The end is near     

Is a resolution near in the Delray Beach city manager standoff?

During city commissioner comments at the close of last Tuesday’s meeting, Al Jacquet raised the issue. He had been one of two votes on June 3—the other being Adam Frankel—against firing Louie Chapman for cause. Indeed, Jacquet had criticized Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia for seeking to terminate Chapman, whom the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General concluded misled both the commission and inspector general investigators—twice—regarding a city purchase of trash bins.

Yet one week later, there was Jacquet saying that he and his commission colleagues “all want to do the same thing” and “want to get to the same place” on Chapman. They just “disagree on how to get there.” Said Jacquet, “I look forward to that discussion,” which he would like to happen “very shortly.”

But Jacquet did not explain how he and those who voted—with more than enough reason—to fire Chapman would “get to the same place.” It takes four votes to fire the manager. Having come up one vote short, Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia voted June 3 to suspend him with pay for 90 days. Chapman’s contract grants him just 20 weeks severance. His attorney said Chapman would resign if the commission gave him two years severance, or 104 weeks. From my conservations with Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia, I can’t see them approving any deal close to that.

Petrolia asked Jacquet if he wanted to “revisit” the idea of terminating Chapman at a future meeting. After the June 3 vote, Glickstein told me he would not reschedule the item unless he sensed that Frankel or Jacquet had changed his mind. Jacquet ducked Petrolia’s question, saying that perhaps Interim City Attorney Terrill Pyburn could discuss a possible deal individually with commissioners. Glickstein brought up the Sunshine Law. Florida’s open-meetings law exempts discussions about legal settlements, though approval of any settlement—such as one with Chapman— must get a final vote in public.

Pyburn said she could “discuss with each commissioner how you would like me to proceed.” I don’t sense that any such discussions have happened, and Pyburn will be leaving office in six days to become city attorney in Coconut Creek. The new city attorney will be Noel Pfeffer. Jacquet did not respond to an email asking him to elaborate on his comments.

Interim City Manager Terry Stewart started Monday. Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia still plan to place on the Aug. 26 ballot a charter change that would allow the commission to fire the manager with three votes. If there is no decision on Chapman when his suspension ends, the commission likely will suspend him again. The sense around Delray Beach is that the standoff should end. Jacquet or Frankel can make that happen soon.

Keeping fire-rescue the right move                            

As predicted here, the Delray Beach City Commission voted last week not to proceed on consolidation of fire-rescue service with Palm Beach County.

There is no guarantee that projected early cost savings would continue, and there were other unknowns. At the same time, the commission acknowledged what Chief Danielle Connor says are staffing and training issues. Given uncertainties about consolidation and uncertainty about the manager, Delray Beach made the right decision to make changes within for now, and reassess in several years.

No Jews at the party?

Palm Beach County Commissioner and former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams had an interesting take on last week’s loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. This is the first time such a powerful member of Congress has gone down in a party primary. Tea party voters to whom Cantor pandered during the House GOP takeover in 2010 turned on him as being too D.C.-entrenched.

Abrams noted that, with Cantor’s defeat, there are no Jewish Republicans in Congress, House or Senate. There also are no Jewish Republicans in the Florida Legislature. (Adam Hasner represented a Boca Raton-area district of the House from 2002 until 2010, when he was term-limited.) By Abrams’ reckoning, there also are no Jewish members of the state legislatures in California or Texas.

Abrams thus wonders if he is one of the highest-level Jewish elected officials in what by the end of the decade will be the three most populous states. It wouldn’t be shocking. Far more Jewish voters register Democratic. There are many Jewish Democrats in the Florida Legislature. Broward-based U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (no relation to me) doubles as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In the last six presidential elections the Democrat has received between 69 percent and 80 percent of the Jewish vote.

Whether Abrams is correct or not, however, his observation underscores the fragmented nature of American politics—especially in Florida.

