The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Interim manager making progress on city reorganization

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Delray Beach is working with a firm from California to find candidates for city manager as interim manager Neal de Jesus reorganizes city staff. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Jane Smith

Neal de Jesus continues to plow forward with staffing changes as interim city manager of Delray Beach.
Since the March 1 firing of Mark Lauzier from the city government’s top position, de Jesus has reorganized upper management with firings and promotions. He also found a search firm to locate a new city manager.
On March 12, he received City Commission approval to hire Ralph Andersen & Associates of Rocklin, California, which has 47 years of executive search experience. De Jesus estimated that the total cost would be less than $50,000 because the firm’s executive vice president, Robert Burg, lives in Sarasota.
Burg will want to meet with each commissioner to find out the type of experience the commission wants in manager candidates, de Jesus said at the March 12 commission meeting. Then, the job will be advertised, allowing inside and outside candidates to apply.
“I reminded the staff of what we are called to do — serve residents, businesses and visitors of Delray Beach,” de Jesus said.
When city commissioners appointed de Jesus as interim manager on March 1, he agreed to serve for 90 days and then return to his fire chief position.
In one of his first moves, Shona Smith, executive assistant in the city manager’s office, was suspended without pay on March 1. She resigned in mid-March, as did Nora Emmanuel, the city’s public information coordinator.
Assistant City Manager India Adams, though, is fighting her firing and has hired an attorney to ask for 90 days’ severance pay, as well as payment for her unused vacation and sick time. The hearing date was not set as of press time. She had been recruited from Lauzier’s former office in Tacoma, Washington.
When Adams first came to the city in January 2018, she was an assistant to the city manager. Her salary was $82,350, plus benefits.
On Aug. 1, Lauzier promoted Adams to be assistant city manager, raising her salary by about 45 percent to $120,000.
De Jesus finished reorganizing the city manager’s office by firing Vince Roberts, the city’s management fellow.
A report by Julia Davidyan, the city’s internal auditor, found that Roberts and Adams were not qualified to be in their city positions, according to their job descriptions.
In other top management moves:
Laura Thezine, assistant finance director, will step up as the interim finance director while de Jesus looks for a longer-term finance director through the Government Finance Officers Association.
De Jesus also wants to move the city’s Office of Budget back under the Finance Department.
“We will look internally to fill vacancies. In the past, we have looked outside,” de Jesus said.
He promoted Suzanne Fisher to be an assistant city manager from her post as Parks and Recreation Department director.
Sam Metott then stepped into the open parks director position. Metott, who had been assistant director, had been looking for other jobs and had said his goal was to run a parks department, de Jesus said.
At the end of March, Utilities Director Marjorie Craig and Public Works Director Susan Goebel-Canning resigned.
Davidyan, who had previously been assigned a closet-like space, has moved to a private office across from the city manager on the second floor of City Hall, de Jesus said.
Delray Beach voters approved the internal auditor position in a March 2016 referendum, although Davidyan was hired on Aug. 27, 2018. She reports directly to the commission, independent of the city manager.
Lauzier became city manager on Nov. 6, 2017, at a salary of $235,000. On Jan. 15, he received a 4 percent increase, retroactive to his anniversary date of Nov. 6. The salary increase was approved 3-2 by the City Commission. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson voted no.
Davidyan never met with Lauzier despite repeated attempts on her part. As recently as the Feb. 5 commission meeting, Petrolia asked Lauzier “to meet with the internal auditor once a month.”
At the March 1 special City Commission meeting called to discuss Lauzier’s performance, Davidyan said “certain red flags” were raised earlier this year. She began investigating the “tone at the top” after the Feb. 5 meeting, when Lauzier announced he had hired his third assistant city manager, Susan Grant.
Davidyan noticed that several key department head positions were open in early 2019. Lauzier had declared a partial hiring freeze in late January and then two weeks later announced he hired Grant.
In her review, Davidyan found:
• On Dec. 7, 2017, Lauzier rewrote the personnel manual so that it did not cover his hiring of people who report directly to him, including executive staff in his office and the department heads. He did not update the city charter as was required, post the changes or alert the commission.
• In January 2018, Lauzier hired Adams to be assistant to the city manager. Adams listed only one year of experience as a management analyst II and two years of intern/fellowship experience on her résumé.
• On March 29, 2018, Lauzier hired Roberts, with a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina, at an annual salary of $53,174, with $3,800 in moving expenses and $1,200 in housing assistance. Roberts also received full city benefits.
• On Aug. 1, Lauzier promoted Adams to be assistant city manager. The City Commission learned about the promotion in Lauzier’s July 31 memo when he released a revised organization chart. Adams did not have the required five years of experience for the position.
On Jan. 30, the city had a partial hiring freeze, but Lauzier hired another assistant city manager, Grant from Coral Springs. Her start date was Feb. 19.
Grant resigned on March 1, rather than go on unpaid leave, de Jesus said.
The March 1 meeting was conducted as a quasi-judicial hearing that provided the required 72 hours of notice to the public. Davidyan’s “Concerns with the tone at the top,” though, were not posted until one hour before the meeting started.
City Attorney Lynn Gelin said at the meeting that the county Office of the Inspector General wanted a copy of Davidyan’s notes.
At the March 1 meeting, Lauzier received time to respond.
“I have not violated any code of ethics,” he said, adding that he took over a city that was in chaos.
He defended Adams “as the most talented management fellow, who proved herself in the mettle. People have a problem with excellence.”
He asked for time to respond to the report or to allow him to work up an amicable separation agreement.
“It’s not appropriate to attack my staff and me and call me incompetent,” Lauzier said.
He ended his 15-minute speech by telling commissioners, “I love you guys and I love this city.”
City commissioners voted unanimously to fire Lauzier with cause.

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