Instability and confusion don’t help any organization, especially the most important public agency in South Florida. For the moment, though, the South Florida Water Management District has both.
Instability arises from Executive Director Melissa Meeker’s surprising resignation, which she announced Tuesday in an email to employees. Confusion arises from the absence of a reason for her June 7 departure.
In December, The Post reported that a plan to put billboards on district land got slipped anonymously into legislation last year. One beneficiary was a former district board member who is an ex-business partner of Ms. Meeker. This week, The Post reported that the board had not been told of a second, lower appraisal on Mecca Farms, which Palm Beach County wants to sell to the district.
And last week, the Glades County Commission chairman demanded that Gov. Rick Scott fire Ms. Meeker because “she and the truth are absolute strangers to one another.” Paul Beck had asked Ms. Meeker about land the district was condemning for Kissimmee River restoration. Ms. Meeker told him that it wasn’t happening. In fact, it is.
Whatever the circumstances of Ms. Meeker’s resignation, responsibility for the district lies with Gov. Scott and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard. A 2011 law allows the governor to approve the executive director, not just appoint the board members who supposedly pick the top person. The five water districts basically report to the DEP secretary.
During his first year, Gov. Scott made the water districts keep his promise to cut taxes. He took nearly $130 million out of the South Florida district’s budget. A thoughtful review could have cut waste without compromising the agency’s work. Everglades restoration is delayed because the governor won’t let the district have money to complete it sooner.
One name we hear to succeed Ms. Meeker is Blake Guillory, an engineer in Jupiter before becoming executive director of the Southwest Florida Management District. There’s Don DeLisi, Ms. Meeker’s chief of staff, but he was hired five days after resigning from the board and without having to interview. Would promoting him help the district’s credibility? The governor should make the search transparent. Instability and confusion are enough without adding secrecy.
for The Post Editorial Board