Posted: 7:49 am Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
By Eliot Kleinberg
West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio has set the stage for a statutory showdown over Mayor Jeri Muoio’s plans to pick a company to take over the duties of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Materio is calling on her colleagues to have Charles Schoech, the separate attorney the commission hired in April, to opine on whether Muoio, as strong mayor, has the only say.
Complicating matters: One of the two finalists is the company owned by former CRA director Kimberly Briesemeister.
Materio has said the city’s selection “process was flawed” and that Briesemeister’s Redevelopment Management Associates always has been the only option because of its familiarity with the city. Muoio has insisted since Briesemeister left in August that no fix was in for RMA.
On Nov. 5, the city commission voted for two finalists, Broward County-based RMA and global firm CH2M HILL, and Muoio said she’d begin talks with the two over services and costs.
“I will be accountable for this,” she said at the time. If her decision ends badly, she said, “I’m in big trouble, right?”
In an email Tuesday, Materio said she believes the commission, sitting as the CRA board, is statutorily “empowered to make the hiring and ministerial decisions” for the CRA.
In April, commissioners, after having second-guessed many of City Attorney Claudia McKenna’s decisions, had voted to hire Charles Schoech as a part-time attorney for second opinions.
“While I am not suggesting we reopen the (CRA) selection process and start over,” Materio wrote Tuesday, “I am prepared to do everything in my power to delay the final award and funding of the contract until this issue is resolved. The Mayor is correct about one thing; this will be setting a precedent and therefore we get one chance to get it right.”
Muoio couldn’t be reached late Tuesday. City spokesman Elliot Cohen said in an email, “The possibility of outsourcing the CRA staff has been from the start an issue charting new territory for the city and it’s important that everyone involved is comfortable with the process.”
The city commission had voted Aug. 12 to solicit contractors to run the CRA, which has a $28 million budget to oversee projects such as improved roads and parking, housing and new businesses in targeted neighborhoods.
Muoio has said in the past that hiring a private company might cost more but would make the city more “agile” and let the city avoid having to hire full-time employees or bring in one-time contractors for short-term projects.
The city also has the option of keeping the CRA in-house.
In June, The Palm Beach Post reported that Briesemeister had told her staff she had the support of commissioners and believed that RMA would get the deal. Briesemeister and the city have adamantly denied that.