Black community frustrations grow in Delray at city meeting

The Delray Beach city commission was minus one seat on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2016 after city leaders failed to appoint a temporary commissioner twice. (Photo by Lulu Ramadan / Palm Beach Post)

The Delray Beach city commission was minus one seat on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2016 after city leaders failed to appoint a temporary commissioner twice. (Photo by Lulu Ramadan / Palm Beach Post)

DELRAY BEACH — Another city meeting came and went with argument and allegations, and still Delray Beach’s highest governing board lacks a black representative.

Several members of the southwest/northwest neighborhoods, made up of largely African-American and Caribbean residents, spoke at a city meeting Tuesday to urge the commission to appoint a temporary city commissioner after they failed to do so in the past two meetings.

They learned late Tuesday that the city’s charter bars the commission from taking action after two meetings.

The seat was vacated by former Vice Mayor Al Jacquet, a Haitian-American and the only black representative on the commission. The mayor and three commissioners that remain were tasked with temporarily filling the seat, but were torn between two black candidates: Yvonne Odom and Josh Smith, both community activists and educators.

“We should not be without black representation on this board,” Angeleta Gray, a former commissioner and community activist, said following Tuesday’s meeting. “We are all outraged. We feel like our voices are not being heard at all.”

During the meeting, Gray asked audience members to stand if they support Odom’s appointment. A majority — more than 20 people — rose, many of them donning yellow clothing, which has become a symbol of support for Odom in city meetings.

Yvonne Odom (left) and Josh Smith were considered by the Delray Beach City Commission to temporarily fill a vacant seat.

Yvonne Odom (left) and Josh Smith were considered by the Delray Beach City Commission to temporarily fill a vacant seat.

Several people spoke in favor of Odom’s appointment during public comment. None spoke in favor of Smith, who said following the meeting that the “silent majority” supports his appointment.

In a charged portion of the meeting, Mayor Cary Glickstein, who supports Odom’s appointment along with Commissioner Jordana Jarjura, said the opposition was focused solely on “politics , control and power.”

Glickstein and Jarjura suggested a third vote, which violates the city charter, according to Attorney R. Max Lohman. Commissioners Shelly Petrolia and Mitch Katz did not agree.

We’re already in violation of the charter one time, doing it again doesn’t make it right,” Petrolia said. The first violation branches from the city’s inability to hold a special election to fill the seat because of time and resource restrictions.

The commissioners all agreed there should be a black representative, which they have acknowledged at meetings, but cannot agree on who should serve.

The outcome has left several community members saying they are frustrated.

“It’s blatantly obvious that we’re not being listened to,” said Emanual Dupree Jackson Jr., a lifelong Delray Beach resident. “Leave your personal gripes out of this and realize this has to do with our having a voice.”

Hazel MacFarlene, another lifelong resident and local teacher, said politics and personal agendas were ultimately “undermining the black community.”

Gray said that black community would be “voiceless” should development proposals in the northwest/southwest neighborhoods arise in coming months.

“Our community does not want to be displaced,” she said.

The temporary commissioner would have only served in Seat 2 until the March 14 municipal election, when the seat is up for grabs. Smith has filed to run for Seat 4, against incumbent Jarjura, in the coming election.

There’s “no particular reason” he chose Seat 4 rather than Seat 2, he said following the meeting. Delray Beach’s commission seats are at large, not by districts.

Accusations about the political underpinnings of these decisions were leveled from city leaders and the public during the meeting. To understand this, you have to understand the past, many said following the meeting.

  • Smith backed Jarjura in her 2014 bid against incumbent Gray, who Smith said Tuesday night “didn’t represent the black community well enough” at the time. Gray was accused — and eventually acquitted — of payoff allegations just weeks before she lost the election.
  • “When I ran two years ago, (Gray) campaigned against me,” Smith said. Smith lost to Katz in that election.
  • Smith admittedly distanced himself from city politics following the loss because he “felt like the community turned its back” on him, he said Tuesday. Several have criticized Smith for not being as involved as Odom in city meetings.

Smith isn’t looking to only represent the black community, he said Tuesday, but rather “look out for the interests of the entire community.”

Odom, who has never run for office and doesn’t intend to, volunteered to temporarily fill the commission seat to “leave politics out of it,” she said.

Odom has historically been very involved in race relations in Delray Beach. She and her husband, Eddie, founded the still-thriving Delray Beach American Little League team when the only little league baseball team in the city was all-white.

Odom was the only black student at former Seacrest High School during the first year of integration, she said.

“For my whole life, the black and white community in Delray Beach have always had a respect for one another because they are able to communicate,” she said.

The outcome of the meeting was disappointing, she said. But Odom encouraged the community to take their frustrations to polls in March.

“Our community will survive this,” she said. “They have survived much worse.”