Jon Ward has unpacked his boxes at West Palm Beach City Hall, but he doesn’t have his job yet — at least, not officially.
On Dec. 16, the city approved a contract to turn over the duties of its Community Redevelopment Agency to Broward County-based Redevelopment Management Associates, run by former West Palm Beach CRA Director Kim Briesemeister. As part of the deal, RMA would place Ward, their project management consultant, as CRA director.
Ward emailed the CRA’s advisory board Monday to introduce himself and say he’d be “assuming the full-time role of director” on Thursday and had been at city hall since the Dec. 16 vote, “immersed with reviewing staff and projects, touring sites and generally trying to absorb the information and culture of the Agency and City Administration.”
On Thursday, Mayor Jeri Muoio introduced Ward as “our new CRA director” at the regularly scheduled gathering to review the agenda for next week’s commission and CRA board meetings, and Ward gave presentations on each of the agenda items.
The complication is that commissioners, at that Dec. 16 meeting, had balked at surrendering the power to pick the director themselves, and Mayor Jeri Muoio agreed to pull that aspect from the contract for now and negotiate how the executive director will be selected and who has the authority to do that.
That means that, technically, Ward’s not in charge yet.
Not an issue, Eliot Cohen, the mayor’s spokesman, said Tuesday.
“We didn’t want to delay at least getting someone there,” Cohen said. “If it turns out it’s not going to be Jon, then at least Jon will be there to bring the next person up to speed.”
Commissioner Shanon Materio was one of those calling for a “clarification.” She repeated that Tuesday. Materio plans at Monday’s CRA board meeting — the commission sits as the board — to discuss what legal clarifications will be sought.
But she also said she’s fine with Ward stepping up for now, especially since Brenda Kelley resigned Dec. 16, the same day the commission ratified the RMA contract. Kelley had been deputy redevelopment manager and became interim director when Briesemeister resigned in August.
“We were very concerned about getting the CRA moving,” Materio said. “I don’t want to give up the power of who actually is going to be our director. It may end up being Jon Ward. Getting him started, I’m OK with that.”
West Palm Beach will pay RMA $78,000 a month to run the CRA, which has a $28 million budget to oversee projects such as improvements to roads, parking and housing, and to attract businesses to targeted neighborhoods.