Thursday, December 1, 2022

Who Will Run Delray, Road Rage in Boca and More

More Delray turnover

Turnover at the top levels of Delray Beach government continues.

Assistant City Manager Dale Sugerman has resigned. The former town manager of Highland Beach lasted less than a year. His departure leaves Delray Beach with Caryn Gardner-Young, who holds the other assistant’s position under Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus.

This is how it’s been for Delray Beach and assistant city managers. Francine Ramiglia and David Scott also came and went quickly. The commission—correctly—ran off City Manager Louie Chapman in 2014. Don Cooper followed him and stayed two years. De Jesus has been running things since December.

The constant changes make it hard for Delray Beach to move quickly on the many issues facing the city. Fortunately, Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman and Interim Fire Chief Keith Tomey are talented, competent department heads. Given the opioid crisis, it’s vital that public safety in Delray Beach stay on mission.

Sugerman’s departure, though, underscores the need for Delray Beach to settle on a long-term plan for the manager’s position. That is starting.

And city manager moves

When de Jesus took over, he said he did not want to be the full-time manager. His contract allows him to go back to being fire chief. His performance had drawn raves.

The original plan was that de Jesus would arrange for a search to begin after the March election, and the new commission would pick a manager. The incumbent commissioners, though, came to like how de Jesus made meetings more efficient and set high standards. It was clear to me that if de Jesus had changed his mind before the election, the commission would have hired him.

New Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson, though, was more hesitant. So the question had been hanging out there until Commissioner Mitch Katz at the last meeting suggested that he and his colleagues consider a transition that would give Gardner-Young the job after approval of the new budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

“I fully support that,” Mayor Cary Glickstein told me this week. Since the idea came up without warning, however, Glickstein said the commission would “spend some time” considering it, and would take it up at the Aug. 1 meeting.

The argument for such a scenario is that Delray Beach could not be sure that a candidate search—even one that offered a salary of as much as $250,000—would produce someone better than Gardner-Young. A nationwide search produced Chapman, whose tenure was terrible. A search also could take between three and six months.

“These positions are tough to fill in the best of circumstances,” Glickstein said. “I think there’s this feeling that Delray Beach should be able to attract top-level talent, but a lot of people will be reluctant to give up something certain. We have another election coming in March,” when three of the five commission seats will open.

The argument against such a transition is that Gardner-Young has been with the city only for about four months, coming from Parkland in Broward County. At the May goal-setting session she outlined in detail the deficiencies of the city’s plan to upgrade its information technology. As manager, however, she would have to do more than criticize; she would have to make the upgrade work.

“I’m really struggling with this one,” Commissioner Jim Chard told me. “It’s good that we have this as a default, but I wonder whether we don’t owe it to ourselves to cast a wider net.”

Chard also worries that Parkland isn’t a suitable training ground for Delray Beach. Parkland is a mostly homogenous, affluent suburb with less than half the population of Delray Beach, where roughly one-third of the residents are minority. Parkland, Chard said, “doesn’t have the same complexities as Delray.”

Presumably, the commission would not put Gardner-Young in charge until de Jesus—perhaps after consulting with Gardner-Young—filled Sugerman’s position. One of Sugerman’s jobs had been to revamp the Environmental Services Department, which Glickstein said has grown large and unwieldy.

Glickstein said Gardner-Young’s management compares favorably with that of de Jesus—“firm but fair.” Chard said he is “not prepared to pass judgment.” Whatever approach they take, commissioners are hoping to find someone who can lead the city for the next five or 10 years and bring stability. Staff, Chard said, “is hunkered down right now. There are a lot of missing pieces, and we aren’t making as much progress as I would like.”

Congress Avenue corridor

For Chard, one of those stalled projects is redevelopment of the Congress Avenue Corridor. At the goal-setting meeting, de Jesus said the staff could focus on one redevelopment priority. The commission chose West Atlantic Avenue.

