All Aboard: For all the worry in South Florida about new passenger trains, the real worry should be new freight trains.

Opposition to All Aboard Florida, the planned high-speed service between Miami and Orlando, is growing. Last week, Indian River County pulled its support. Governments elsewhere in the Treasure Coast and in northern Palm Beach County complain about problems from new bridge openings and delays at crossings. All Aboard Florida would run 16 trains each way, every day, on the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) tracks that run through the downtowns of coastal cities.

For Boca Raton, Delray Beach and the rest of southern Palm Beach County, the main issue with All Aboard Florida has been all the new train horns that might sound. Delays are not the nearly the issue they are for local governments farther north. But suspicion is growing that the real reason for safety improvements to accommodate All Aboard Florida is to allow many more freight trains.

According to documents Palm Beach and Broward counties are using in their application for federal money to finance those safety upgrades, “Traffic on the FEC corridor is increasing from 12 trains per day to 28 or more over the next few years.” (Emphasis mine.) Put your money on the “or more” part of that prediction more so than the “28.”

Port Everglades and especially the Port of Miami are gearing to handle much more cargo when the expanded Panama Canal opens next year. With the expansion, ships will be able to carry three times more cargo, most of it from Asia. News reports say the ships will be as large as airport carriers. The state is spending $77 million to complete a dredging project at the Port of Miami that will allow the mammoth vessels to dock. Only three other ports on the East Coast—Norfolk, Va., Baltimore and New York—are expected to be ready. Because the Sunshine Skyway is too low, the Port of Tampa can’t handle the new ships. So much of that added cargo will move through South Florida, and a lot it will move from here is by rail. Port Everglades is adding a cargo rail facility.

Because of their cargo, freight trains can take four or five minutes to plod through a crossing. Between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, All Aboard Florida trains would travel at roughly the speed of Tri-Rail commuter trains on the CSX tracks farther west, so they would clear a crossing in less than a minute. Freight trains, though, move at roughly half the speed of Tri-Rail trains. All that new freight traffic could snarl downtowns from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm that are marketing themselves as places to live. And imagine four or five more long freight trains crossing at Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach on a busy Friday or Saturday night.

Approval for All Aboard Florida must come from the federal government. Local governments in this area want the area’s congressional delegation to push All Aboard Florida’s parent company to move freight traffic to the CSX corridor. Unlike the FEC, it has dual tracking, so it could handle freight trains and Tri-Rail. Money has been approved to allow crossover of trains from the FEC to the CSX in West Palm Beach and Pompano Beach. If that happened, the company and the state could try to work out a deal that would shift commuter trains to the FEC, a goal that the cities support.

More than a century ago, Henry Flagler created modern South Florida by running his Florida East Coast Railway all the way to Key West. Today, the question is whether the FEC will enhance South Florida or harm it.

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Heads rolling: Tonight the Delray Beach City Commission will hold a special meeting to choose a consultant on the trash-hauling contract, appoint someone to the city’s housing authority, and—oh, yes—discuss the “continued employment of the city manager. . .”

Louie Chapman’s continued employment has been in doubt for two months, but never more so than after last week’s report from the Office of Inspector General that Chapman and Community Improvement Director Lula Butler “misled” the commission in January when it approved the purchase of trash carts. Chapman and Butler said the city needed the carts soon. In fact, the city had between 700 and 1,000 carts on hand—because Chapman had wrongly approved the purchase of 1,200 carts a few months earlier. Then, when investigators asked Chapman, he twice denied having approved the earlier purchase. Chapman changed his story only after investigators showed him one of his own emails.

After dispassionately flaying Delray Beach for its sloppy procedures, the report recommends that the city “take corrective personnel action deemed appropriate.” There could be a motion tonight to fire Chapman for cause. It almost certainly would get support from Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia. It takes four votes, however, to fire the manager. What about Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet?

Frankel voted against Chapman when he was hired, so Frankel could support the firing and claim victory. Frankel and Jacquet, however, backed the terrible Auburn Trace loan modification that Chapman brought to the previous commission when Glickstein and Petrolia were out of town, and did so in violation of city procedures.

I’ve heard that Jacquet—who, like Chapman, is African-American—might play the race card in an attempt to defend the manager. But black residents of Auburn Trace showed up before the commission to condemn the loan deal. Since votes from black neighborhoods helped Jacquet squeak by to reelection in March, whose interests, really, would he be serving by defending Chapman? Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia are white, but the issues with Chapman that might get him fired are trust and competence, not race.

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Here come$ the judge: What does it take to become a circuit judge in Palm Beach County? In the case of Samantha Schosberg Feuer, it takes paying about $5,700.

Feuer was the only candidate to qualify for the Group 32 seat left open by the retirement of Judge Sandra McSorley. Qualifying for judicial and federal races ended May 2. Candidates qualify either by paying the filing fee—four percent of the office’s salary—or collecting petition signatures. Records show that Feuer paid the fee.

As a result, Feuer will have all the power of a circuit judge without having to face the voters in a campaign or having to go before the judicial nominating commission. Depending on where the chief judge assigns her, Feuer will preside over felony criminal tries and major civil cases, decide the fate of juvenile defendants or determine child custody and/or alimony in family court. It will be power that has come far too easily.

Understand, this is a comment about the system, not about Feuer. She has worked as an assistant state attorney and assistant attorney general. She now works in the West Palm Beach office of the private firm Akerman LLP. She had support from leading law firms. She could turn out to be a fine judge.

But in 2000, the same thing happened, and the person turned out to be a bad judge. In 2000, a lawyer named Art Wroble called in a lifetime of favors to run unopposed for a vacant circuit court seat. While with The Palm Beach Post, I wrote a column critical of someone getting such a position without any public screening. The legal establishment responded with a full-page ad defending Wroble.

Soon enough, though, Wroble became a problem. He scored at the bottom—by a lot—of the Palm Beach County Bar judicial poll. In 2002, prosecutors asked that a murder suspect be jailed without bail. Wroble gave the guy five days to appear. The man fled, probably to his native Jordan. In 2006, the same legal establishment that had rallied around Wroble six years earlier organized to defeat him.

Feuer’s “victory” this year came with a political subplot. She had planned to run for the Group 30 seat; Judge Lucy Chernow Brown is retiring. Then McSorley announced her surprise retirement as the five-day qualifying period opened. Any judicial candidate can run for any seat, and Feuer switched to Group 32.

None of this could happen if Florida filled all trial court judgeships through appointment by the governor, after the nominating commission screens and interviews applicants, and chooses finalists. That’s how appeals court and Supreme Court positions are filled. Such a change, though, would require changing the Florida Constitution.

In 2004, Amy Smith also became a Palm Beach County circuit judge the easy way. Unlike Wroble, she has scored well in the Bar polls, and ran unopposed in 2010. But the power of such a position should not come at such a cheap price. The potential cost is too high.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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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.