BocaWatch has invited all candidates to state their platform and concerns regarding the upcoming election for Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District Commissioner. This important vote will be on the primary ballot on August 30th.  Last week uncontested incumbent Steve Engel in his response article defended the B&PD.  

The following is submitted by Craig F. Ehrnst, a candidate running for District Seat 1 on the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District Board.   

First, I believe our District Commissioners and staff believe they are doing the right thing, as a self-described “demanding customer” to keep City staff accountable and taxes low. However, actions by the District and the City should highlight to residents the need to pay attention and speak up. Vote in this upcoming election – August 30th.

Commissioner Engel addressed several relevant issues in a recent BocaWatch article. I would like to address some of these issues from another perspective and a different point of view.

New District Office Facilities – upon completion of the Swim & Racket Club building, the District offices and Board meetings will move to a larger facility accommodating technology to broadcast meetings in real time.    The building and the technology needed for the District is expensive and a duplication of existing City resources.   Existing City Hall chambers accommodate well over 140 people and the broadcast technology is constantly changing and expensive. If the Airport Authority and others have little trouble working remotely from their offices to facilitate the broadcast of public meetings, the District can do so too. Duplicating expensive office and technology space for meetings that only last about an hour is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Purchase Beach/Waterfront Property – in my opinion, the District is in the best position to plan and strategize the creation of additional community green space.   This requires careful coordination and communication between the District and City authorities.   Ongoing communication issues are “clouding” the opportunity to develop a strategy.   The Boca Del Mar golf course has been closed for years. Ocean Breeze is moving into disrepair due to uncertain ownership. The opportunity to acquire and “re-purpose” open areas is quickly disappearing. I believe the District and the City could help residents by creating more parks and nature trails to enhance our community.

Conflicting Responsibilities – presently, the District’s Executive Director, and General Counsel serves in a key role to oversee all District legal matters, negotiate vendor contracts and enforce inter-local agreements with the City.   In addition, this individual is actively representing residents in a lawsuit against the City for site variances related to the proposed Palmetto Park Chabad project. The perception of a conflict of interest does exist and the District should address this issue. Generally speaking, employers do not permit employees to continue the employment relationship when the two parties are engaged in a lawsuit. The potential to gain access to sensitive documents, duplicate billing hours or negotiate objectively are all subject to significant risk of compromise.  Further, none of the District’s activities are overseen by the Palm Beach Inspector General’s office.

District Meeting Times – District Commissioners, volunteers, and residents provide a significant personal sacrifice to improve our communities.   Providing real-time video access of District meetings will increase public awareness and provide an opportunity gain more community based support to develop and implement new programming supported by community assets.

Finally, most residents do not understand the relationship between the District and the City.   Per Florida House Bill No. 297, Section 3 Purpose and obligations are to “first reimburse the City of Boca Raton the actual costs of debt service of acquisition, maintenance, operation, and debt service of improvements in real property…” In addition, upon the City encompassing the boundaries of the District, and satisfying all debt, the District’s assets and responsibilities will be transferred to the City of Boca Raton.

I believe the District should continue as an independent authority to preserve and protect some of our community’s most cherished assets. Working closer with City staff will only benefit residents.

Craig F. Ehrnst, Candidate for Seat 1 – Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District

BocaWatch.org will be hosting a debate moderated by Randy Schultz.  All candidates will be present on August 11, 2016 at 6:30pm, Boca Raton Community Center.