Louie, Louie, we gotta go     

There were not enough votes Tuesday night to fire the Delray Beach city manager, but there were enough votes to send a message.

The motion to dismiss Louie Chapman, Jr. for cause failed 3-1. It takes four votes to remove the manager. As expected, Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia voted in favor, and Commissioner Adam Frankel voted against. Al Jacquet was not at the special meeting.

Thwarted in their attempt to fire Chapman, Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia imposed the toughest penalty they could. That turned out to be a 90-day suspension. With pay.

As it turns out, Delray can’t suspend a manager without pay, even if the manager—as is the case with Chapman—was found to have: approved a contract for trash carts in violation of city rules, “misled” the city commission into approving a second contract for trash carts and falsely denied twice to investigators that he approved the first contract. The investigation in question was conducted by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General, prompted by a complaint from a Delray resident.

Under Chapman’s contract, the city could remove him by paying 20 months’ severance. There was no desire by Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia to do that. Chapman said he would leave if the commission approved a 24-month severance. The commission majority really didn’t want to do that.

So Delray Beach will enter a period of municipal limbo. Assistant City Manager Robert Barcinski will become the interim manager, but he is scheduled to retire in a month. The other assistant city manager, Francine Ramaglia, was just hired in April from a similar position in Wellington. Seven years ago, Ramaglia charged Wellington elected officials with creating a hostile work environment. The claims were ruled to be unfounded, though the investigation revealed a dysfunctional work environment. Given that background, and given how things are in Delray, it seems an odd hire for Chapman to have made.

How long Delray’s management limbo could last is anyone’s guess. Another motion to fire Chapman could be introduced. If Jacquet joins the majority, the search would begin for a new manager. But that still could take three months. Or Jacquet could join Frankel if the motion comes up, and nothing would happen until mid-August, when Chapman would be scheduled to return, unless Frankel or Jacquet changed his vote.

August could be important for another reason. Aug. 26 is the date of the state primary election. On that ballot could be a referendum to change the Delray Beach charter and allow the manager to be fired with just three votes. Getting that question onto the ballot requires just three votes of the commission. If the change goes on the ballot and passes, Chapman almost certainly would be gone as soon as the change took effect. Then a search would start.

The practical problem for Delray Beach is that budget season is starting, and reaches its most critical period in August and September. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. August and September also are the busiest months of hurricane season.

For defenders of Chapman, all that could be reason to slap him for this incident and move on. Some residents accused—without mentioning names—Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia of not giving Chapman a fair chance. The record, though, shows that Chapman created his own problems through actions on which this blog has reported.

In March, he ignored Glickstein and Petrolia—and violated city rules—by scheduling with just one day’s notice a vote on a loan modification for the Auburn Trace housing project. The city’s finance director and attorney blasted the deal, yet the previous commission approved it. The current commission rescinded it.

That action probably cost Chapman the trust of Glickstein and Petrolia. They also were among those “misled” in January about the second trash cart purchase. Jarjura is new, but she is looking at an inspector general’s report that Chapman twice “misled” investigators about his role in the first trash cart purchase, trying to shift blame to his staff. Glickstein called that “a lie about a lie.”

Indeed, the report found that Community Improvement Director Lula Butler also misled the commission in January. Yet when investigators questioned Butler, she was honest about her actions on the first try. Ironically, though, Butler was the one to resign Tuesday, after 28 years. Chapman continued to insist that he deserved to keep his job.

Having covered Palm Beach County politics for three decades, I can’t remember a manager receiving any suspension, let alone a 90-day suspension. I also can’t recall many more contentious meetings than the one in Delray Tuesday night. Frankel held out for Chapman, saying the other members of the commission had created a “culture of fear” among city staff. Glickstein shot back that the majority was trying to correct a culture of “cronyism and outright corruption.”

Delray Beach is a turning point. The next three months-plus—or less—will show which turn the city takes.

My apologies to Commissioner Al Jacquet. In Tuesday’s post, I referred to him as African-American. Jacquet is the son of Haitian immigrants.

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Troubled Bridges, roads & water systems

This week, the Florida Department of Transportation began a scheduled six-month project to repair the Flagler Memorial Bridge—known informally as the North Bridge—between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. Whatever happens, give the FDOT credit at least this time for beginning a major, disruptive project as the high season is ending. With luck, it will end as new season starts.

The work, however, got me thinking. Numerous national reports have documented the deterioration of the country’s bridges, roads and water systems. President Obama could have addressed some of these problems—along with an aging power grid—in the 2009 stimulus, but surrendered to Democrats who wanted more social projects and Republicans who wanted more tax cuts.

So what’s the condition of bridges in this area? According to the National Bridge Inventory Database, better than older areas of the Northeast and Midwest but nothing stellar.

To have the greatest peace of mind crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, take the Ocean Avenue Bridge from Boynton Beach to Ocean Ridge. It, of course, is new—having been built in 2001. The feds give it a “Sufficiency Rating” of 93.3 out of 100.

To have the least peace of mind, take the Camino Real Bridge in Boca Raton. It, of course is old, having been built in 1939. Even after a rehab in 2007, its sufficiency rating is just 32.2, with its main parts rated as “fair” and “poor.” The bridge “meets minimum tolerable limits to be left in place as is.”

Boca Raton’s Palmetto Park Road Bridge, built in the late 1980s is in “good” condition, with a rating of 81.8 and a structure that is “better than minimum criteria.” The Spanish River Boulevard Bridge, built in the early 1970s is just “satisfactory,” with a rating of 57.4.

In Delray, the Atlantic Avenue Bridge is considered in “good” condition, though the rating is just 63. The Linton Boulevard Bridge, nearly 30 years younger than the Atlantic span, has a 79 rating. Even after an upgrade in 2010, the George Bush Boulevard Bridge gets a rating of just 53.

If you don’t like some of those numbers, don’t blame the cities. Palm Beach County and the state have responsibility for bridges because they are on county and state roads. Palm Beach County doesn’t even have enough money for road maintenance. On Wednesday, Obama announced a plan for building the “21st Century Infrastructure.” Maybe the 22nd Century.

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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.