Chapman alternatives

At this point, it seems likely that suspended Delray Beach City Manager Louie Chapman on Tuesday will accept the city commission’s revised settlement offer. Ironically—given all the emotion of the last few months—accepting probably is as much in Chapman’s interest as it is in the city’s interest.

At last week’s meeting, the commission rejected Chapman’s offer to resign if he received 20 weeks of severance and got a sanitizing of his record. In return, Chapman would agree not to sue the city over his departure.

If Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia had their way, Chapman would have been fired in May for cause and received no severance. They had ample cause: the illegal scheduling in March of an item regarding the Auburn Trace housing project and a report in May by Palm Beach County’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that Chapman misled the commission and OIG investigators about a January purchase of trash carts. But commissioners Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet are unwilling to fire Chapman, for whatever reason. I’ve contacted both to ask why they are holding out, but I haven’t received a response. Frankel at one point said he didn’t believe the OIG report, though he didn’t explain.

Since Chapman first wanted two years’ severance, the 20-week offer is a comparative bargain. Without the threat of a frivolous lawsuit—alleging race and/or age discrimination, most likely—the split between Delray Beach and Chapman would have been final.

Jarjura and Glickstein, though, could not accept two of Chapman’s terms: that “no commissioner individually or collectively will instigate any federal, state or local agencies to conduct any investigation” of Chapman related to his time as manager and that his record include no mention of the OIG report.

In an interview, Jarjura, who is an attorney, said the commission could find itself “obligated” to participate in an investigation of Chapman. She also wanted the contract voided if Chapman is convicted of a crime dating to his time in office. She had expressed these thoughts to the city’s legal staff before the meeting.

After much tweaking, the commission’s counter-offer allows the city to participate in an investigation if “required by law” and includes a reference to the number of the inspector general’s report. At the meeting, Jarjura wanted it made clear that the commission was “not negotiating.” Unless Chapman agreed to “capitulate” on these points, Jarjura said, she would not approve any settlement offer.

For Chapman, the incentive to take the amended deal should be strong. On Aug. 26, voters almost certainly will change the city charter and allow the commission to fire the manager with three votes, rather than four. Once the change took effect, Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia would have their way and would fire Chapman, having suspended him long enough to get rid of him.

In that scenario, Chapman would have no money and only the threat of a lawsuit. Though Frankel said Chapman “had grounds” for a lawsuit, the record contains no evidence of any discrimination by the city. Chapman at least would get roughly $70,000 in the settlement.

“It is hard,” Jarjura said, “to separate what you would do personally from what you should do professionally.” Even the revised settlement would be “a hard pill to swallow.” She believes, however, that a lawsuit from Chapman would be inevitable if he were fired.

If Chapman raises no objections, the vote five days from now will be 4-1 to approve the deal. Petrolia is a certain no vote, as she was last week. She called the settlement “extortion.” She’s right that Frankel and Jacquet have put Delray Beach in this position, but even the messiest divorce is better if the parties go their separate ways for their mutual benefit.

Public TV merger?

A merger between South Florida’s two public television stations has made sense for about 20 years. At last, the personalities may have aligned to make it possible.

From its creation in 1982, Boynton Beach-based WXEL-Channel 42 has struggled. The company has faced financial issues and conflict-of-interest controversy involving board members. As well-intentioned as its founders were, WXEL provides very little programming different from what Miami-based WPBT-Channel 2 broadcasts. For all the talk of WXEL filling a “community” need, there is no notable programming geared toward Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. And throughout WXEL’s history, WPBT has had significant Palm Beach County membership on its board.

That continues. The current WPBT board chairwoman is Laurie Silvers, a resident of Boca Raton who is chairman of Hollywood Media. I am told that Silvers enjoys a good relationship with WPBT CEO Dolores Sukhedo. Board members at both stations have spoken favorably of a merger, which would allow WPBT and WXEL to share some costs and mount a unified fund-raising effort. Like WXEL, WPBT has had more trouble finding donors since the recession. Public broadcasting has it tough all over. Last fall, National Public Radio offered staff buyouts as part of a plan to close a $6 million budget deficit.

Barry University bought WXEL-Channel 42 and WXEL-FM 90.7 in 1997, a deal that was done in secret and never should have been allowed. (No one else was allowed to bid on what is a public asset.) Barry first sold the radio station to Classical South Florida, and then sold the TV station to a group led by WXEL CEO Bernard Henneberg.

Unlike some mergers, consumers would benefit from WXEL and WPBT joining forces. It would almost surely assure the combined station’s survival; indeed, the company might thrive. That would benefit the many South Floridians who enjoy public broadcasting programming. It should have happened long ago. It must happen now.

Looking back on the Mecca deal

The criticism at Scripps Florida of a proposed deal between the California-based Scripps Institute and the University of Southern California made me think of a recent conversation I had with Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams.

When I asked Abrams what he considered his most important vote in the five years since he took office, Abrams said it was the deal to sell Mecca Farms to the South Florida Water Management District.

Mecca Farms is the 1,900-acre former citrus grove west of Palm Beach Gardens that some originally envisioned as the home for Scripps Florida. The site never made sense because it’s so remote. But a group of insiders pushed for the county to buy it, hoping to cash in by buying property next door. Though they never got their windfall, the purchase reeked of “Corruption County.”

Once Scripps began operating in Jupiter, Mecca Farms remained a financial drain, through debt and maintenance costs. The district, though, will use it for needed water storage and to send needed water to the Loxahatchee River. Property associated with something bad will now do some public good. The site is far from Abrams’ Boca Raton-Delray Beach-centered district, but he has a point about the importance of the sale to all Palm Beach County taxpayers.

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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.