A leadership change is under way at Miami-Dade’s water-and-sewer department, with director John Renfrow retiring and PortMiami chief Bill Johnson slated to take over the challenged agency, according to several sources familiar with the move.
Johnson, a county veteran with a reputation for turning around troubled projects, has not been officially named by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But sources close to either Gimenez or the sewer department said Johnson is the mayor’s pick to take over for Renfrow.
In a resignation letter Wednesday, Renfrow, 62, wrote that his decision to retire effective April 30 from his $215,000-a-year post came “after considerable reflection” and that he plans to “enjoy my family and life in general as I consider other possibilities in the future.”
Head of the 2,000-employee agency since 2006, Renfrow leaves the water-and-sewer department as it prepares for $1.5 billion of mandated repairs following a federal lawsuit two years ago over violations of the Clean Water Act. The deal, the latest in a decades-long tussle with federal regulators, still must be finalized by a federal judge.
The waste-water union objected to the settlement in court papers last week, citing chronic under-funding by Miami-Dade’s elected leaders during the last three decades. Amid the court fight, the county’s ethics inspector cited flaws in the procurement process behind the selection process of a contractor for the repair work. Gimenez ended up halting the selection process late last year and sending the bids to a panel and Renfrow’s department for reconsideration.
Wednesday night, Renfrow said the retirement decision came as he decided the agency was ready for a leadership change and he was ready to end his tenure. He recalled an October conversation with his dying father, who urged him to retire for his own happiness. “He said, ‘I’m 92. It was like yesterday when I was 62,’’’ Renfrow recalled. “He said, ‘I can tell you’ve been really stressed out. You should move on.’’’
Renfrow said he has not received official word that Johnson would replace him, and a source close to Gimenez described Johnson as a “likely” pick for the water-and-sewer job. Johnson could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
In his resignation letter delivered to his department heads, Renfrow praised his staff for professionalism under trying conditions. “We all know that our work is very often taken for granted, and in some ways that is a high complement for the work that we do,’’ he wrote. “At the same time, we know that it requires a few minor miracles to keep everything operating, and you and your colleagues are the ones who perform those miracles more often than anyone knows.”
As port director since 2006, Johnson steered the county agency away from operating losses and into a series of expansion projects that have positioned the facility for larger ships but also brought a debt downgrade and concerns about costs. His fix-it assignment at the port came in part thanks to Johnson’s success in helping turn around the troubled construction of the county’s Performing Arts Center in the 1990s.
The source close to Gimenez said Wednesday that the mayor sees Johnson serving at water-and-sewer until June 2015, when Johnson’s mandatory retirement takes effect. Johnson chose to join a retirement program offered employees in the state’s municipal pension system that lets workers accumulate pension payments while still working, in exchange for agreeing to retire by a certain date.
Johnson earns about $250,000 at the port. His transfer to the sewer department solves one budget headache for Gimenez, who faced criticism from commissioners last year for promoting Johnson’s deputy, Juan Kuryla, to the post of “director designate” with a salary of about $290,000. Kuryla had been offered the top job at Jacksonville’s port. Gimenez said he didn’t want to lose him, given Johnson’s pending exit.