Longform

The Next Ex-Mayor

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But back inside the conference room, Frankel's mood changed dramatically. "OK, we missed a meeting," Frankel told the group of department heads in a calm voice. "But this is not Bruce's fault. We need to make sure to let him know about things." Jagers was relieved but also baffled by her quick turnaround. Jagers quit after just two months on the job. "Working for her," he recalls, "you never knew if she was going to light into you or compliment you."

Former employees and those close to Frankel say the tirades are common. But just as frequent are her cordial moments. She rarely misses an opportunity to speak at community meetings, and her appearances often include Frankel dancing. One of the mayor's favorite icebreakers is to leap into a spontaneous party dance, either encouraging others to join or doing it happily by herself. Her management style of mixing a little sugar with a whole lot of fire can be effective, her critics concede, by scaring off potential rivals. But even most of her supporters admit Frankel lacks diplomatic skills usually a prerequisite in politics, where a good smile typically goes further than brains.

Greene, the County Commissioner and long-time Frankel supporter, says she's often surprised by the mayor's guns-blazing approach. Says Greene: "She's just not a people person."

Delray Beach chiropractor and political consultant Andre Fladell says Frankel has few of the subtle skills of most politicians. "The best way to describe Lois is that it's like dealing with a steamroller," Fladell says. "Whatever gets in her way, she just rolls over it and keeps going." But Fladell predicts that Frankel's reelection prospects will have more to do with her progress -- or if things don't change, the lack of it -- than her personality.

City Commissioner Mitchell, a Republican, is Frankel's toughest critic. She says the mayor's style worked well when Frankel was a lawyer and then again when she served as speaker of the Florida House. But in the executive branch, her approach doesn't fit, Mitchell says: "In the Legislature, she was the grenade thrower. She was shooting hard from both sides. That doesn't work when you're the mayor. Sometimes you need to play nice."

Frankel's bludgeoning style was at least partially to blame for several high-ranking employees' quitting during the past year. Among the 14 employees who left: two assistant city administrators, the city's public information officer, Frankel's secretary, and her personal aide. Many of those who quit or were fired declined to speak about Frankel. "Look," said one former employee, "I have to live and work in this town, and that would not be easy if I said anything bad about Lois."



One former employee said Frankel simply asked too much of her subordinates. "She demanded perfection, and humans are not perfect. If something went wrong, she wouldn't excuse that."

Terry Atherton, assistant city administrator for utilities, was the most recent of the resignations. He left in May, citing in part Frankel's treatment of employees. "She was difficult to deal with, you could say that."

Robin Singer, the city's former planning and zoning administrator, took a similar job in Naples. Singer said she witnessed Frankel's berating her employees for mistakes, and she quit, she says, before she became the target of an attack. "Lois was a very forceful person," Singer says. "Luckily, I was never an object of that."

Perhaps the most significant departure was the resignation, in June 2004, of Nancy Graham, who spent just a year and a half as director of the Downtown Development Authority. Graham, who herself served as mayor from 1995-99, during the city's headiest times, won't discuss what led to her departure from the Development Authority. She would say only, "Lois decided to do things her way." Before hanging up, Graham added: "You've probably figured out my feelings toward her by me not commenting."



In her defense, Frankel says the resignations and firings were no more than is typical for a mayoral term. She says turnover is actually lower under her tenure than in previous administrations, although she cannot provide data to prove it. She blames the public perception that her employees are leaving on the coverage of the Palm Beach Post. "Ask me some original questions," she says, when asked about the resignations. "You want to know about the Palm Beach Post story? I'll take the time and show you. It's an embarrassment to journalism, and they're lucky they didn't get sued."

Frankel blames the Post's coverage for what she says are untrue rumors that she swears loudly around her office and treats her employees poorly. "I don't cuss," Frankel fumes in her office one afternoon. "You can go out there and ask these people. I have cussed out reporters from the Palm Beach Post once or twice, because they don't know how to print the facts. We don't curse around here. We have good times. We have fun, we dance, we play music."

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Eric Alan Barton
Contact: Eric Alan Barton