The argument for settling

Even if Delray Beach tonight finally could be rid of City Manager Louie Chapman, the choice is not easy. Moving on from Chapman would come at a literal and figurative price.

Before the city commission is an offer from Chapman under which he would resign effective July 15. The commission suspended Chapman for 90 days with pay on May 13, after Adam Frankel would not join Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia in voting to fire Chapman for cause. On June 3, Al Jacquet, who had missed the earlier meeting, also refused to provide the necessary fourth vote.

Under the settlement, Chapman would get about $70,000. Of that, roughly $62,000 would amount to 20 weeks pay, or what his contract allows if the commission fired him without cause. The other $8,000 would cover unused vacation time and Chapman’s contribution to the city’s general employee pension fund. Chapman would agree not to sue Delray Beach over his departure, and the city would agree not to start any new investigation of Chapman. The move to fire him gained momentum in May, when a report by the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General concluded that the manager misled the commission in January on a purchase order, and then twice misled investigators from the inspector general’s office as they checked out a citizen complaint about the purchase. Finally, the city would have to replace Chapman’s suspension with a letter of reprimand.

From a practical standpoint, approving the deal makes more sense. Chapman is a dead man walking. Even if Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia didn’t get the fourth vote to fire him by the time his suspension ends in mid-August, they could keep suspending him until an Aug. 26 referendum. This referendum could change the charter to require just three votes to fire him. One can argue that Delray Beach can’t afford to have the Chapman issue linger while Interim City Manager Terry Stewart runs things. It’s budget season, there are pension negotiations and the city needs some certainty. The city attorney is new and an outsider. An assistant city manager has been on the job for just a few weeks. The planning and zoning director started two weeks ago. The new police chief starts work Sept. 1, even though he’s a department long-timer.

Also, since Chapman first offered to settle for two years’ severance, you could say that Delray Beach is getting a good deal. And given the range of laws Chapman says he will not invoke in a lawsuit against the city—the Bank Secrecy Act? The Patriot Act—even firing Chapman for cause probably would invite litigation, however frivolous. The city attorney recommends approval.

“This is not about just one employee,” Glickstein said in an interview. “This is our CEO, and the longer this goes on, the more of a disservice it is to our employees. It is the next best thing that we have (after firing for cause) that we have to get rid of a problem.”

Yet the settlement does reward bad behavior. Even before the inspector general’s report, Chapman acknowledged violating city procedures by scheduling for the March 18 meeting a loan modification related to the Auburn Trace housing project. The deal was so bad for the city that the finance director said the commission’s response should be not just “no” but “hell, no.” The previous commission approved it, but the new commission—Jarjura replacing Angeleta Gray, whom she defeated in the March 11 election—rescinded it. Perhaps not coincidentally, Frankel and Jacquet voted for the Auburn Trace deal. Frankel changed his vote two weeks later. Jacquet was not present.

“I am disappointed that we are even talking about this,” Petrolia said Monday. “We are being put in this situation by two unwilling commissioners (Frankel and Jacquet) who have had ample opportunity to do the right thing,” meaning fire Chapman for cause.

Petrolia is correct that the settlement would give Chapman more than he deserves. The deal, though, offers more to Delray Beach and its residents even if it remains inconceivable that Frankel and Jacquet haven’t come around. If Chapman’s misdeeds don’t amount to firing offenses, what offenses do? Overall, though, there’s more gain for Delray in the settlement than pain.

Boca suggests pension reform

Boca Raton’s March elections were about the mayor and council, of course, but also about public safety pensions. The city’s proposal to the police union acknowledges that pension reform is essential to the city’s financial security. The proposal has seven points, five of them dealing with factors that most affect Boca Raton’s pension liability to police officers.

The city proposes that police officers not be allowed to use overtime pay when calculating pensions. This change is essential. In city after city in Florida, unions have steered overtime to officers nearing retirement, giving those officers a pension windfall at the public’s expense. Currently, Boca officers can use 300 hours of overtime toward pension calculations—the maximum the state allows. Boca Raton firefighters can’t use any overtime toward their pensions, and there’s no reason to give police officers an exception.

