The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Council heaps praise on top officials

By Steve Plunkett

    It’s no secret Boca Raton loves its longtime city manager. Ditto for the city attorney.
    City Manager Leif Ahnell presented the City Council a four-page list detailing 150 projects and activities he oversaw the last fiscal year for an executive performance review June 13.
    “It’s not intended to be a comprehensive list, but it’s just to give everybody some perspective on the services and the scope of operations that we actually are responsible for here and the management,” Ahnell said.
    City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser compiled a three-page, single-spaced “brief overview/highlight” of legal services she provided. The most important function for her office of five, she said, is “to every day kind of anticipate” the city’s legal needs.
    Ahnell’s list noted that in fiscal 2016 the city reviewed almost 22,000 job applications, hired 296 employees and performed nearly 75,000 building inspections. During the recession, Ahnell said, the city stopped giving raises to general employees for four years.
    “As it turned out the city attorney and I went five years with no raises,” he said.
    Since there were no raises, the council also stopped doing performance reviews — until this year.
    Ahnell said he is responsible for a nearly $700 million budget and supervises eight departments with 68 divisions.
    “Really we’re 68 different businesses that we’re kind of running and close to 1,800 employees being managed,” he said.
    More items from the list: City Hall handled about 2,300 public records requests in the 2016 budget year and 43 percent more in the current year. Police answered nearly 60,000 emergency calls.
    “I think that what people don’t appreciate is that, in addition to the 150 items that you’ve discussed here, that you are the conductor of the city,” council member Robert Weinroth said.
    “I really am very impressed by the ability of you to keep this city running and keep the five of us relatively satisfied,” Weinroth said, adding he’d give Ahnell an A “or an A-minus at worst.”
    Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers also was happy with Ahnell’s work.
    “We’re on worldwide lists of best places to live, work, go to school, all those things. … That’s not saying we can’t constantly improve — because I think we constantly seek that and that’s important — and it’s a testament to you and a testament to your hiring and our great staff that you’ve brought here,” Rodgers said.
    Council member Scott Singer called Ahnell a “high-level” manager.
    “I struggle to find an area of improvement to even suggest,” Singer said. “Mr. Ahnell succeeds in areas that I can’t even fathom.”
    Mayor Susan Haynie was equally positive.
    “My only criticism of you is I wish I saw you more out and about town, but I think you’re chained to your desk trying to do all these things,” Haynie said. “Your longevity is a testament to your quality.”
    When it came to the city attorney, Weinroth, who had complained about bad legal advice, was complimentary after Frieser’s successful defense of him in an ethics complaint.
    “On the whole I think you’re doing a very good job,” said Weinroth, giving her a B-plus.
    Singer said he would not want a city attorney presenting a long list of accomplishments.
    “The less that you can put on paper, the less we have to talk about, the fewer lawsuits we have to win or fight, the better,” he said. “It’s what we’re not hearing — that’s good counsel.”
    Haynie noted Frieser’s work on the free-speech zone and other accomplishments.
    “What you’ve done assisting us with the sober home issue was really, really wonderful —the alcohol sales, those were all tough things,” the mayor said.
    There was no talk of pay raises for the two officials.
Later this summer, the council will review Ahnell’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, which will include money for raises.
    Ahnell has entered the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, which means he will retire within five years and receive all his retirement benefits for that period in a lump sum or rollover.
    The performance reviews occurred in a nearly empty council chamber at the end of a four-hour, 15-minute meeting that followed a 2½-hour meeting earlier that day.
    Council member Andrea O’Rourke worried that residents missed the discussion of all Ahnell and Frieser do.
    “I think it would be a great idea to publish this list,” said O’Rourke, who suggested putting a special button on the city’s website.
    The lists are attached to the agenda posted online for the June 13 meeting.

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