EXCLUSIVE: Oxbridge ousts CEO after Koch investigation

President and CEO of Oxbridge Academy is Robert Parsons, a former United States Navy captain and the deputy superintendent for finance and chief financial officer at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. At the Naval Academy, he was responsible for planning, programming, budgeting and executing federal funding for the school, as well as managing private funding from the Naval Academy Foundation and the Naval Academy Athletic Association. He is the recipient of three Legion of Merit awards, the Joint Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Meritorious Service Medal and two Navy Commendation Medals. He earned his bachelor’s of science degree in marine engineering from the United States Naval Academy and his master’s of science degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State University. Photo courtesy of Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches
Former President and CEO of Oxbridge Academy Robert Parsons

WEST PALM BEACH — Oxbridge Academy’s CEO was fired Thursday and its athletic director’s and football coach’s contracts will not be renewed, after a Palm Beach Post investigation prompted the private high school’s chairman, Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch, to investigate the school he founded.

In a letter to Oxbridge parents today, the morning after graduation ceremonies, Koch said President and CEO Robert Parsons, who led the school since its founding in 2011, has been removed.

oxbridge academy

The school’s board made its decision after meeting with Parsons Thursday. The chairman of the school’s Executive Committee, Bob Kaufmann, met with staff and faculty at 7:30 this morning at the campus at 3151 N. Military Trail to advise them of the decisions and content of the letter.

>>RELATED OPINION: Commentary: Billionaire Bill Koch makes good on “exhaustive investigation” into Oxbridge

Oxbridge placed Parsons, Director of Athletics Craig Sponsky and bookstore manager Ulle Boshko on paid leave in April amid a Palm Beach Post investigation into allegations of a toxic employment environment including sexual harassment by Parsons, high turnover and over-emphasis on football at the expense of academics. At the same time Koch ordered investigations by a team that included an ex-FBI agent, a forensic accountant and a lawyer.

Bill Koch
>>RELATED: Six things to know about Bill Koch.

Koch said Friday that in addition to Parsons, Sponsky will not return in the fall. The school’s board of directors also decided not to renew the contract of football coach Doug Socha, Koch said.

Academic Dean John Klemme will assume the title Head of School, a post he has effectively had on an interim basis since the board put Parsons on a leave of absence five weeks ago.

Koch called the decisions bittersweet.

“Bob (Parsons) has given much to achieve the successful, fast start at Oxbridge and I want to say “thank you” to him for that,” he wrote. “At the same time,these last weeks have been difficult for the school community. Today the board is more fully aware of issues of concern on Bob’s part. Simply put, the board felt that now was the proper and necessary time to turn the page.”

Boshko’s fate was not mentioned in Koch’s letter.

She filed a complaint against the school in November with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging Parsons demoted her from comptroller to bookstore manager when she refused his sexual advances. That case is still pending.

She said a school representative told her recently that Oxbridge wants to mediate a settlement. Boshko, however, told The Palm Beach Post that she wanted Parsons out and she wanted to be reinstated as comptroller.

“I don’t see why I should be the one to leave,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Ulle

Ulle Boshko

With the departures of Sponsky and Socha, the board signals it plans to reduce the profile of its football program, which was subject of complaints that it was over-emphasized, to the point of admitting athletes who couldn’t read past 3rd grade level. Head coach Socha was earned $230,481 in 2014, according to nonprofit school’s most recent IRS filings.

Parsons was making $694,540, including a house rented for him in Wellington — three times the median base salary for a head of a school that belongs to the National Association of Independent Schools. Oxbridge is not a member of that organization.

Susan Gray, president of the Oxbridge Parent Organization, said Friday the group stands behind Koch. “We’re pleased to see the action that he’s taken. We know that it will make the school stronger. As a parent, I have no concerns about leaving my child at that school and I am a college professor, a doctor of organizational leadership and I have no concerns about keeping my child at Oxbridge.”

As for concerns of an over-emphasis on football, she said. “I have a daughter who plays violin and plays no sports. My child has always felt taken care of, involved, engaged, receiving the right schooling, the right level of engagement and interest.”

Koch said the board hopes “to be in a position soon” to tell how the two sports jobs will be filled and to reshape the sports program.

“Oxbridge was founded in the belief that we could become the leading secondary school in the state of Florida,” he wrote. “We continue to believe in the importance of athletics in providing a well-rounded education to all our students. We are also totally committed to having an outstanding program of academics through curricular and co-curricular programs that will enable our graduates to be the best they can be and to become well-grounded contributors to society.

“We have much of which to be proud,” he added. “The fingerprints of many are on the successes we have had to date.

“A few weeks ago we were presented with a list of concerns,” he said, apparently referring to concerns fielded by The Palm Beach Post from past and present employees and submitted to Koch for comment.

“Some of these were not accurate but some were. We have done our best to examine all aspects of those and to expeditiously take steps to guarantee our future. My hope now is that we are ready to heal and continue to build on Oxbridge’s many successes.”

 

 

Pairings food and wine event downtown today

wine cheese

From 5:30 to 9 p.m. today, the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority; in partnership with SunFest and LocalDines.com, host the 5th Annual Pairings Food & Wine Event.