The city also wants to base pension benefits on the highest five years of earnings, not the highest two years, to get a truer average. Another proposal would lower from 3.5 percent to 3 percent the “multiplier” used to figure benefits —years of service times salary times the “multiplier.” Maximum benefits would decrease from 87.5 percent of monthly salary to 81.5 percent. The annual cost-of-living adjustment would drop to 1.5 percent from 2 percent. Two other proposals would have employees share more pension risk with the city when stock markets drop and investment returns—that help pay benefits—also drop.

According to Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, these reforms would wipe out what now are large unfunded pension liabilities over the next 50 years. “The fund would be sustainable,” she said Monday. Haynie said the union has not responded to the proposals. Soon, she said, a proposal will go the firefighters. Their contract also expires Sept. 30. Haynie said the proposal will be similar to what Boca has offered the police.

Boca Raton’s proposed pension reform is wide-ranging. The only issue not addressed is minimum years of service to qualify for benefits—20, or 10 years at age 55. Other cities in Florida have even more serious pension issues, and more are seeking to address them. I will have more on Boca pensions when the unions respond.

Trader Joe’s bets on us

Rapture swept through South Florida shopping mavens last week when Trader Joe’s announced opening dates for stores in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

The flag drops first in Delray on Sept. 5. Trader Joe’s will open in the new Delray Place at the southeast corner of Federal Highway and Linton Boulevard. The Boca store, part of the East City Center project at Federal Highway and Southeast Eighth Avenue, opens on Sept. 26. Both dates are Fridays, sandwiching the Sept. 19 opening of a store in Palm Beach Gardens.

According to the company’s news release, Trader Joe’s has more than 400 stores in 40 states and introduces 12 new items each week. The company’s arrival adds to the Boca-Delray mix that already includes Publix, Publix Greenwise, the Fresh Market and Whole Foods. Indeed, we are seeing again how attractive this market is.

The Boca Raton and Delray Beach Trader Joe’s will be about 7.5 miles apart on Federal Highway. The company has stores that are closer in urban areas. Two in Chicago, for example, are just 3.5 miles apart. But I couldn’t find any suburban area where two stores are so close.

And consider the iPic theater chain, which makes watching a movie feel like flying in first class. According to a representative, iPic’s Mizner Park location—which includes the wonderful full-service restaurant Tanzy—is exceeding projections. The Delray location, on the site of the old city library downtown, will open next year just eight miles from Mizner Park. It will offer just in-theater dining, but will be part of an office and retail project.

By my calculation, those will be the closest iPic locations, at least for now. If you wanted to take a true picture of the national economy, you would not check out Boca Raton and Delray Beach. How fortunate for us.

Mizner Trail decision

Last Thursday’s Palm Beach County Commission vote to approve development on the former Mizner Trail Golf Course was not terribly surprising, even if the case for development wasn’t strong.

Because commissioners are elected only by voters from within their districts, only one of seven has to worry about angering voters on hot local issues. Boca Del Mar residents who opposed the project live in District 4, which Steven Abrams represents. Abrams voted against the 252-unit development, along with Jess Santamaria. He is the most anti-development commissioner, and since most neighbors opposed the project, Santamaria’s vote was predictable. He also opposed development on a former golf course next to Century Village in West Palm Beach.

Though fewer neighbors showed up last week to express opposition than had at the two previous hearings, an attorney for the residents said that “no turnout could have swayed the no votes” of Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick, Priscilla Taylor, Hal Valeche and Shelly Vana. Berger for many years was an aide to former Commissioner Burt Aaronson, who was working for the developers. Vana kept saying that the residents deserved “certainty,” and then gave them certainty they didn’t want. Burdick’s vote was especially hypocritical. She opposed that project next to Century Village—in her district—but sided against similarly angry residents in Abrams’ district. This pattern will continue until Palm Beach County makes more commissioners accountable to more voters.

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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.