Newsletter: January 3rd, 2024

City Wants to Extend Police Chief’s Position Past His DROP Date

The City Commission is trying to find a way to extend Police Chief Russ Mager past his DROP retirement date. The DROP is the Deferred Retirement Option Program. In the Police Department, the DROP is optional, but it must be opted into between 20-25 years of service and it is a five-year DROP period. It is essentially a promise to retire after five years and be rewarded for staying on.

After entering the DROP the employee is actually retiring but can work five years beyond retirement at full pay (with no employee contributions) PLUS the retirement benefits calculated at the time of entering the DROP will begin being paid out and will be deposited into an interest-bearing account.  The benefit of the DROP is that it is a way to keep senior talent in service while training new officers. The program benefits employers because the employee stops earning service credit towards a future benefit and the retirement benefit is calculated at the time of the DROP.

At the December 12th City Commission meeting, a vote passed unanimously to approve ordinance 50-23,  which amends the eligibility and benefits provision for the city’s most senior officers, the City Attorney, City Manager and City Auditor.  The ordinance tweaks vesting percentages for these positions.

After the ordinance passed Rob Long said, “Since we’re talking about vesting which to me translates to employee retention, I think we’re all very fortunate to have stable leadership across our city right now….and I think we can agree it’s crucial for employee morale and retention.” “I’d like to ask the City Manager and City Attorney if there  is a way to extend the tenure of our Police Chief Russ Mager who has been doing an excellent job in his 16 months…” Long said, “In the interest of retention and building succession plans, I d like to get my colleagues opinions on the city manager and the city attorney drafting an ordinance to extend the drop on just the Police Chief.”

City Attorney, Lynn Gellan said that she did not think the drop extension could be done but said, “As you know, I did send a draft ordinance to Tallahassee and we’re still waiting on that.” She went on to explain that it is possible by passing an ordinance that would allow the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief to be put in a separate pension plan, therefore extending their employment past their promised retirement date.

The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) is not in favor of extending the DROP or circumventing the DROP extension by ordinance to overcome that.  Meer Deen, President of PBA, said that “a few members of the command staff wanted us to extend the DROP to eight years and we are not in favor of that.”  It keeps people stuck in positions and the officers would have an additional 4% employee contribution during their DROP period when they currently have none.  The troops are not in favor.

The PBA is also not in favor of circumventing the DROP. Meer says, “The whole thing stinks to us because they’re trying to circumvent it” “It stagnates the organization and prevents growth from within.”  It jams the whole upward mobility and affects morale and troop retention.

There are many people who have concerns that what happened in Boca could happen here. The City of Boca Raton had a change in ordinance that allowed command staff work beyond their DROP and the organization stagnated with no upward movement.  The Boca Police Department is down thirty officers.  

Delray Commission Candidate Tennille DeCoste Investigation and Allegations

In the middle of the Delray City Commission election, a controversy broke out. That’s usual in Delray but this time it’s different. One of the candidates for Delray Beach City Commission, Tennille DeCoste, currently Director of Human Resources in Boynton Beach, went public with charges against the entire upper management team in our neighboring City. Ms. DeCoste had been put on administrative leave from her position by the city manager and Tennille wrote two letters to the Mayor charging misconduct by her boss and several other Boynton staff.

In Ms. DeCoste’s letter to Boynton Beach Mayor, Ty Penserga, she charged the city manager, the assistant city manager, and the city attorney with improper, possibly illegal, statements and actions. The Mayor did not reveal the contents of the letter to the public because the Commission agreed to review the emails in private and schedule a special meeting to consider their course of action.

Although these matters were handled professionally and confidentially, the news media started asking questions. Tennille DeCoste granted interviews to the Palm Beach Post, Channel 12 and Channel 25 News. Professional staff and elected officials remained quiet, most likely due to the advice of counsel.

The gist of Ms. DeCoste’s charge was that Boynton officials were covering up misdeeds that she had uncovered, alleging racist statements were made regarding her hiring practices, and she was being retaliated against. Apparently, Decoste was under investigation by an outside counsel because the City Manager had received complaints that Tennille had been receiving campaign contributions from The City of Boynton Beach vendors and employees to her campaign for City Commission in Delray. She denied the allegations and claimed that such actions were neither illegal nor unethical. It was then that she wrote two complaint letters to Mayor Penserga and the charges began. These were repeated in her

media interviews.