The tour will include samplings from downtown West Palm Beach restaurants and retailers, and live music.

Tickets are now on sale. Portion of the proceeds will benefit local non-profit Families First Palm Beach County. For more information, visit DowntownWPB.com.

West Palm’s James named to Criminal Justice Commission

Keith James election 2015

West Palm Beach City Commissioner Keith James has been named to the county’s Criminal Justice Commission.

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James, a Harvard lawyer, will serve as the Palm Beach County League of Cities representative on the commission, for a term ending Dec. 31, 2017.
The commission, created in 1988, is intended as a catalyst to bring together agencies that deal with criminal justice issues. It has 21 public sector members and 12 business leaders.

Flagler Memorial Bridge closing June 3-6

The Flagler Bridge in 2010.
The Flagler Bridge in 2010.

This update from the Florida Department of Transporation:

Flagler Memorial Bridge will close in both directions, around-the-clock from 10 p.m. Friday, June 3 until 6 a.m. Monday, June 6 while workers complete building a temporary eastbound lane between Olive Avenue and Flagler Drive and shift eastbound traffic onto this temporary lane in time to reopen on Monday morning.

Cars will detour to the Royal Park Bridge. Pedestrians and bicyclists will also be diverted to the Royal Park Bridge.

Currently, eastbound traffic accesses the Flagler Memorial Bridge via the Flagler Drive Flyover. Once traffic is shifted, eastbound drivers will cross Flagler Drive and use the westbound exit ramp to get onto the bridge. There will be one eastbound and one westbound lane on this ramp. This shift will allow the contractor to remove the Flagler Drive Flyover and build the “at-grade” intersection for the replacement bridge. Traffic will remain this way until fall 2016, when the replacement bridge is expected to open four lanes of traffic (two lanes in each direction).

 

For more information about the bridge project, call Public Information Officer Tish Burgher at (561) 702-9096 or email her at Tish@qcausa.com.  Information can also be found on the project website: www.flaglerbridge.com

Tonight: Bowling for Rhinos

Rhinos

Looking for a summer job for your kid? Apparently they keep having job openings for bowling pin set-up engineers at Lion Country Safari.

Yes, that’s a joke.

However, Lion Country Safari’s chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers’ (AAZK) is hosting Bowling for Rhinos tonight, 7-9 p.m., at Revolutions Bowling CityPlace. The public is welcome and the cost is $25 which includes donation, bowling, pizza and soda.

Zoo Keepers throughout the U.S. and Canada, participate annually in Bowling for Rhinos to raise money for the conservation of endangered rhinos and the ecosystems they inhabit. Individuals can support Bowling for Rhinos in several ways: become an event sponsor or sponsor a bowler, bowl as an individual or team to raise money or donate an item to be given away as a prize. All donations are tax deductible, and 100 percent of donated funds go to Bowling for Rhinos’ conservation projects.

Since 1990, AAZK has raised over $4 million through Bowling for Rhinos with Lion Country Safari AAZK Chapter having raised more than $10,000. All the proceeds go to supporting three rhino sanctuaries in Indonesia, Sumatra and Kenya, while also raising community participation with Action for Cheetahs in Kenya.

 

For registration and more information, contact Jennifer: 561-793-1084 x2260, marketing@lioncountrysafari.com, www.lioncountrysafari.com/aazk.html.

Judge to Lofts owner: clock ticking to clear your tons of fallen brick

041916 Alexnader Lofts Lawsuit 1
Dark blue tarps cover section where Alexander Lofts bricks fell off through roof of law office below

On his way to a hearing to force owners of the neighboring Alexander Lofts to clear their platform and tons of bricks off his downtown office roof, lawyer Bill Price decided to swing by his old building. Sure enough, Lofts contractors were out there with their men and machines all over his property.

“So they’re spending money fixing their wall and not taking the bricks and platform off,” he said Friday.

By court order, that work was supposed to be done days ago, so Price could fix the damage caused in March and April by bricks cascading off RAM Realty’s Lofts property and through his roof.

At the hearing Friday morning, Judge Meenu Sasser gave RAM another week to clear its workers’ platform and the bricks off Price’s roof, according to Price.

RAM meanwhile is appealing her rulings to the 4th District Court of Appeal. The company’s attorney declined comment while the case is pending.

Price says RAM at least complied with the part of the judge’s order to shore up the law building so that he could retrieve case files, art and furniture from the building at 320 Fern St. But he said it’s clear now the roof will have to be replaced. Meanwhile, his firm is operating out of temporary quarters two blocks away.

What new restaurants have opened downtown?

Jardin's cocktail offerings include classic sips, such as this Sazerac. The restaurant is located on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. (Contributed by South Moon Photography)
Jardin’s cocktail offerings include classic sips, such as this Sazerac. The restaurant is located on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach. (Contributed by South Moon Photography)

A net of eleven new businesses have opened in downtown West Palm Beach in fiscal year 2016. Seven others are on the way in.

With more than four months to go in the fiscal year, that puts the city “basically on track,” with past years’ performance, Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Raphael Clemente said Thursday.

