Pieter Bockweg asked Miami commissioners Thursday to let him continue to serve as the city’s $150,000 director of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, or at least conduct an open search for his replacement.
They would do neither.
Commissioners voted Thursday to fire Bockweg and replace him with Jason Walker, the village manager of El Portal. Bockweg, an at-will employee of the small but high-profile agency, received a severance package worth about $30,000 in exchange for a promise not to sue the city or the tax-funded CRA.
His ouster was pushed by new Omni CRA Chairman Ken Russell, who believes the Omni CRA, tasked with using property taxes to eliminate slum and blight, has done too little to improve living conditions for the poor. Russell’s recommendation to appoint Walker the new head of the CRA was supported unanimously by the city’s other four commissioners, despite Bockweg’s protests.
“Why is it the recommendation of the chair to have me fired for doing my job, that is [following] the policy of the board? This after putting on the record that I’ve done a good job?” Bockweg said.
A former city planner appointed to his job six years ago during a sudden, surprise late-night City Hall hearing, Bockweg argued that commissioners should at least conduct an open search for director applicants in the spirit of transparency. But Russell said he’d already vetted replacements, and believed Walker, whom he met while campaigning last year, was the best candidate.
Walker, who has an apartment in the redevelopment district and grew up around City Hall, will take the helm of the agency April 24 with a $120,000 salary. He grew up as a surrogate son of Carole Ann Taylor, a well-known Miami businesswoman and a one-time assistant to former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré.
As director of the CRA, he’ll be tasked with using property taxes to encourage development, create affordable housing and eliminate slum and blight in an area that generally falls between Interstate 395 and Northwest 20th Street.
“As a kid I was playing on this dais,” he told commissioners. “It's good to possibly be able to come back home.”
With Walker at the helm, Russell said he plans to implement some CRA reforms recommended last month by a Miami-Dade grand jury.