Broward News

Deerfield Commissioners Delighted by Hard-Charging Interim City Manager

Technically, Burgess Hanson is merely the "interim" city manager of Deerfield Beach. But only five weeks after he was given that title, he has managed to perform a feat that has eluded every other city manager in recent memory: Every commissioner thinks he's doing a great job.

Which is surreal. At last night's meeting, even the commissioners themselves were amazed that they could agree on Hanson's performance. Commissioner Marty Popelsky was so pleased that he suggested the city abandon its plan for a national search and offer Hanson a contract on the spot.

The other commissioners didn't want to move quite so fast, but they all agreed to slow down their recruiting efforts so that Hanson could navigate them through what promises to be a harrowing budget process.

So what do they like about Hanson?

Well, the commissioners may not have been quite complete with the explanations they offered at the public meeting. There was talk of how hard Hanson has worked, how accessible he's been to commissioners, and how fair he's been in his handling of delicate subjects. All of which may be true.

But there should be no doubt about what impressed the commissioners most about Hanson: Almost immediately after taking office, he has dared to question the way money is handled in the community development division.

The city receives federal funds meant to help rehabilitate low-income housing and to build affordable housing units. Until Hanson arrived, it seems, no one bothered to ensure that the recipients of those funds were following through on their obligations.

The strange thing is that former city manager Mike Mahaney also had an inkling that something was amiss in this city department, but it seems he avoided investigating it out of fear for the political ramifications. Vice Mayor Sylvia Poitier's daughter Felecia is president of the nonprofit agency that receives funding for low-income housing, the Westside Deerfield Businessmen Association.

Mahaney has declined Juice requests for an interview, but it's widely known that he feared for his job security after the March 2009 elections and that he needed Sylvia Poitier's vote to keep his job. She was his most vigorous defender last month, when the city moved to suspend, then fire Mahaney.

At last night's meeting, by the time Poitier spoke up about Hanson, the other four on the commission had already heaped praise on him. Naturally, she joined the chorus. And when it came time to talk about the investigation of housing funds, she insisted that she thought it was a swell idea. "I am transparent," she declared. "I am honest -- as I have been for 30 years."

But let's wait to see if her enthusiasm for the investigation -- and for Hanson -- is built to last. Later today, we'll take a closer look at Poitier's ties to the WDBA.

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Thomas Francis