Why does Palm Beach County’s only strong mayor want to be a weak mayor?
Why does the mayor of Palm Beach County’s largest city want to outsource economic development when competition for jobs never has been tougher?
Why would West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio outsource such a priority to someone with a built-in conflict of interest?
Mayor Muoio continues to say that things are not greased for Kim Briesemeister, the former community redevelopment director who resigned her contracted position so her company could apply for, presumably, a fatter contract from her former employer. Mayor Muoio continues to insist that Ms. Briesemeister is too professional to compromise her work for West Palm Beach.
If that’s the case, why did Ms. Briesemeister’s company — Redevelopment Management Associates — apply last spring for a contract to do public relations and marketing for the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency?
At the time, Ms. Briesemeister was running the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. Riviera Beach has redevelopment aspirations of its own. When Ms. Briesemeister pitched her company to Riviera Beach, she and Mayor Muoio surely had talked about outsourcing the counterpart agency in West Palm Beach.
Mayor Muoio floated the idea in June. On June 5, Riviera Beach trimmed the applicants for the CRA’s PR/marketing work to four firms. One was Ms. Briesemeister’s, though RMA ranked well behind the company that got the contract — the O’Donnell Agency. RMA didn’t come close even though the company cited its use of a public relations firm that touts its “Multicultural Outreach.” Riviera Beach’s population is mostly African-American.
West Palm Beach’s first response last week to my question about this conflict came from a spokesman. He emailed: “I would assume her company applies for contracts with many cities. Everyone knows the company does work for cities. Usually the only way to get the work is to apply for it.”
Two days later, in an interview, Mayor Muoio confirmed that she had known of Ms. Briesemeister’s application but didn’t mind. “She has never shortchanged us,” the mayor said. Why, though, would someone leave a $128,000, part-time job unless she was certain of getting a contract for much more? Turn it around, Mayor Muoio responded. West Palm Beach should congratulate Ms. Briesemeister for her selflessness and willingness to “see the bigger picture.”
Mayor Muoio’s characterization, however, holds up only if Ms. Briesemeister does not get the West Palm Beach contract. Companies have until Oct. 4 to apply. The mayor will compile an outside panel of experts in development-related fields to review the applicants. The mayor would present a contract to the city commission, which would have to approve it.
And what if only Ms. Briesemeister’s company applies? “We will deal with that,” Mayor Muoio said, “if it happens.”
In an interview with The Post’s Eliot Kleinberg, Mayor Muoio noted that lawyers have multiple clients. The legal profession, though, is governed by rules about conflicts of interest that, if violated, could lead to sanctions.
Economic development firms operate under no such rules. Their goal is to amass as many clients as possible. You can’t blame Ms. Briesemeister for trying to leverage her position. But you can blame Mayor Muoio and any sympathetic city commissioners for not seeing the potential problem.
Suppose, say, that the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County had a lead on a company seeking to move. The company picks West Palm Beach as a city of interest. But this is a company bringing 300 jobs, and the CEO is talking to other counties.
Suppose that West Palm Beach has outsourced economic development to Ms. Briesemeister. She has clients in other counties. Would the Business Development Board hesitate to approach West Palm Beach because of the potential conflict? Does the mayor see that the arrangement could make it harder for West Palm Beach to lure companies?
The irony is that if Mayor Muoio, as she claims, wants to be more “agile” when it comes to economic development, she can supply the agility. Unlike all the other 37 mayors in Palm Beach County, she runs her city. She has a respected planning director, Rick Green. Companies looking to move want to see one person: the mayor. Mayor Muoio can speak for her city, and Mr. Green can answer every question about permits. You can’t get more “agile” than that.
Mayor Muoio says she would remain involved in “economic development,” which she separates from the CRA’s work of redevelopment. That seems a distinction without a difference. Still, the mayor says, she’s about to announce the hiring of a new “economic development director.” The previous one lasted a year.
Somehow, former Mayor Nancy Graham managed to revive downtown West Palm Beach and create CityPlace without any outsourcing and without an economic development director. Of course, whatever one thought of Ms. Graham, no one doubted that West Palm Beach was her priority. This strong mayor’s approach to economic development remains weak.