450

The Delray debacle continues

Delray Beach’s city manager will remain on what the mayor caustically calls a “paid vacation” and the city’s political stalemate will continue after Tuesday night’s long, contentious commission meeting.

For the second time in less than a month, Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia voted to fire City Manager Louie Chapman. For the second time, they failed. In May, Commissioner Adam Frankel would not provide the necessary fourth vote. Tuesday night, Commissioner Al Jacquet—who was not at the May meeting—also opposed firing Chapman.

Frankel and Jacquet are holding out despite a report from Palm Beach County’s Office of Inspector General that Chapman in January slipped a purchase order by the commission to cover up a purchase he had wrongly approved last fall. After misleading the commission, the report said, Chapman twice refused to acknowledge to the inspector general’s investigators what he had done. Only during a third interview, when confronted with his own email, did Chapman finally admit his action last fall.

A city manager who deceives his bosses on the commission—when he could have avoided the controversy by being honest with them five months ago—can’t be surprised when they lose trust in him. Chapman, though, keeps holding out. When Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia couldn’t fire him in May, they suspended him for 90 days— the maximum, though they had to suspend him with pay.

Chapman still hasn’t taken the hint. Though his contract allows just 20 weeks severance pay even if fired without cause, Chapman—through his attorney—says he won’t resign unless the commission gives him two years’ severance. Yet in addition to the inspector general’s finding that gave the commission reason enough to fire him with cause, Chapman also broke city rules in March by adding a controversial item to the commission agenda just one day before the meeting—without telling the mayor, who sets the agenda with the manager and had told Chapman not to schedule the item.

Frankel and Jacquet aren’t just refusing to fire Chapman. They are engaging in an odd demonstration of solidarity with a manager who has had the job for barely a year. In May, Frankel walked out of the meeting after the commission suspended Chapman. Tuesday night, Frankel and Jacquet walked out after the failed vote to fire Chapman—and thus refused to participate in the discussion of who to hire as the interim city manager. Robert Barcinski, who had been a longtime assistant manager, is serving as manager until June 16, when he retires.

What happens now? Absent new developments—such as Chapman significantly lowering his demand—Glickstein told me he sees no point in bringing back the issue before mid-August, when Chapman’s suspension ends. The commission then could suspend Chapman again. This month, the commission majority will place on the Aug. 26 state primary ballot a referendum to lower the threshold for firing a manager from four votes to three . Given public sentiment, the charter change probably will pass, after which the commission majority would vote to fire Chapman with cause.

Frankel and Jacquet thus not only are prolonging what probably is inevitable; they are raising questions about why they are defending Chapman so strongly. Jarjura says, “Through his own actions and admissions, the manager has fundamentally failed every taxpayer of this city. He evaded and misled the people of Delray Beach and the Inspector General through the course of an illegal procurement scheme, and I am shocked that two city commissioners are willing to keep him on the job when the facts are so clear.”

After the walkout by Frankel and Jacquet, the commission named Terry Stewart—who retired in January as manager of Fort Myers Beach—to serve as interim manager after Barcinski leaves. The commission, though, still must negotiate a contract.

Thankfully for Delray residents, the city now has a chief financial officer, Jack Warner, who is quite competent and can handle work on the budget, which will get a final vote in September. But there will be a big discussion next week on whether Delray should shift to the county for fire-rescue service. The city needs a permanent, trustworthy manager sooner than later.

New chief

In contrast to the battle over the city manager, Delray Beach got a new police chief this week, and the news was far from contentious.

Succeeding Anthony Strianese on Sept. 1 will be Assistant Chief Jeffrey Goldman, who has been with the department for 25 years. Strianese, who has been chief since 2008, is retiring.

Interestingly, one of the changes that ended a previous period of political turmoil in Delray came in 1991 and concerned the same job. New City Manager David Harden picked Richard Overman as police chief. Overman followed Charles Kilgore, who in some ways still ran the department as if the Delray Beach of 1991 were the Delray Beach of 1956, when Kilgore joined the department.

After Overman, leadership has moved smoothly from Larry Schroeder—who helped get Delray Beach through the Jerrod Miller shooting in 2005—and then to Strianese. There is no reason to think that things will get bumpy once Goldman takes over.

Budgeting for votes?                                  

When Gov. Rick Scott signed the state budget Monday, he vetoed less than $70 million in projects. So the town of Palm Beach got its $350,000 for restoration of the Addison Mizner-designed fountain in the town square.

The town’s timing was good. In 2011, just after being elected, Scott was playing to the tea party, and his vetoes totaled nearly $700 million. This year, Scott is running for reelection as (almost) everyone’s money man. Boca Raton and Delray Beach also got money for beach restoration, and area cultural groups got the grant money they wanted.

North Boca on the move again                             

Construction of an Alzheimer’s facility might not seem big news when it comes to redevelopment. This facility, though, is at the intersection of North Federal Highway and Jeffery Street in Boca Raton, and there is enough new development to provide what Mayor Susan Haynie calls “hope” that the effort to revitalize the area north of Yamato Road finally may succeed.

Eleven years ago, the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council held a daylong meeting with area residents and business owners to craft a plan for redevelopment. Despite the real estate boom, the plan stalled. Then came the real estate bust, and nothing happened.

One goal has been to bring new residents. That has begun with the opening of Broadstone North Boca Village, the luxury rental complex just south of the Wick (formerly Caldwell) Theater. Broadstone seeks to attract both young couples and empty nesters with smaller apartments but lavish amenities. Haynie says retail vacancies are down in the North Federal Corridor. The promise of that 2003 plan remains a ways off, but perhaps progress does not.

And the Delray attorney issue

It will be a little odd Thursday night when the Delray Beach City Commission chooses from between two finalists for city attorney.

Ralf Brookes, one of the candidates, is an attorney in private practice. Not long ago, he was suing Delray Beach, on behalf of some neighbors opposed to the Atlantic Crossing project on Atlantic Avenue just west of Veterans Park. Brookes’ clients contended that the commission had violated city rules in approving Atlantic Crossing 19 months ago. The lawsuit eventually was dropped.

The only commission holdovers from December 2012 are Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet. Frankel voted for Atlantic Crossing, while Jacquet voted against. Brookes may wonder if Frankel will hold the lawsuit against him, but that history may not matter. The other candidate, Noel Pfeffer of the Broward County Attorney’s Office, is the likelier choice, based on experience. Whomever the choice, he will report to the commission, not the manager, but he still will have to deal with commission politics.    

•••••••

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.