Elected Officials Enact Leadership Change for CRA
With no job descriptions, no agreements and no plan, elected officials sitting as the board of the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency (MCRA) appointed a new Executive Director and Assistant Director to the Agency Monday. Changes were described by City Manager, Sam May, as "taking a new direction." ______________ May was designated Executive Director to the Agency, and his current Executive Assistant with the City, Adam Reichbach, was designated as Assistant Director to the Agency. Appointments were understood to be in addition to the day-to-day duties of the two who, in a 3-2 vote of elected officials, now work for both the City of Margate and the MCRA. The two dissenting votes came from Margate Commissioners Joanne Simone and Lesa Peerman. Reichbach’s annual salary will increase 18% from $100,390 to 118,390 and May’s will be determined during his contract negotiation with the City in the coming fiscal year. May currently earns $178,844 as city manager. Salary increases would come out of the CRA budget, not the City of Margate budget. Elected officials were not clear as to whether Reichbach would be a part-time or full-time Assistant Director to the MCRA and would shed his former title or duties. Neither job descriptions nor a transition plan were discussed. Some commissioners suggested the job would burn the two out, others wanted more time to consider the decision. “Some of this hits me as premature. We really don’t know what we’ll be doing in three months,” said Vice Mayor, Arlene Schwartz, adding that she didn’t have enough information. “I didn’t get a heads up that this was coming. Isn’t there a learning curve [to these jobs]?” “I need a month to think about this,” echoed Commissioner and MCRA Vice Chair Anthony Caggiano. "I think Adam does a great job, but I’d like to have him doing the job.” The leadership change would be the fourth in four years at the Agency and is representative of a political power struggle that has plagued the City's CRA since elected officials first occupied its board in 2004. The political coup started as one aimed at improving oversight of MCRA expenditures, but ultimately resulted in a visionary stalemate that for years has stalled “next steps” while the Agency spends millions on consulting fees. Elected in November on a platform of change, Schwartz contends the Agency is stagnant. “From my perspective we’ve [MCRA] sat on our hands for a very long time and for someone who has lived here half my life I know what I’m talking about because I’ve seen how little has changed here while other cities have reinvented themselves,” said Schwartz Also on Monday, elected officials voted 3-2 (Peerman and Simone again in dissent) to terminate the contract with Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) - a third party consulting firm onboarded in 2013 to run the day-to-day operations of the MCRA. The company was originally scheduled for termination in September, but May said it would take him longer to learn the ropes of being the Agency's Executive Director. He suggested extending the contract for three months. “It’s going to take me more a month to get up to speed on this. [In the meantime] we need RMA for project management and marketing,” said May, adding that the city is turning the corner with RMA and taking a new direction. “What RMA was into was building apartments with some retail. That’s not the direction we’re taking now." MCRA Chair and Margate Mayor Tommy Ruzzano disagreed. “What have they done for us in three years? No disrespect, but we’ve spend a lot of money for what - and I just don’t get it,” Ruzzano said. To this end, RMA is paid $30,000 a month for MCRA management and $10,000 a month for marketing services. This, in addition to $100,000 in miscellaneous services yearly aimed at CRA plan updates, along with general estate and development services. In three years’ time agency payroll with RMA has grown to more than $0.5 million, not including consulting fees altogether. (Click to view extension terms). Having warned fellow elected officials of the cost of billable hours when the city hired RMA in 2013, Ruzzano suggested hiring an in house architect to eliminate exorbitant fees charged by the firm. Caggiano threw support behind the idea. “I’m tired of looking at these architectural fees. To support what the Chair [Ruzzano] said we can hire someone to design things for us and what I’d have to think would be much less than what we’re paying now.” Since elected along with Schwartz in November, Caggiano has advocated against a third-party vendor for the CRA. “I want them gone,” he told MargateNews.net. “We need people in-house.” Prior to RMA, the MCRA staff consisted of a full-time Assistant Director paid roughly $80,000 and an assistant paid about $50,000. The City Manager doubled as the Executive Director for an offset fee from the City of Margate for roughly $40,000 and other departments, such as planning and economic development chipped in too for offset wages. During that time, CRA staff attracted two viable developers to which negotiations fell out for both. While voting yes to extending the RMA contract from September to November, Schwartz remained skeptical of RMA performance. “So you’ve hired a company with a very large budget, and I think we’re paying a lot and I don’t see the results,”she said after viewing marketing plans by RMA Monday. “I’m looking at a lovely presentation and in all due respect I’m going to say that we don’t sell this city as well as this presentation sells this company [RMA]. As beautiful as this looks, I don't see this being done for Margate.” A retired educator, Schwartz said MCRA goals need to be measurable, so while she sees the input, she doesn’t see the output. RMA should have made more progress in Margate than it has in three years. “The CRA right now is sitting on a great deal of money (Click for Budget) and hasn’t invested much in the community as I can see. With looking at all the blight across the street, I’m wondering why this didn’t come up sooner,” Schwartz said of recent ideas by RMA to aid in revitalizing area strip plazas. Against severing ties with RMA, Commissioner Lesa Peerman, said the city lacks the talent to fill RMA’s shoes. “We don’t have people knowledgeable in the CRA to do what these people are doing at the moment,” she said. In contrast, Ruzzano said running the CRA isn't much different from running the rest of the City. Plus the Agency pays little to nothing for police and fire services. “It’s all the same city and we have the staff to handle it. I have full confidence that Sam and Adam can do the job and hire the right people to help them,” the Mayor told MargateNews.net. “Sam wants to move the city forward. Let him do it.” Presently, the CRA is negotiating with the third developer in the past ten years to create a city center within three blocks of Margate Blvd and State Road 7. The city is currently attempting to negotiate out of the contract. Developers will not pay fair market value for land and are looking to erect hundreds of apartments to boost downtown density. Three of five commissioners have pushed to end the contract. Two others favor it.