Klein still courting Mideast    

Speaking of the tea party, former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein was among dozens of Democrats who lost their seats in that tea party wave of 2010. For two terms, Klein represented Palm Beach-Broward District 19, much of which after the 2010 census became District 22. Former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel won the District 22 seat in 2012, defeating Adam Hasner.

For the last three years, Klein—who still lives in Boca Raton—has worked for the law firm Holland & Knight, which has roughly 1,000 lawyers in Florida and worldwide. He focuses on a part of the world that also was a focus of his in Congress. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Klein served as vice-chairman of the Mideast Subcommittee. His new job description includes representing American investors in Israel and Israeli investors seeking opportunities here. That area of practice means “three or four” trips to Israel for a week each year, with the next scheduled around Labor Day.

Klein said many of his talks involve “water, energy, medical devices and real estate.” The firm’s outreach makes sense. Given Florida’s location, it’s no surprise that most of the state’s main trading partners are Central and South American. But Florida business groups want to promote more deals with Israel. Gov. Rick Scott led a trade mission to the country last year. The Florida chapter of the America Israel Chamber says the state has done more trade with Israel than any other Middle East country since 2000.

According to Klein, business relationships in Israel grow out of the cultural difference between our countries. Since almost every Israeli must serve in the military, the first question tends to be, “What unit did you serve in.” That’s a long way from the U.S., where almost no veterans serve even in Congress.

Is Thrasher thrashing higher ed?                                    

What can we learn by comparing the search for a president of Florida State University with the search for a president of Florida Atlantic University?

First, that state Sen. John Thrasher is a much more influential politician than Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

In January, Atwater made a show of announcing that he was applying for the FAU presidency. The former Florida Senate president from North Palm Beach said he had been “approached” by FAU insiders. Atwater implied that the job was his for the taking.

Except it wasn’t. Search committee member Dick Schmidt—whose family is among FAU’s largest donors— warned about injecting politics into the choice. He said nice things about Atwater, but the message was clear. Atwater, who has no professional background in higher education, didn’t even make the final cut.

Thrasher, though, is different. He’s not just a former Florida House speaker, an influential senator and co-chairman of Gov. Scott’s reelection campaign. He holds two degrees from FSU, and FSU grads are all over the Legislature, which meets in FSU’s hometown. As a legislator, Thrasher delivered a medical school to FSU and this year nearly gave FSU dominance over the engineering school FSU shares with Florida A&M.

With FSU now looking to replace Eric Barron, Thrasher made his interest known, and the search committee was set to interview only Thrasher, who also has no professional background in higher education. Then faculty members, students and newspapers squawked. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston—who, like Thrasher, has undergrad and law degrees from FSU— applied along with others. Last week, the search committee dumped its headhunting firm and pledged to start over.

Maybe. Thrasher still might get the job. But what we also have learned is that Florida doesn’t learn.

His supporters say Thrasher would bring state money to FSU the way has done in the Legislature. But Thrasher’s direct political power would be gone. He would be one of 12 presidents seeking an edge, though as the second-leading university, FSU has an edge to begin with.

More important, FSU would be choosing someone who has been wrong on so many higher education issues. In 2001, he voted to abolish the Board of Regents, which had run higher ed on a statewide basis, as states with the best university systems do. That move set off the free-for-all that has moved Florida’s university system more toward mediocrity than excellence. A flashpoint of that decision in 2001 was the regents’ decision that FSU didn’t need a medical school, which can give a university prestige but does nothing for most students.

Thrasher also backed the unneeded Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, which the Legislature and Gov. Scott created to please a powerful state senator from the area. Florida Poly will suck money from FAU, FSU and every other state university. Thrasher’s vote in 2001 also touched off salary inflation among university presidents as new boards of trustees outspent the competition to look prestigious.

Having rejected a politician, FAU picked John Kelly, who at Clemson University showed himself to be a good fundraiser and a solid academic. That’s the combination FSU should look for, rather than let a politician cash in at 70 on a higher education job after a career of bad decisions on higher education.

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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