The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District today decided against appointing a new executive director to replace Melissa Meeker but voted veteran water manager Ernie Barnett as interim head of the beleaguered agency.
Meeker, who resigned suddenly earlier this month to accept a job at a private company, was not present at the standing-room-only meeting. However, board members praised her two years of leadership. Meeker cut the district staff by 300 employees and cut the agency’s billion-dollar budget in half.
Meeker is also credited with returning the district — widely viewed as a bloated-bureaucracy — to its core mission of water supply, flood control and restoration. Everglades restoration efforts moved forward on both the ground and in court under Meeker, as she fulfilled mandates from Gov. Rick Scott to settle decades of costly litigation by setting pollution standards for water flowing into the Everglades.
Barnett, considered a candidate for Meeker’s position, has worked for the district for nearly 30 years as both a biologist and director of legislative affairs. Governing board members agreed to immediately begin interviewing candidates and take up the matter — and possibly appoint a new director — at its next meeting in July.
Melissa Meeker’s email to staff:
From: Meeker, Melissa
Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:20 PM
Subject: A Farewell Note
As my last week as Executive Director comes to a close, I want to take a minute to thank you for your hard work and many accomplishments these past two years. I’m so proud of all you have achieved and want to mention just a few highlights: Restoration Strategies are now in place for improving Everglades water quality. Stakeholders are meeting with us on a Caloosahatchee visioning process. OMC tackled record-breaking rain during Tropical Storm Isaac, moving more than 100 billion gallons of water and constructing an emergency spillway. The District’s comprehensive land assessment is well under way, the Dispersed Water Management program is expanding, and water supply plan updates continue forward. Not to mention all the Mission Support functions that keep everything humming along.
We also tackled the challenging task of focusing a smaller budget on core mission priorities. I won’t pretend that was easy, but I do believe we have reached a healthier, more efficient place as a government agency. I feel very good about that — and also about the generous funding we received from the Florida Legislature this year. Their increased financial support for our work validates the success of that necessary and important transition.
Tomorrow the Governing Board will be taking the next steps forward to select a new executive director. I can assure you that every member of the Board cares deeply about the District’s mission and the agency’s ongoing success. I fully trust that they will identify the best person to serve as your next executive director. I also trust that you will provide that individual with the same hard work and professional excellence that you provided to me. You are the best!
As always, thank you for all that you do.
With very best wishes,
Dan DeLisi’s email to staff regarding appointment of interim director
From: DeLisi, Daniel
Sent: Thursday, June 13, 2013 10:56 AM
Subject: Board names SFWMD Interim Executive Director
I want to let you know that this morning the District’s Governing Board named Ernie Barnett as interim executive director, with plans to have further discussion on the permanent position at the July Board meeting. As you know, Ernie currently serves as our Assistant Executive Director for Everglades and Water Resources and has more than 30 years of water resource experience in Florida. Please join me in congratulating and supporting Ernie in this role.
As we move through this transition, I also want to let you know that the Board members have expressed their full confidence in District staff and the challenging work we are doing. The leadership team and I appreciate your excellent efforts and will keep you updated as the Board moves forward with this important decision for the agency.
Dan DeLisi, Chief of Staff