Delray Beach plans to move fire chief to acting city manager role

Chief Neal De Jesus at a July 6, 2016 press conference. (Photo courtesy of Delray Beach Fire Rescue)

DELRAY BEACH — City leaders are taking steps to move Chief Neal de Jesus of the city’s fire rescue department into a temporary city manager role after the departure of current City Manager Donald Cooper.

At a meeting Tuesday night, city leaders unanimously agreed to give de Jesus an up-to-10 percent salary increase and have him take on city management duties after Cooper steps down Dec. 30.

Cooper submitted a letter of resignation to the mayor and city commissioners in October, citing family and personal reasons.

De Jesus was hired in April to head the fire department. He will have to appoint an acting fire chief while he takes on city management duties to avoid state dual office-holding prohibitions, according to R. Max Lohman, city attorney.

De Jesus would still be running the fire department, city commissioners noted Tuesday, because the city manager oversees the fire department. The conditions of de Jesus’ contract will stipulate that he will stay on as fire chief when the city hires a new city manager.

“If he’s got the capacity to do both, I like his management style,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “He’s a change agent when we needed it.”

Prior to coming to Delray Beach, de Jesus was chief and executive director of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Fire Rescue and Emergency Services department. He previously spent 20 years with the Coral Gables fire department, retiring as its chief.

De Jesus also served two years as city commissioner in Cooper City before joining the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

He has a “sense of leadership that is just incredible,” said Commissioner Mitch Katz.

Concerns were raised about the weight of running the fire department and acting as city manager, which Cooper described as a “even day a week, almost 24 hours a day position.”

Tuesday’s meeting was Cooper’s last. The city will begin drawing up a contract for de Jesus immediately, he told the commission.