By Steve Plunkett
Following what he called an “extraordinary” visit to the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, the city’s deputy mayor wants district commissioners to replace their interim executive director with someone full time.
“Understandably, the incumbent has other issues he must balance with the demands of the district,” Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth said in an email to the district’s chairman.
Arthur Koski, the interim director, is also the district’s longtime attorney.
“With regard to a full-time director, I am serving at the pleasure of the district and at the request of the district. I am prepared to step aside at any time the commissioners so desire,” he said.
Weinroth’s demand for a new executive comes after a “dustup” over Red Reef Park’s master plan brought communications between the city and the district to a near standstill.
During an unscheduled appearance at the district’s March 14 meeting, Weinroth said he was alarmed by an email from Assistant City Manager Mike Woika to Koski.
“The first sentence just really made me concerned that we’re really not making progress in our attempt to have better communication,” Weinroth said.
Woika’s email acknowledged that he received two emails from Koski regarding capital projects on city property, Weinroth said.
Woika’s email continued: “I’m shocked and disappointed that you suggest that the district attempts to communicate with the city and the city ignores the communication, when in fact just the opposite is true.”
Koski said the acrimony began after he and the district’s assistant executive director, Briann Harms, scheduled a meeting with Miller Legg, the consultant firm developing the Red Reef plan.
Jim Miller and Michele Peel, of the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, inquired about the status of the plan and Koski invited them to sit in, he said. Harms then invited Buddy Parks, the city’s deputy director of recreational services, who was not available.
Woika thinks the city was specifically excluded from the meeting, Koski said, “which was absolutely false.”
“There was never an intention to exclude anybody,” Koski said, “and in fact, immediately after the meeting, Briann physically took all of the documents which were discussed at that meeting to Buddy Parks’ office at the city.”
Koski said he sent a one-line email on March 3 to Woika: “Can we get together and discuss the master plan?” Woika responded that evening that he was out of the office and would call the next day, Koski said.
“I’ve not heard from him since,” he said.
“Basically, up until the point of not getting the callback, the dustup was a dustup,” Beach and Park District Commissioner Earl Starkoff said.
“It was all over with,” Koski said. “But here we are [on March 14] and we still have not had any reply to the request.”
Koski also said having conversations with Mickey Gomez, the city’s director of recreational services, “may be somewhat difficult.”
Gomez told Koski he is “out of pocket because of some issue of him being involved at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center,” part of Red Reef Park. Boca Raton owns the park; the Beach and Park District pays all costs for operating and maintaining it.
Weinroth said he is frustrated that the Beach and Park District and the City Council have not held a joint session since June 9.
“I know [council member Scott] Singer during that meeting had said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have meetings on a quarterly basis and then we could again try to address some of the situations that we need to work on together? Things like the interlocal agreement, things like the capital plan for Gumbo Limbo, things like the tank, like the pump for the water being brought out of the ocean.’ There are a lot of issues that really need to be addressed,” Weinroth said.
Koski has said he started suggesting possible dates for a joint meeting in August without success.
Both Woika and Gomez disputed Koski’s version of the events, Weinroth said in his March 15 email to District Chairman Robert Rollins.
“For the record ... I believe the District needs to [make] securing a permanent executive director as a top priority,” Weinroth wrote.
Koski became the district’s interim executive director after Robert Langford retired in 2012. He also has a private practice and represents two people who are suing the city to block construction of a chabad on the barrier island.
Weinroth called the legal situation “problematic.”
“I think at a time when we’re trying to build bridges between our two bodies, I don’t think that this is helpful,” he said.
Koski, in an interview March 29, said he had spoken with Gomez about the master plan but still had not received a phone call or email from Woika.
“I don’t want to blame anybody ... but I feel any criticism of the district is unwarranted,” Koski said.
Weinroth’s appearance was the second high-level get-together between the two bodies in three weeks.
Rollins had what he called “a wonderful meeting” with Mayor Susan Haynie in City Hall on Feb. 24. He told Haynie that the district would pay half the local costs of renourishing the central beach area and expects to reserve more money each year for future beach restorations.
Rollins originally planned to address the full council at one of its workshop sessions, but Haynie advised him to talk directly with City Manager Leif Ahnell, he said. Rollins said he has also offered to meet with Singer for coffee.
“When you get eyeball to eyeball and you sit there at the same table, communications are greatly improved,” Rollins said. “And my objective is to help facilitate that for us this year.”
Rollins is scheduled to meet with Ahnell on April 4.
Starkoff thanked Weinroth for coming.
“We don’t have to have a joint meeting in order to have a nice conversation and see how messages get conveyed. That’s very nice,” Starkoff said.
At the next council meeting, Weinroth encouraged his colleagues to reach out to the district.
“I think that it’s incumbent upon us, one on one with these commissioners, to have conversations and let them know our concerns, because obviously we can’t do it as a body. We can’t seem to put these [joint] meetings together.” Ú