What’s next for Boca union talks, how FSU may be getting thrashed, plus more.

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City vs. unions: what happens next

With Boca Raton and the police and fire unions at an impasse over pension, wage and work-rule issues—things like promotions—here’s what will happen next:

The Florida Public Employees Relations Commission will send the city and the unions a list of potential special magistrates. The city and the police union will choose a magistrate to hear their dispute. The same will happen with the city and the fire union for that dispute.

Each side will present its case to the two magistrates, who will act essentially as judges and issue recommendations for resolving the disputes. Either side can reject a recommendation, but there is a powerful motivation for the unions to accept. If either side objects, the final decision rests with the “legislative body,” which is the city council, though the council can rule only on the issues that went before the magistrates.

And the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Firefighters don’t have to wonder what the council would do. The unions spent big on Anthony Mahjess in the mayoral election last March, but he lost to Susan Haynie. Her goal, which the four members of the city council share, is to make the police and fire pensions “sustainable for the next 30 years.”

To that end, Boca Raton proposed major changes not just in pension benefits but also in wages and work rules. Haynie calls them “significant but fair.” The last two affect the first. What police officers and firefighters make in salary determines how much they make in pensions. Work rules can determine who gets overtime, which can allow police officers to artificially inflate their pensions. The city wants to end the use of overtime in police pensions. Firefighters already can’t use overtime toward pensions.

In an interview Monday, Haynie said there are 13 items in dispute with the police union and 10 items with the firefighters. Councilman Robert Weinroth said in email, “The city had asked the police and fire unions to scale back their pension benefits and raises to a level affordable to the taxpayers of Boca Raton. Unfortunately, after 17 meetings with the union officials, the city has not been able to achieve this goal.”

As with many full-service cities in Florida, the pension crisis has been coming for more than a decade. It started with a big favor the Florida Legislature did for police and fire unions in 1999, and it continued through the real estate bubble, when too many cities gave out too many overly generous benefits. The trend line has cities being forced to raise taxes or cut services to pay those pensions.

Credit Boca Raton for not giving in. As Haynie said, “The voters spoke” in March. Now the city has to make a persuasive case to the magistrates. Haynie hopes for a final resolution by Jan. 1.

Delray city manager search

The search for a Delray Beach city manager already is going better than the last search, which resulted in the selection of someone who lasted little more than a year.

That search took place during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday period in 2012. It drew only about 30 applicants for a job that should have drawn many more, given Delray’s appeal as a growing full-service city with big hopes.

As of Friday, when what the city’s consultant calls the “recruiting period” ended, Delray Beach has 87 applicants, 31 of them from Florida. Louie Chapman, whom the commission forced out in July, had worked in Connecticut. Colin Baenziger, president of Baenziger & Associates, which is conducting the search, says the firm is “still speaking with several candidates we particularly like and hope to have them in the mix shortly.” Chapman is African-American. At this point in the search for his replacement, Baenziger said in a memo the commission, “We have some diversity but not a great deal. This situation reflects the profession as a whole, however.”

Once the pool is complete, the firm will cull the applicants and expects to send the commission a list of between eight and 12 semi-finalists by Oct. 15. The choices will be based on experience, the consultants’ “personal observation and recommendations,” diversity and likelihood of success.

Baenziger said the firm has “selected approximately two dozen candidates that we want to consider further.” A good bet is that Interim City Manager Terry Stewart, who has applied, will make that first cut. Baenziger said that he plans to meet with commissioners on Oct. 21 to choose finalists—the number is unspecified at this point—with interviews planned for Nov. 1 and the commission choosing the new manager two days later.

For all the turmoil Chapman caused, the irony is that it may have helped the city. By exposing his weaknesses so quickly and so dramatically, Chapman allowed the commission—minus Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet—plenty of justification to move on quickly.

The goal now, of course, is to distinguish this search from the last one in the most important way: by getting someone good.

Play ball?

A big proposal before the Palm Beach County Commission today may not affect Boca Raton and Delray Beach directly, but it could affect the area indirectly.

The commission must decide whether to spend roughly $150 million in tourist tax revenue over the next two decades on a new dual-team baseball spring training complex in West Palm Beach. It would house the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals.

If the commission approves the deal, the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins almost certainly would renew their lease at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. That lease expires in 2017. The tourist tax revenue—raised from the 5 percent levy on motel and hotel rooms—now paying off the bonds to build Roger Dean would go toward construction of the new stadium.

Without a deal, the Astros and Nationals—who now train in Kissimmee and Viera, respectively—would look elsewhere in Florida or to Arizona. Also, the Cardinals and Marlins might bolt, given the small number of teams in Southeast Florida—the Mets are in Port St. Lucie—and the long bus rides for the Cardinals, Marlins and other teams during the month-long spring training exhibition schedule.

There are two problems with the Astros-Nationals proposal. One is that it depends on the county acquiring 160 acres for the site from West Palm Beach. In return, the city wants four county-owned parcels in downtown West Palm Beach. The commission isn’t prepared to make the swap. Without that land, there likely is no site. A previous plan to use county land in Palm Beach Gardens sank when neighbors objected to the increased traffic.

The second problem is that the Astros and Nationals don’t want just the money now going toward Roger Dean. They want increasingly more each year—an “escalator.” Allocating that extra amount to the stadium could result in shortages for other uses of tourist tax money—such as beach restoration. That worries County Commissioner Steven Abrams, in whose Boca Raton-Delray Beach-based District 4 there are 22 miles of beaches.

In an interview, Abrams said the stadium debate is separate from discussion of whether to raise the tourist tax to 6 percent, to increase overall spending on tourism promotion. The hoteliers he has heard from, Abrams said, are OK with the increase—if the added money boosts the number of visitors.

Tourism promotion is the argument for the second stadium, but the impact of spring training in large counties probably is shrinking. Broward County, for example, had a record year for tourists in 2013—without spring training. And how much should the public—even if the money isn’t from property taxes—subsidize someone like Astros owner Jim Crane, whose net worth is a reported $2 billion?

Thrashed by Thrasher?

We will find out today if Florida State University follows Florida Atlantic University’s example and picks a president the right way.

FSU’s trustees will vote today on a successor to Eric Barron, who left to become president of Penn State. Speculation is that the trustees will pick state Sen. and former Florida House Speaker John Thrasher. That would be the sort of mistake that FAU did not make last January.

Some FAU trustees approached Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a former Florida Senate president. Atwater, though, never has worked in higher education. The supposed logic was that a politician who knows Tallahassee can work the Florida Legislature for a university’s benefit. Eventually, however, the FAU job correctly went to John Kelly, who at Clemson University had shown that he knows academics and fundraising. That’s the proper combination.

Thrasher has shown neither. He may have an undergraduate and law degree from FSU, but his career has been one of politics and special-interest lobbying. Like Atwater, he never has worked in higher education. His qualification? He is co-chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign, and Scott appoints the trustees. One of them is Kathryn Ballard. She and her husband, lobbyist Brian Ballard—Mary McCarty’s brother—raised the money to finance Scott’s inauguration.

The FSU search committee at first wanted to interview only Thrasher, which prompted much public criticism. So the committee sought more applications and tried to make the search look credible, but many in Tallahassee still don’t buy it. If Thrasher gets the job, he will probably be paid at least $500,000—capping a career in which he has done favors for FSU but undermined the overall push for excellence in higher education. Perhaps only in Florida could someone so unqualified get so important a job.

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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.