ask for help with a project or suggest an idea. Two or three hundred votes can tip an election. Add the social media natterers and you can see why Delray Beach politics cause some campaign consultants to reject any business in the city.

“Once a position is decided” by the commission, Lauzier said, “it’s never over.” Example: the special events policy, which staff continues to tweak. Rather than be able to move to the next issue, “We have to spend so much time defending” those decisions from “unproven” criticism.

Perhaps in part because of that municipal affliction, Lauzier won’t fill the second assistant manager position. He is changing the position to assistant to the city manager. The person will analyze policy and serve as a sort of chief of staff. Lauzier said he and Caryn Gardner-Young, with whom he worked in Parkland, can split supervision of departments between themselves.

While he assesses the leaders of those departments, Lauzier wants to shore up the long-decayed basic parts of running a city, notably purchasing and information technology. By the end of January, he hopes that Delray Beach finally can take permit applications online.

In general, though, Lauzier is optimistic about how his first two months have gone. “I think morale is good. The process is going well. People want instant results. It’s a big challenge, but I’m enjoying the work.”

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Brightline delays

Nothing about the new Brightline train service is easy.

All Aboard Florida was scheduled—maybe—to begin passenger travel this week between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. That’s a very modest beginning for a service planned to run between Orlando and Miami.

As of Friday, though, All Aboard Florida also still hadn’t announced ticket prices or schedules. Is this any way to run a railroad?

For most people who live near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, however, the biggest question has been the “quiet zone” safety improvements that will remove the need for the new passenger trains and the existing freight trains to blow their horns. I had reported that it would take only three weeks after Brightline began service for the quiet zone to take effect.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. There has been much confusion over this. So I checked with Nick Uhren, executive director of the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency. Uhren has been monitoring the work.

In an email, Uhren said, “All safety upgrades … are in place” for Brightline service to begin this week. But before the quiet zone can become “operational,” Uhren added, “additional supplemental safety measures are required to be installed at various at grade crossings throughout the corridor … Brightline is constructing these additional improvements on behalf of the local governments, but there is still coordination and construction work needed to complete them.”

Only after this work is done can cities file notice of the quiet zone with the Federal Railway Administration. The quiet zone takes effect 21 days after that.

Word has gone out that it could take between four and six months to complete those additional improvements. Brightline’s contractor is doing the work, and Brightline is offering no more details than the company has offered about schedules and ticket prices.

City officials may complain, but they have almost no leverage. Brightline’s parent company owns the rail corridor and the right-of-way. The railroad was here before any of the cities. All Aboard Florida pretty much gets to do what it wants.  Local governments in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties have tried unsuccessfully to block Brightline service between West Palm Beach and Orlando. There won’t be a station in the Treasure Coast, but there will be 32 extra trains a day.

South Florida cities, however, mostly have said nice things about Brightline because they hope that the service will lead to commuter rail service on the coast. But if All Aboard Florida’s performance on the quiet zones is any indication, perhaps we shouldn’t be too optimistic.

Back-to-back meetings

The Boca Raton City Council will hold all three of its meetings today—the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meeting, the council workshop and the regular council meeting. The council moved up the usual Tuesday regular meeting so members could attend Palm Beach County Day in Tallahassee as the Legislature opens its session.

The CRA agenda is light. The workshop agenda includes an update on a possible water taxi and a more important discussion of the agreement that will govern purchase of the former Ocean Breeze golf course.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District has a contract to buy the course for $24 million. The district doesn’t have enough cash for the sale, so the city council agreed to underwrite the bonds. The district would reimburse the city for the annual payments.

As Deputy City Manager George Brown notes in a memo, District Executive Director Art Koski raised 14 issues with the city’s draft of the agreement. Brown said six points have been resolved. Among the unresolved issues:

  • Discounts and preferential tee times for city and district residents. The city wants them. Koski doesn’t, saying they could depress revenue at the new course. But those perks exist at the city’s western course that the new Ocean Breeze would replace. And city and district residents are paying for the new course.
  • Ownership of the course. The city wants to retain title until the district has fully reimbursed the city. Koski opposes that.
  • The city wants a say in plans for the new course. Koski wants the district to have complete control.
  • The city wants assurances that employees at the western course can have jobs at the new Ocean Breeze. District board members have agreed. Koski, though, is vague about that commitment.
  • The city wants the district, under the agreement, to abide by requirements of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and Office of Inspector General. Brown points out that this stipulation has been in four previous city-district agreements. Koski opposes it.
  • The city and the district don’t agree on legal fees if the contract is terminated.

Keep in mind that the council has made only a verbal agreement on Ocean Breeze. The deal likely still will happen, since the council has voted to sell the western course. But I would expect the council to insist on terms that city administrators favor.

Midtown and generators

On the regular council agenda are two big items: the changes to allow residential development in Midtown and the rule requiring generators at adult congregate living facilities. There’s no more to say in advance. Now we have to hear the council members’ thoughts.

The Midtown proposals are getting their first public hearing. It’s the second hearing on the generator issue. The nursing home industry is resisting Gov. Rick Scott’s call for generators at every facility in Florida.

Goodbye to Sears

Sears announced last week that it will close its store at Town Center Mall. News reports referred to Sears as an “anchor store” at Town Center. That may have been true once, but it’s not true now.

The bigger news may have been that Macy’s won’t close the Town Center store. Clothing stores draw far more traffic to Town Center than Sears. With Simon Property Group planning a major makeover/upgrade for Town Center, Sears’ departure may have been inevitable.

iPic goes public

When iPic moves its headquarters from Boca Raton to Delray Beach, the city will be getting a publicly traded company.

In a Dec. 28 email to subscribers, founder and CEO Hamid Hashemi announced the decision. Hashemi and other company officials will make a presentation Tuesday at an investors’ conference in Orlando. Hashemi already is pitching the stock to iPic subscribers.

In the email, Hashemi said the company’s revenue grew by an average of 22 percent between 2012 and 2016. Interestingly, though iPic owns 16 theaters nationwide, 51 percent of the company’s revenue comes from food and beverages and just 31 percent from movie tickets.

IPic is supposed to move in when the Fourth and Fifth Delray project opens, perhaps in a year.

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