To the Palm Beach Post on December 26 she said that “wrongdoing” had been swept under the rug. She expressed that all she wanted was to be treated fairly like anybody else. The Post noted that City officials were waiting for a report from a third-party investigator. The City Manager Dan Dugger reported her to the Palm Beach County on Ethics regarding “time usage” among other issues. She was also warned in writing that during her administrative leave she was to stay away from city hall and not contact city staff or elected officials.

WPBF Channel 25 videoed Ms. DeCoste saying the charges were hurtful and disgusting. And charged the Boynton officials with misconduct and mistreatment. She felt that she was being treated unfairly. She also said that “politics” was impacting her job. However, City Manager Dugger said that it was inappropriate to respond in detail, but that Ms. DeCoste’s allegations were groundless, that they appeared to be retaliatory, and that he stood by the integrity of his staff.

Under the title “Boynton Beach HR Director Under Investigation Makes Accusations Against City Officials”, Channel 25 PBF News broadcast that there were concerns that campaign finance violations had been committed by Human Resources Director DeCoste. Tennille in turn charged that City Manager Dugger had complained that she “hired too many black women”, a charge he strongly denies. Without taking sides, Mayor Penserga was quoted as saying these are serious charges that Boynton had a legal responsibility to address.

On December 27, the Boynton City Commission held a special meeting to decide on a course of action. After 45 minutes of discussion, it was decided to refer the matter to the Office of the Inspector General as well as the Ethics Board. The elected officials expressed support for the staff with one saying, “I support the city manager unequivocally, without reservation, I support the city attorney.” And Mayor Penserga cautioned, “As we proceed through this process, it is paramount — paramount —that we as a commission do so deliberately, thoughtfully and act only on the basis of facts and not on assertions or conjectures.”

Meanwhile Ms. DeCoste is on administrative leave (with pay).

In a telephone interview with Tennielle Decoste, Decoste made a new allegation which she had not mentioned in all her previous news media interviews.  Decoste said, “this all started when someone from Jim’s camp sent a letter to Boynton Beach accusing me of working on my Delray Beach campaign on Boynton Beach time.” “I have approved time to be off, including flex time and vacation time.” She said that this is not why she was being investigated though, but for supposedly pressuring Boynton Beach employees into donating to her campaign. Decoste said, “how can you force someone to donate to your campaign?”

When asked about the alleged letter that was sent to Boynton Beach, Jim Chard said, “No one in my campaign sent any letter to Boynton Beach.” “We have absolutely no involvement with Ms Decoste being under investigation and only learned about it when we read about it in the paper.”

For a deeper Dive:

“Boynton Beach HR Director Under Investigation Makes Accusations Against City Officials”

Delray’s American Legion Post 188 Controversy: What’s Next?

At the end of World War II, black American veterans returning home to Delray Beach were not welcome  at American Legion Hall Post 65. In fact, they were barred entry.  So they asked for a lease of city owned property located at 196 NW 8th Avenue and created their own American Legion Post 188c. The “c” stood for “colored”.  Delray Beach provided a 99-year lease and the veterans and their community funded and built a meeting hall.  During this time, segregation was still rampant, and the black community was not welcome in most public venues in the city, but “The Post” as it became known, served as a center of African American social activity.

As the veterans aged and segregation faded, the need for The Post withered so the building was subleased to C.R.O.S. Ministries a/k/a the Caring Kitchen.  During renovations the Caring Kitchen was forced to abandon operations because neighbors complained about the impoverished crowd it drew to the area. The building remained unfinished thus not up to code when the Caring Kitchen relocated in 2017.

In September 2018, the City initiated the process to terminate the lease pursuant to the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. The City provided Notice of Termination of Lease to the American Legion and subsequently took possession of The Post in July 2019. erecting a padlocked fence around the property. The veterans challenged the lawfulness of the lease termination arguing they were not given notice of the proceeding.  The City had sent the notice to the address of a veteran who had died 14 years earlier.  City Attorney Lynn Gelin has said that it was the Legion’s responsibility to provide the C with the current leadership names and addresses.

After many failed attempts to talk to ever changing list of City Managers, the American Legion filed a lawsuit against the      City in 2021 with following five (5) claims: inverse condemnation; injunctive relief; trespass; breach of contract; and conversion.

