With four of five city commission seats hosting new occupants, elected officials and city staff broke bread, took a trolley tour and mapped out their goals for the next year during a workshop/orientation Thursday.
It actually was a joint gathering of the city commission and the community redevelopment agency board, but they’re essentially the same thing; the CRA board is the commission plus two outside appointees.
The new panel sat for the first time at this week’s commission meeting, and gathers as the CRA board for the first time Tuesday.
“We’re going to get into some conversation about where we’re headed,” City Manager Lori LaVerriere said Thursday morning.
For more than a year, the conversation at Boynton Beach was mostly about struggling with plummeting property values, with the ensuing budget cuts and layoffs; the departure of a mayor after his arrest on political corruption charges and the resignation of another in a blackmail controversy; and a parade of deadlock and stalemate.
The panel: New mayor, and former mayor, Jerry Taylor; the recent interim mayor, and now vice mayor, Woodrow Hay; and new commissioners David Merker, Michael Fitzpatrick and Joe Casello. Also participating: CRA board member James “Buck” Buchanan. The other outside appointee, Mark Karageorge, had a conflict Thursday.
The group met briefly at the city’s library, then boarded a trolley for a “Breeze through Boynton” tour before sitting for lunch.
The tour served as almost a “greatest hits” of the city’s top successes, failures and unfinished business, including:
- The old 1927 high school, vacant for decades and part of yet another redevelopment plan.
- The Boynton Harbor Marina, the city’s waterfront jewel.
- The troubled and mostly empty 14-story Promenade condo, next to the marina, which recently was bought out of foreclosure and is starting to fill.
- The two-block-long “500 East Ocean” lot, which has stood vacant for eight years.
At lunch, the group talked unity, new ideas, and plain old good public relations.
“Too much negative energy. Too many conflicts. Too many hidden agendas” in the past, Buchanan said.
“It’s all about perception, and how we sell ourselves,” Casello said.
Fitzpatrick noted from personal experience that he and other volunteers had “horrible experiences” working with the city, calling that counterproductive; he urged the city to be more receptive to its citizens.
Many called for unity, saying it’s been lacking, and is critical in the city’s recovery.
“When developers sense there’s turmoil on those two boards, they run. They run!” development director Nancy Byrne said. “Our job is to get them back.”
Taylor said word is spreading among developers that Boynton Beach is again a top target area.
“We’re at a pivotal point,” LaVerriere said. “It’s either go gangbusters, or bust.”
And Hay said, “This is our time. The good Lord has delivered and it’s up to us not to mess it up.”
Taylor also noted the three new commissioners talked about up a lot of issues during the campaign; “we want to throw all these ideas in a basket and see how we can work together.”
And Merker said, “We’re new kids on the block. “We should have our minds open.”