By Jane Smith
Delray Beach city commissioners voted unanimously June 1 to keep the same structure of the city Community Redevelopment Agency board.
That means the commissioners will continue to sit on the CRA board and the two independent community members will remain.
The commission chambers were packed for discussion of that issue, which was moved from the last agenda item to the first to accommodate the crowd.
“I pulled my support for this item,” said Commissioner Ryan Boylston, who wanted to remove the independent members two weeks earlier.
He also attacked CRA board member Angie Gray from the dais about her personal Facebook posting, which talked about removing her and Kelcey Brooks, another Black voice, from the board.
Boylston said the statement wasn’t fair. Gray, though, could not respond to him at that time because of commission rules.
Nine of the 10 people who talked during public comment spoke about the CRA board structure.
Yvonne Odom was the lone supporter of removing the two independent members.
“This is not racism. It’s political patronage,” said Odom, a retired teacher who also runs youth athletic teams in the Black community.
Three pastors and a mother, an elderly woman who belongs to a church, spoke at the meeting. Their message: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”
One pastor, the Rev. Howard B. Barr Jr. of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, thanked the CRA board for making “West Atlantic neighborhoods part of the progress of Delray Beach.”
Gray and Brooks live in the West Atlantic neighborhoods. Pam Brinson, former CRA board member, said, “It’s not about race but about doing what’s right and wrong” when she spoke in support of the current composition of the CRA board.
During Gray’s remarks at the public comment section June 1, she said, “For 41 years, we made the promise to the Northwest and Southwest and Osceola neighborhoods, your time is coming. And now we are adding sidewalks, alleys and streetlights. There’s more to do.”
Mayor Shelly Petrolia thanked the public for the positive messages. “It’s not about racism but where the money goes.”
For the previous two weeks, the CRA board makeup was a hot topic on Facebook.
“It is all about the money,” Gray, a former city commissioner, wrote on her personal Facebook page on May 24.
“We have moved 80% of the CRA dollars back to where it is supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to be doing. … And now they want to stop that by removing the two Blacks, Angie Gray and Kelcey Brooks, from the CRA board that have been getting things done,” the post read.
The CRA has more than $26 million in tax dollars to spend on eliminating blight this financial year in an area that includes Atlantic Avenue east of the interstate. About 20% of the city lies within the CRA district. When budget carryovers are included, the agency has about $45.7 million available.
Boylston, re-elected in March, had campaigned on making the CRA board totally independent again. He asked the city attorney to investigate the issue.
That is not possible legally, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said at the May 18 commission meeting. Of the 222 CRA districts in Florida, 153, nearly 70%, are run by city commissions only.
One of the assistant city attorneys found a Florida Attorney General 2019 opinion that said the City Commission cannot transfer its authority to an independent board after it has designated itself as the CRA.
After learning of the legal constraints, Boylston had a change of heart and the consensus was 3-2 at the May 18 meeting to bring up the CRA board composition for a vote, with Juli Casale and Petrolia against moving forward.
“There would be considerable repercussions for all of us if we remove the two independent board members,” Casale said May 18. “We need input from residents who live there.”
Petrolia said most of the things the CRA does benefit the community. “I like the fact that two community members are on the board. That gives us a true connection with them on the board,” she said May 18. “We will lose that.”
The City Commission installed itself as the CRA board in April 2018. Two months later two community members were added to the board.
At the time, Commissioner Shirley Johnson was frustrated at the slow pace of development in the West Atlantic neighborhoods, while properties east of Swinton Avenue were thriving.
Johnson then nominated her campaign consultant and former commissioner, Gray, for a four-year term on the CRA board. Gray also had served on the CRA board before her election as a city commissioner.
Commissioner Boylston was the lone no vote against her appointment in 2018.
Commissioner Adam Frankel then offered Brinson to serve a two-year term. Brinson had run against Gray in 2014 when she lost her re-election bid to Jordana Jarjura.
Brinson was appointed by a 3-2 vote with former Commissioner Bill Bathurst and Boylston voting no.
Last year, the commission gave Seat 1, Frankel’s spot, the option to fill a CRA board member seat. Frankel picked Brooks to serve a two-year term.
This year, Gray backed Petrolia in her re-election to the mayor’s seat.