Melissa Meeker, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District who suddenly resigned Tuesday, will leave office June 7 to “focus my skills on international issues.”
Meeker offered only that explanation in a one-page letter sent on Monday to Daniel O’Keefe, newly appointed chairman of the district’s governing board. She offered no details about her future employment.
There was no word today on her replacement at the district, which is headquartered in West Palm Beach and oversees water supply, flood control and restoration in 16 counties from Orlando to Key West. In her two years as executive director, Meeker slashed the district’s $1 billion budget and more than 300 employees.
Meeker has been under fire this year for a series of controversies, including selecting the company of a former business partner and former governing board member to put billboards on district land. More recently her staff failed to inform the district board about an appraisal for land that was millions of dollars lower than the district is considering spending for the site. Her resignation letter mentioned “a very challenging period” but did not indicate whether that contributed to her departure.
In a statement today, O’Keefe cited Meeker’s “tireless” efforts to “develop and implement” Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to restore the Everglades and focus the agency on its core mission: flood control, water supply and restoration.
“These are significant accomplishments that position the agency extremely well for our future,” O’Keefe wrote. “I know the Governing Board joins me in extending our deep appreciation to Melissa for her dedicated public service and in wishing her every success going forward.”
Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, also released a statement complimenting Meeker. “Melissa’s intellect and leadership played a key role in Governor Scott’s historic progress in Everglades restoration,” he said. “Her focus on the district’s mission of flood control, water quality, water quantity and natural resource protection was unsurpassed.”
Despite rumors that Meeker had been looking for another job, her resignation surprised many.
“She has been an important factor at the district for implementing the governor’s plan to trim the size of the district and his water quality plan,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “That’s one of the most difficult jobs in government. I don’t know how anyone could last a year in it.”
Hand-picked by Scott, Meeker came to the district in June 2011, after her predecessor, Carol Wehle, suddenly resigned amid news reports that her boyfriend, an engineer, had been hired by the district’s inspector general for a $120,000 job as the district’s “engineering auditor.” An independent investigation cleared Wehle.