EJS and Veterans Partnership Proposal    

EJS “The Emanuel Jackson Sr. Project” a nonprofit 501(c)(3), was founded in 2014 by Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson. EJS provides Palm Beach County teens with a safe afterschool space, daily meals and transportation., enabling them to overcome systemic disadvantages through workforce readiness, civic engagement, social-emotional skills, and exposure-based skill building.

EJS had lost its existing location provided by the CRA and was looking for a new home base. The founder, Dupree Jackson, identified several alternatives but thought that the American Legion was an opportunity for “Honoring our History while pioneering change.” The EJS proposal offered solutions for youth and veterans and the veterans’ leadership agreed.

The EJS Project and the veterans entered into a verbal partnership in March of 2023. The responsibility for bringing the building up to code would be shouldered by EJS, ensuring a continued home for veterans while creating a secure haven for students. EJS submitted an unsolicited proposal to the City Manager’s office on April 7th.

The City informed EJS that they must submit a P3 Proposal with a $20,000 non-refundable application fee for staff to evaluate the proposal. EJS provided an update assuring the veterans that their partnership was still in place.  EJS then determined that a new lease naming EJS as the tenant was necessary to avoid any issues with the veterans' ongoing litigation against the city. The following week, EJS received a letter of support on the veteran's letterhead signed by Commander Jimmie Nelson and Vice Commander August Porter.

That’s when things turned South.

Things took an unexpected turn when some of the veterans objected to EJS replacing them as the tenant and asked EJS to hold off on submitting the new lease proposal. Some veterans believed the City has no right to lease this City owned land because of the veterans’ rights to the building. Out of respect, EJS delayed submitting the P3 proposal but ultimately did so.

The City Commission Weighs In

On November 17th the city commission agenda Item 7a was a resolution authorizing the city manager to negotiate an agreement with EJS for the long-term lease and redevelopment of the building. After discussion, the City Attorney asked for a meeting to discuss settlement of litigation

and the item was tabled until December 12th.  Deputy Vice-Mayor Rob Long suggested reimbursement for the P3 application and the Commission agreed.

At the City Commission meeting on December 5th, there was a discussion about the settlement offer made by the City. The offer included the 99-year lease of property with the same conditions as the previous lease, the American Legion would be responsible for renovation, maintenance, and upkeep of the property.  The Legion would be allowed to partner with other non-profits who provide benefits to the City.  There were timelines of 30 days to how Legion would fund renovations and any partnerships with other nonprofits, and 75 days to supply the City with proposed renovations and funding. The offer stipulated that each party would bear its own attorney fees.

Nine days later, the city attorney received a counteroffer that the Legion accepted all the terms but wanted the time frames extended to allow ample time to inspect the building.  The counteroffer included a provision for attorney’s fees to be paid by the City.  There was no fee or estimate of attorney’s fees attached to the counter but rather language that stated that If the parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding the payment of costs and attorney’s fees that the issue be submitted to the court for final determination. Additionally, the attorney for The Legion filed a  “motion for leave to amend” in court just minutes before the 5:00 deadline, asking the court to change the claims against the city. The amended charges were essentially the same as the charges filed previously including inverse condemnation, injunctive relief, trespass, conversion, and breach of contract.

The Commission decided that the attorney was not negotiating in good faith and refused to agree to an unnamed amount of legal fees so agreed to place lease negotiations with EJS on the December 12th agenda.

On Tuesday December 12, Delray Beach city commissioners voted 4-1 for resolution 235-23 to direct the city manager to negotiate an agreement with EJS for a long-term lease and redevelopment of the American Legion property located at 196 NW 8th Avenue in Delray Beach.

Commissioner Angela Burns, the only dissenting vote, said that while she respects the EJS Project and all the good that they do, her “vote of no was about Legacy and about preserving and safeguarding the history of Post 188c.” Burns said that the Post is a “piece of local history, a symbol of unity forged in challenging times…Let’s not forget the history that brought them to the necessity of constructing this post.”

Deputy Vice-Mayor, Rob Long said that he is in favor, but it is important that the lease include a sublease for the American Legion, and he would like the building to remain Sherman Williams Post 188.

The American Legion Post 188 Commander, Jimmie Nelson, said that whichever way it works out, he believes that it’s important the building activity serves the community. He said that there is a hearing scheduled for January 5, 2023 to hear the case in court.

Best Regards,

The Friends Of Delray Board

Judy Mollica - President

Steve English - Treasurer

Gregg Weiss

Kurt Jetta

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