Coral Gables

Coral Gables chooses Jim Beard as new city manager

James A. Beard was appointed Coral Gables city manager on Tuesday Sept. 16.
James A. Beard was appointed Coral Gables city manager on Tuesday Sept. 16. City of Coral Gables

Coral Gables commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint the city of Atlanta’s chief financial officer as the Gables’ new city manager.

Jim Beard, 50, was chosen Tuesday morning from five finalists interviewed by the City Commission on Sept. 13. He was not present. He replaces Pat Salerno, who resigned in April after five years on the job.

The decision came after an hour of discussion about whether to seek additional applicants. Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. said he was disappointed with those who applied.

“I’m just not sure that they have the skills needed to be city manager,” Kerdyk said. “I’m just not sure this is it. I want to consider delaying this process. I bring it up today because the fact is that I feel very strongly about this.”

Kerdyk said after the meeting that “the pool of candidates was not strong enough because they didn’t have city managerial experience.”

The city paid $33,000 to the search firm of Colin Baenziger & Associates to find the candidates.

Commissioner Frank Quesada said he was “very impressed” with the five finalists.

“It confuses me when you say that,” Quesada told Kerdyk. “When I look at our budget, our pension situation, I think all the candidates have elements to be city manager.”

Kerdyk interjected.

“Yes they show elements; you said it. But we want the total package. Elements are good, and maybe, at some point those elements will become the package. But like I said, delaying the process two months won’t hurt,” Kerdyk said. “I just think that there are some other possible candidates that can bring this city into the future.”

But Commissioner Vince Lago said it was time for the commission to act.

“I think that we need to make a decision, because the city is in dire need of someone to come in and change the culture of the city. Would I like another three more months? I would. But we owe it not only to the residents but to this commission. We need to have a city manager. We need leadership.”

Beard said in a telephone interview after the meeting that he hopes to gain the commission’s confidence as soon as he arrives, specifically the vice mayor’s.

“I’m pleased with the commission’s decision. I would hope to gain the vice mayor’s trust, support and confidence.”

Under Coral Gables’ system of government, the City Commission hires the city manager to serve as the chief executive of city government.

After agreeing to move forward, commissioners ranked their choices on paper, and the city clerk counted the votes.

Three of the five commissioners named Beard as their first choice and two named Arthur Noriega, chief executive of the Miami Parking Authority.

The commission then voted unanimously for Beard. He will undergo a background check and is expected to start in early October.

Beard’s salary and benefits package remains to be negotiated and approved by the City Commission. Former city manager Salerno’s salary was about $192,000.

Coral Gables started looking for a new city manager after Salerno resigned in April. The city received more than 100 applications. The other three finalists were Pieter Bockweg, the executive director for City of Miami’s Omni, Midtown & South East Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agencies; Yvonne McKinley, former city manager of South Miami and Doral; and Alex Rey, the town manager of Miami Lakes.

Beard has been the chief financial officer for Atlanta for four years. He previously served as the treasurer of Palm Beach County from 2006 to 2010, and before that worked in the private financial services sector.

He has a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida International University.

Beard said he is preparing to hit the ground running with the police department, which has been under fire in recent weeks. Former Police Chief Dennis Weiner abruptly resigned last week after some commissioners and residents criticized him over a series of high-profile burglaries and their perception that the police were not doing enough. The city appointed Ed Hudak, a longtime member of the department, as interim chief last Thursday.

“There’s a few options: I can leave the interim police chief for a period of time and evaluate his record of achievement and decide to keep him, or move forward in opening a search for a police chief,” Beard said. “I want to make sure that person has a full understanding of the needs of the community — a strong notion of crime prevention and crime-solving skills.”

Beard said he plans on restoring confidence through his actions.

“They will see through my words and deeds. They will see I am indeed transparent and will not surprise the City Commission with my actions. It’s important to lead from the front. You can’t lead an organization from hiding and sitting in the office.”

Noriega, the runner-up, shook hands with commissioners and waved goodbye.

“It was a very thorough process,” Noriega said after the meeting was adjourned. “The city can be proud. Clearly I am disappointed, but I know that the city is going to do very well.”

Kerdyk, the longest-serving member of the commission, said in an interview that despite his comments at the meeting Tuesday, he looks forward to working with Beard.

“At this point I’m a hundred percent supportive of Mr. Beard and I look forward to working with him as he moves the city forward.”

Follow @MoniqueOMadan on Twitter.

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