In 2013, 26 moved in and 8 closed; In 2014, 27 opened and 4 closed; In 2015, 22 opened and 4 closed. This year so far, two have closed, Clemente said.

The new ones are:

  • Amazing Feet
  • Phenix Salon
  • Got Ink
  • Picnic Fashionista
  • Fetch Palm Beach
  • Johan’s Joe Cafe and Coffee Shop
  • HotelPlanner.com
  • Fitness Hub
  • Dorian’s Red Hand
  • Jardin
  • Banko CantinaNationally, about 50 percent of shops and restaurants fail in their first three years. In West Palm, on average 65 percent remain open past the first three years, Clemente said.

Banko Cantina

 

Lecture coming on limits of citizen comment at city meetings

Sandy Matkivich
Sandy Matkivich
William McCray
William McCray

Citizen comment time at city commission meetings is meant for members of the public to offer the board views on issues on the agenda, or on items of general interest to the city, not their views on each other.

That was the view expressed at the Mayor/Commissioner work session Monday by City Commissioner Cory Neering, with much of the board nodding in accord. As a result the city attorney or mayor likely will make a statement to that effect at next Monday’s commission meeting.

Neering made clear he wasn’t directing his comment at any particular citizen.

But the latest episodes took place at the May 9 meeting. Former West Palm police officer William McCray used his three allotted minutes at the mic to call one or more of the commissioners racist and their actions shameful and disgusting, as he does at almost every meeting, when he’s not accusing the Palm Beach Post of being in bed with the commission.

He was followed by Sandy Matkivich, also a regular commentator on a variety of issues. She has taken to countering McCray, at times reading into the record from his police disciplinary files. This time she recommended that if he thought West Palm Beach’s leadership was racist, he should move to Riviera Beach, more of whose officials are African-American.

Neering said the tenor of the citizen comments in recent months has veered out of bounds. He noted that commission agendas spell out the Civility and Decorum ordinance, which states prominently: “Public comment shall be addressed to the city as a whole and not to any individual on the dais or in the audience.”

Mayor Jeri Muoio agreed to have the audience reminded of that rule at the next meeting.

But she expressed concern that efforts to clamp down, as at times she has by ejecting people, run the risk of making matters worse. “Any extra attention we draw to this bad behavior exacerbates it,” she said, noting that speakers know they’re on TV and that there’s a reporter in attendance. “That’s exactly what they want.”

 

Seven new restaurants, shops coming to downtown West Palm Beach

BankoCantinaPassionFruitSangria
Passionfruit sangria at Banko Cantina, one of 16 businesses that opened this year downtown.

Walk around downtown West Palm and you’ll see empty storefronts here and there that seem to stay that way.

But that space is filling up, according to the Downtown Development Authority, which counts seven new venues opening soon:

  • Butcher Shop, a restaurant, will open at 209 6th St.
  • Winston’s, a nail salon, 333 Clematis St.
  • Eat Scene, a local food an artisan retail shop, 501 Fern St.
  • Lost Weekend, a pool hall, gameroom bar, is reopening on the second floor of 526 Clematis.
  • The Lounge is opening on the first floor at 526 Clematis.
  • The Station Theatre is set to reopen in 2017 at 522, Clematis.
  • Christopher’s Kitchen, a vegan restaurant, 326 Fern St.

According to Raphael Clemente, 16 businesses closed from 2013 through 2015: (eight in 2013, four each in 2014 and 2015). But 16 more have reopened so far in the current fiscal year.

“A lot more have come in than we have lost each year,” he said. “It’s significant net growth.”

BankoCantina
Banko Cantina

Downtown shines, few snarls despite RR Xing shutdowns on Okeechobee

cars
Eastbound Okeechobee Boulevard, barricaded at the Florida East Coast Railways tracks.

Downtown traffic moved smoothly Saturday morning, despite rail crossing shutdowns at two key Okeechobee Boulevard intersections. Workers were installing a second set of rails to accommodate All Aboard Florida’s upcoming Brightline passenger service, the high-speed line from Miami to Orlando.

GreenMarket vendors said foot traffic at their weekly waterfront event was slower than usual Saturday, probably because customers scared off by fear of road congestion but also because temperatures spiked into the 80s.

Joggers
Joggers round the curve near Dreyfoos School of the Arts, heading toward CityPlace.

Drivers eastbound on Okeechobee, trying to head into CityPlace, encountered one more unexpected set of detours early in the day: Sections of Rosemary and Sapodilla avenues and a few other streets were blocked off for a 5K run. Vehicles trying to navigate that area found they had to do a U-Turn at Rosemary and wend their way back around to Tamarind Ave. and Clematis to get farther downtown.

But the car-free streets around CityPlace made for a nice break from the usual rumble, and plenty of customers made their way to the GreenMarket, dogs, baby-strollers and all.

Arepas
TocToc Arepas
Jove
The crew from Jove Kitchen & Bar
Andre's
Jude Exilus at Andre Gourmet Sauce Co.
crowd shot
Not quite as busy as usual, but still plenty of people at the GreenMarket.
The mayor
Mayor Jeri Muoio stocks up on sweetness at Bee Unique honey stand.