Miami-Dade County

Under pressure, Miami-Dade gets new climate-change chief

James Murley in a 2008 file photo.
James Murley in a 2008 file photo. ho

Weeks after bowing to environmentalists’ demands that he create the post, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez named a veteran planner to coordinate the county’s response to climate change.

James Murley, currently director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council, will assume the title of chief resilience officer — a post that was created only five days ago with the implementation of the 2016 budget. Murley will report to Jack Osterholt, the deputy mayor who oversees the county’s climate-change and environmental functions, Gimenez said in a memo to county commissioners Monday.

Environmentalists called for creating the position last month during a last-minute protest of Gimenez’s proposed 2016 budget, which included only a single mention of climate change across three volumes of detailed spending plans. Gimenez agreed to support the position, which is designed to coordinate the county’s response to climate change and sea-level rise.

“The people’s voices were heard,” Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said.

Gimenez inserted $75,000 for the position in the budget that took effect Oct. 1, prompting protests from critics who called the salary too paltry for a high-level expert in climate-change preparations. Gimenez said the county would pay more to find the right candidate, and Hernández said Murley will earn $190,000 a year — about 150 percent more than the original proposed amount. In a Sept. 17 memo, Gimenez described the post as coordinating efforts to make Miami-Dade a more resilient community, as it grappled with the impacts of sea-level rise and other issues.

Murley, 69, is a veteran of the planning side of government. He served as head of the Florida Department of Community Affairs under Gov. Lawton Chiles in the 1990s and, in the 1980s, ran 1000 Friends of Florida, a group advocating growth management. Between 1999 and 2011 he served as director for Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions before taking his current post at the planning council.

“While Mr. Murley’s credentials are impressive, it is his proven track record as a collaborative regional planner that makes him the perfect candidate for the job of CRO,” Gimenez wrote in the memo.

Gimenez said his administration was planning a national search for a chief resilience officer, but discovered that other jurisdictions typically found a local candidate for similar posts. “[I]t was clear that Mr. Murley was uniquely qualified, if not more qualified than other CROs nationally and internationally.”

Maggie Fernandez, a Miami-Dade activist who helped organize the budget protest over climate change, called Gimenez’s pick “disheartening” because of Murley’s planning background. “Is he the dynamic leader I was hoping for? I don’t think so,” she said. “I envisioned someone with fresh ideas.”

Hernández said Murley was attending a conference on resiliency and was unavailable for an interview.