So Chard met Wednesday with County Administrator Verdenia Baker to discuss the possibility of a Transit Oriented Development zone around Delray Beach’s Tri-Rail station. It’s near the county complex on Congress just south of Atlantic Avenue.

Such zones promote development based around public transit and other methods to reduce use of cars. Residential projects within a TOD could spur other redevelopment. I will have more if this progresses.

Boca road project

To Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, the notice a month ago about a road project in Boca Raton “seemed innocuous.” Not now.

Palm Beach County wants to close the median opening that provides an entrance into the Kmart Plaza on East Palmetto Park Road near Interstate 95. The main entrance, with a traffic light, is farther west. The median opening takes drivers into the eastern side of the plaza. It’s basically a short cut. The final way to enter is by driving past the median opening to the large intersection at Southwest 12th Avenue, making a U-turn and exiting onto the access road past Tomasso’s Pizza & Subs.

On weekday mornings, the intersection at 12th and Palmetto—known for years as “The Spaghetti Bowl”—backs up especially to the west and south. Parents are dropping children at Addison Mizner Elementary south of the intersection and at Boca Raton Middle north of the intersection. Drivers also are turning left (north) on their way to Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

Sometimes, traffic on Palmetto Park Road backs up so far past the lanes for northbound turns on 12th Avenue that it blocks drivers going east through the intersection. The county believes that closing the median would give more room for drivers waiting to make the turn onto 12th Avenue and ease overall congestion.

Though Palmetto Park is a county road, county officials asked the city for its thoughts. According to a spokeswoman, the city “evaluated” extending the time for drivers to turn left onto 12th Avenue. That scenario, the city believes, would worsen backups on Palmetto Park Road and cause more morning backups for drivers going through the intersection southbound on 12th Avenue.

Eastbound drivers have known that if they miss—or want to avoid—the main entrance they could get to the plaza through the median opening. If the county closes it, the only other option would be to make the U-turn at Palmetto Park Road and 12th Avenue. That can be tricky, since you must be in the right-side lane and the access road is just past the intersection.

The city spokeswoman acknowledged that “the sacrifice in this situation is the median opening,” with the intersection the priority. “Closing (the median) will provide the highest benefit for an overall improvement in this area with the lowest risk.” The work is supposed to begin in early August and take about two weeks.

Business owners in the plaza just got notice of the project. Mike Tomasso, owner of the venerable, eponymous restaurant, posted it on social media. Criticism followed, which prompted the city response. The city council meets on July 24-25. Residents and business owners may ask that the city tell the county to hold off.

There is precedent for the county dropping a project after city resistance. One nearby example is the widening of Palmetto Park Road west of I-95. The county favored it, but neighbors opposed it. The county killed the project.

Abrams told me Wednesday that he will “revisit” what had seemed to be not a big deal.

City workshop

The agenda for the Boca Raton City Council’s July 24 workshop has not been set, but everything I’m hearing is that Midtown won’t be on it.

Midtown’s four main property owners want the city to create rules in an area that the city designated several years ago for Transit Oriented Development. The owners would like the city to approve changes that would allow up to 2,500 residential units. There is no residential in Midtown, which the city annexed from the county in 2003.

Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, which owns Boca Center and other properties, had hoped that the council could revisit the issue as soon as this month. Instead, that discussion probably will wait until the Aug. 21 workshop—or later.

Scott suddenly focuses on opioid topic

With a campaign next year for the U.S. Senate looming, Gov. Rick Scott suddenly is talking more about the state’s opioid crisis.

This week, Scott came to West Palm Beach for the ceremonial signing of a bill that, among other things, toughens penalties for drug traffickers who use fentanyl. The ingredient makes heroin much deadlier.

The bill will help the law enforcement aspect of the anti-overdose campaign, but Scott could do much more if he had taken the opioid crisis as seriously as the Zika outbreak. Scott saw that as a threat to tourism as well as a public health issue. Opioid overdoses, however, threaten the state in much more fundamental ways. Photo-ops are just a start on dealing with this scourge.

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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