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Delray Beach comissioners table city manager hiring

By David Sedore, Palm Beach

DELRAY BEACH — Louie Chapman won’t be the next Delray Beach city manager. At least not in the next two weeks.

Delray Beach city commissioners, faced with new, potentially damaging information about Chapman's conduct in his present job, voted Tuesday to delay his hiring while further exploring the background of the Bloomfield, Conn., city manager.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last for City Manager David Harden, who is retiring after 22 years on the job, and Mayor Woodie McDuffie, who is stepping down three months before the end of his term.  McDuffie was term-limited, and could not have run for a third two-year term in the office.

Commissioners appointed Assistant City Manager Doug Smith as interim city manager. Smith was commissioners’ second choice, behind Chapman, to replace Harden.

Commissioner Tom Carney replaces McDuffie as mayor, and commissioners selected Christina Morrison to fill Carney’s commission seat. Morrison, a Realtor by trade, chairs the city’s Financial Review Board and unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the city commission last March. Morrison will serve until the end of March.

But the hot issue of the evening was whether to extend a contract to Chapman, the top choice to replace Harden. Commissioners last month agreed to negotiate a deal with Chapman. He accepted the city’s terms, and commissioners were scheduled to approve the contract Tuesday evening.

However, new information regarding Chapman’s tenure in Bloomfield had surfaced in the interim. A background check performed on the city’s behalf uncovered a domestic “incident” in which Chapman was involved but missed others, including a suit alleging unlawful termination of a police sergeant in his 50s, while failing to fire younger officers caught, in the words of McDuffie, conducting “a ram fest with a vehicle and a port o potty” while drunk.

There also were allegations that Chapman was sued for reducing medical benefits for retired police officers — benefits due the officers under terms of their union contract — and funneling the money back into the city treasury.

McDuffie also said a “reliable source” has pictures of a city truck used during a private move involving Chapman.

“My main concern is that these things add up and continue to add up,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said. “Who knows what else is out there?”

McDuffie urged caution with the hiring. “This is my last night, and I will almost plead with you to sort these things out first. It’s very difficult to build a city like Delray Beach. It’s not so difficult to crash it.

“If half of what I read in these suits is true, that place is a mess.”

“That place” was a reference to Bloomfield.

Neither Frankel nor McDuffie supported Chapman’s hiring.

Commissioner Angeleta  Gray did support Chapman and at first favored moving ahead with the contract, noting that officials are routinely made parties to lawsuits even though they have no direct involvement in the wrongdoing alleged.

“This is really old stuff, and doesn’t specifically name Chapman,” Gray said.

Commissioner Al Jacquet, another Chapman supporter, strongly inferred that Frankel and McDuffie were using the new information as a tactic to thwart Chapman’s appointment. His position: move ahead with the hiring.

“Every meeting it’s something,” Jacquet said.

But Carney, the soon-to-be mayor and another Chapman supporter, like McDuffie, voiced caution.

“It’s unfair to bring him in under a cloud,” Carney said. “He’ll be the one to suffer if this cloud continues.

“I continue to support him. I’m confident he’ll be our next city manager. It might be nothing,” Carney said of the allegations, “but I want to know it’s nothing.”

Gray joined McDuffie, Carney and Frankel in tabling the Chapman hiring. Jacquet voted against.

In the meantime, commissioners will ask representatives of the firm that was supposed to vet Chapman to attend next week’s workshop meeting and explain why they missed the allegations. Commissioners will take up Chapman’s contract again at their Jan. 15 meeting.

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