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Outgoing Mayor Woodie McDuffie is surrounded by commissioners and
staff during his final Delray Beach City Commission meeting.

Mary Kate Leming/The Coastal Star

By Margie Plunkett

Delray Beach opened the year with a new mayor, commissioner and city manager — but there’s still room for change with March elections ahead of the city manager’s start date.

Louie Chapman Jr., city manager of Bloomfield, Conn., will step into the shoes of retired 22-year city manager David Harden on April 1. His contract was approved in a 3-2 vote amid a host of controversial questions on his past surfaced by the public.

“I believe Mr. Chapman is the cream of the crop,” said Commissioner Angeleta Gray as she prepared to vote in favor of the candidate at the Jan. 15 meeting.

The commission that voted Chapman in was led by Mayor Tom Carney, sworn into the office in January to fill the seat vacated by former Mayor Woodie McDuffie. 

Carney gave his yes vote to Chapman, noting that the commission doesn’t “allow unsubstantiated rumor to drive a decision.” Commissioner Al Jacquet was the third affirmative vote.

Commissioners Adam Frankel and Christina Morrison, who was appointed to fill Carney’s vacated seat, voted against approving Chapman’s contract. Both, however, said if Chapman won the vote they would fully support him in the role as city manager. 

Frankel said the search for city manager should have been more expansive and Chapman “wasn’t my first choice.” Morrison called the search flawed, asked the city to delay its decision for three to six months, and praised the work of inside candidate interim City Manager Doug Smith and his colleagues.

Chapman will receive an annual salary of $160,000, with a $400 monthly car allowance and $1,500 for temporary living expenses for up to the first six months in the job.

Chapman became the top candidate for the position late last year after a competition that included Smith, who was Harden’s choice for the position. 

Chapman, who has 19 years of experience with Bloomfield (population, 20,500), a smaller city than Delray Beach (population 60,500), drew the initial support of Gray, Jacquet and Carney for his experience and “fresh eyes.” Then-Mayor McDuffie and Frankel were not in support.

In addition to his experience in Bloomfield, Chapman was assistant city manager in Charlottesville, Va. He has a master’s degree in planning from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s in social science from Norfolk State University.

Even as commissioners initially voted to pursue a contract with Chapman, issues began to emerge, ultimately including claims of domestic violence; that he used a city truck to move his girlfriend into his home; dated an employee of the police department that he oversaw; and was named as a defendant in lawsuits against the city.

The growing number of issues led commissioners to question the vendor they believed was vetting the candidates as well as Chapman. A representative of the search firm was brought in for a workshop meeting to discuss the issues and the search. Chapman also attended the meeting on his own initiative and expense to answer commissioners’ questions.

“I’ve lived my life as a public official and I’m very meticulous about the way I conduct my affairs,” he said, as he responded to the range of commission questions.

On the issue of dating the employee, he said that Bloomfield has no policy that would have prohibited the relationship, adding, “You have to take your love where you find it.” 

At the same meeting, Ron Holifield, president and CEO of Strategic Government Resources Inc., said his firm was only contracted to conduct a partial search for Delray Beach, which was a rare request for a city seeking to fill the city manager position. The partial search did not encompass all the tasks or as wide a sweep for potential candidates as a full search does, he said.

“We have taken every allegation very seriously and have tried to document the credibility. We have not been able to document any of the allegations as being reliable,” Holifield said.

On Jan. 3, Carney and Morrison were sworn into respective mayor and commission seats that expire March 28 and represent two of three Delray Beach seats open at the March 12 election.

Carney is running for mayor and Commissioner Frankel is defending his incumbency.  

Morrison is a licensed real estate broker and former chair of the city’s Financial Review Board.

Former Mayor McDuffie was required to give up his seat early because he ran for the seat of Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, a bid that was unsuccessful.  He was not eligible to run for Delray Beach Commission again because he has served the maximum term allowed. 

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