Palm Beach County administrator LaRocque resigns

Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque

Shannon LaRocque, assistant Palm Beach County administrator for more than a decade and a finalist for the top spot last year, has resigned, she confirmed Tuesday morning.

“There’s a letter being distributed,” LaRocque said outside Tuesday’s Palm Beach County Commission meeting. She said she did not want to elaborate.

LaRocque’s two paragraph resignation letter, dated today, does not say why she’s leaving or where she’s going. It said her last day will be Sept. 29.

“I will miss my job and the incredible people I have had the pleasure of working with throughout the years,” LaRocque wrote. “I sincerely appreciate the opportunity my position with the county has provided me over the last 11 years.”

When she was a candidate last year to replace County Administrator Bob Weisman, LaRocque — who has nearly three decades of work experience in the public and private sector — submitted a fat package of at least 41 endorsements, many from firms and individuals that do business with the county. The county ultimately selected Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

LaRocque was acting executive director of Palm Tran since late January 2014, when Chuck Cohen, executive director for nearly a decade, was demoted to deputy director after chronic complaints about Palm Tran Connection, the county’s bus service for the sick and elderly. In October 2015, she hired Clinton Forbes, head of the bus agency in Columbus, Ohio.

LaRocque also oversaw the county’s utilities department, which in 2013 dissolved the financially strapped Glades Utility Authority. The authority hit some of the county’s poorest residents with some of its highest water and sewer rates. The county has since modified rates.

And LaRocque is credited with finessing the search for the developer of the private hotel adjacent to the Palm Beach County Convention Center. She demurred on a formal “request for proposals,” opting instead for a “request for qualifications,” which gave the county more room to tell suitors what it wanted. That led to the 2010 selection of the Related Group. The hotel opened in January.

She also won the 2014 Athena Award from the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, which recognizes women in leadership.

No friend of Baker’s, BIZPAC opposes sales tax vote

A pro-business political group that last year endorsed Verdenia Baker’s chief in-house competitor for county administrator announced it’s opposed to Baker’s first major push as administrator — putting a proposed sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Verdenia Baker
Verdenia Baker

The Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County released a statement Thursday afternoon saying its Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly to oppose the referendum because of the board scope of projects the extra tax would cover, particularly cultural ones.

“The county government has strayed too far from what it truly needs,” BIZPAC chairman John R. Smith said. “The belief of most BIZPAC Trustees is that the amount of money proposed to be collected, about $1.4 billion, is too large and the proposed expenditures list has too many ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs.’ There’s no need to increase the sales tax.”

Smith’s statement also said, “this is not the time for a regressive sales tax increase,” which is one that has a greater impact on the poor than the rich.

BIZPAC, along with another business group, the Economic Council, last year endorsed Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque rather than Baker for the county government’s top job. The County Commission overwhelmingly chose Baker last summer.

Baker this year has spearheading an effort by the county, the Palm Beach County School District and the Cultural Council that would have county voters decide whether they want to increase the sales tax in the county from 6 percent to 7 percent.

The projected revenue of $2.7 billion over 10 years would be split among the county government, school district, municipal governments and cultural projects, although proposed ballot language released Wednesday doesn’t mention cultural projects. It does, however, say the tax increase would be to “create local jobs through economic development projects.”