The city will start shopping around for private firms to run its community redevelopment agency.
Commissioners were in consensus at Monday’s work session to green-light a “request for qualifications,” probably in the next month.
In June, the Palm Beach Post reported that current director Kim Briesemeister has told her staff a private company she runs in Broward County, Redevelopment Management Associates, will bid for any privatization contract.
Briesemeister, one of the architects of the revamped waterfront, Northwood Village and a failed deal with Digital Domain, has been employed by West Palm Beach since 2004. She’s paid $128,000. Muoio has said Briesemeister would have to resign from her CRA job if she decides to bid.
Commissioner Keith James said Monday of the initiative, “What I don’t want it to be is so tailored to a particular vendor that it looks like it’s a….” Commissioner Ike Robinson finished the sentence: “a done deal.”
“Yeah,” James said.
Muoio said the process would be done with transparency.
In a deal in place since 2009, Briesemeister works 28 hours a week at West Palm Beach while she also runs her private company, which contracts with Pompano Beach and Oakland Park to manage their CRAs.
In 2012, the city hired a private company to run its housing department.
Under state law, local governments can designate community redevelopment areas that need improved roads, parking, affordable housing or other infrastructure for economic development. They are paid for by taxes based on the increased values of property in the designated redevelopment areas.
West Palm Beach has two community redevelopment areas managed by its CRA, which has an annual budget of $25 million.
Muoio told Monday’s workshop she’s met with business leaders and “all of them were really supportive of the plan” to contract out the city’s CRA work.
“We have to think outside the box on this,” she added. “Change is never comfortable but bringing in the people we need to get the job done is the goal here.”
The private firm still would answer to the commissioners sitting as the CRA board. Commissioner Sylvia Moffett asked if the private firm would have personnel control power. Muoio said, “I make the decision on all the hiring and firing.”
James said he favored a parallel search for a full-time director who’d be a city employee “so we, the CRA board, could fully vet this person and feel comfortable this person would be loyal to the CRA board.”
Commissioners Moffett and Shanon Materio also wanted to explore James’ idea. Commissioner Kim Mitchell said she’s OK with a private executive director.
Muoio said for now she wants to put the work out for bid with the idea of a private director “and see what happens. We can abandon this at any point.”
Materio also suggested the city look into combining the CRA with the separate Department of Housing and Community Development, which coordinates distribution of federal money for low-income homes. Moffett said she didn’t think that would work in West Palm Beach.