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Bal Harbour

Ex-Miami Beach city manager hired to run Bal Harbour

 

Special to the Miami Herald

A former manager who worked for nearly 12 years in Miami Beach and resigned under pressure has been hired as the new Bal Harbour village manager.

Last week, the Village Council voted 4-1 to enter in negotiations with former Miami Beach city manager Jorge Gonzalez at a special meeting. Assistant Mayor D. Joni Blachar was the lone opposed vote.

The village will negotiate a contract with a cap of $180,000. He would take a pay cut as he was getting paid over $200,000 in his previous job.

Councilman Jaime Sanz said he was confident with his vote for Gonzalez.

“I spent nights reading everything,” Sanz said. “I did my homework. What my decision is, it is. I stand by it.”

The search for a manager process was interactive. Aside from council members interviewing the candidates, residents attended meet and greet events where they were able to ask questions. Plus, all of candidates’ information were available on the village website.

Bal Harbour had been through a period of issues. The village released its police chief Thomas Hunker in March after a U.S. Justice Department investigation alleged misspending of money seized from drug dealers and money launderers.

Then, former Village Manager Alfred Treppeda abruptly retired in April. Currently, Jay Smith had been serving as interim village manager. He also had been serving as director of community outreach for the village.

The village hired Colin Baenziger & Associates to search for a new village manager nationally. Originally, the village hired Merrett Stierheim, whose firm had been paid $20,000 to conduct an initial search.

Six candidates were considered. The other five included: Homestead assistant city manager David Hebert; Robert Kellogg, who served as town manager in Sewall’s Point, Fla.; Sharon Lynn, town manager of Provincetown, Mass.; Micah Maxwell, town manager at Belleair, Fla.; and Roslyn Weisblum, a former deputy city manager and interim city manager in North Miami Beach.

In April, the village agreed to negotiate with former Cutler Bay town manager Steven Alexander, but plans fell through, and Alexander became South Miami city manager.

Gonzalez was born to Cuban parents and graduated from the University of Miami. He was hired by Miami Beach as manager in August of 2000 at age 33.

Some of his accomplishments during his tenure in Miami Beach were construction related. One of his first moves was to establish the city’s Capital Improvements Project Department. He also established a Neighborhood Services Department to aid residents, and created the Leadership Academy to increase resident input and activism.

The city also enjoyed financial stability during Gonzalez’s tenure.

However, he later faced turmoil. In 2008, several employees were arrested and charged in a bribery scandal. Gonzalez was never personally implicated in any criminal activity.

In July of 2012 he resigned. City Commissioners forced him to submit his resignation following controversy including the arrests of seven city code and fire inspectors accused of shaking down a South Beach nightclub.

Before last week’s vote, Blachar presented several articles to the council in regards to Gonzalez and the other candidates. She said that about 30 minutes prior to arriving to the meeting, she encountered the articles highlighting situations the candidates had been involved with.

“We are trying to portray this image of how wonderful Bal Harbour is, and to have that put in the New York Times before we decide is troubling to me,” she said. “If that’s there and we hire that person I hate to see what the next article on Bal Harbour will be.”

Blachar’s first choice was Hebert. She referred to a New York Times article highlighting the recent arrests on public officials made in South Florida.

However, councilman Martin Packer said it wasn’t fair to point out past accusations.

“There is background noise from all of the candidates no matter where they came from. Every one of them has comments made by people who don’t like them,” he said. “When we are in public life and everyone on the council knows it, there can be a comment made which will follow you for the rest of your life. Whether or not is true is another story.”

Resident Neil Alter voiced his support for Gonzalez.

“I was impressed. I spoke to them individually,” he said. “He is the one who impressed me the most. I examined his credentials on the computer. It was overwhelming, his testimonials. He is a gentleman who has been active for a number of years, particularly under stressful circumstances.”

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