City needs citizen-run board to help push out slum and blight, commissioner says
Monday, 27 July 2015 21:22

By Attiyya Anthony Sun Sentinel

Boynton Beach vice mayor wants the professionals to lead the city's redevelopment agency
Boynton Beach city officials pushing for citizen run redevelopment agency board
It's going to require a new kind of leadership from those tasked with pushing redevelopment in Boynton Beach.
Joe Casello, vice mayor and board member of Boynton's Community Redevelopment Agency, says that with resident leadership the city's redevelopment agency could be more effective at eliminating slum and blight.
The agency's aim is to improve a 1,650-acre swath of the city by guiding redevelopment, affordable housing and small-business funding programs in the city's most afflicted areas.
Casello said he wants the seven-member board to be completely comprised of residents who aren't elected commissioners. Currently, the board is made up of five commission members, including the mayor, and two residents, or "independent" board members.
"It would take the politics out of it," Casello said. "Sometimes, we get too political in our own decisions. As a commissioner, I'm here to be responsible for the taxpayers' money, but as a redevelopment agency board member, we have to spend hand over fist to eliminate slum and blight."
And Casello thinks that the city's residents may be better equipped to redevelop the city because of their professional backgrounds.
Like resident Linda Cross, a retired certified public accountant. Cross said that she would enjoy serving on the city's redevelopment agency board.
"I do think that the at-large board members have been on it for quite a while and understand the city," she said. "I live in the city and know it very well, and I would have a perspective of looking out for the [redevelopment agency] first."
Or Jim DeVoursney — a doctor and business owner in Boynton Beach — who is also interested in running for a redevelopment agency citizen's board.
DeVoursney was part of a resident campaign to change the development plans of Casa Del Mar — a proposed townhome community near his home. The residents succeeded in getting a few townhomes replaced with single family homes, which they say is better for their property values.
"It peaked my interest after getting involved with Casa Del Mar," he said. "I see what happens when citizens get involved and I see how it can make a difference."
The redevelopment agency's district is generally framed by the city's eastern edge, as well as roughly Northeast 26th Avenue to the north and Gulfstream Boulevard to the south. The district's western boundary is by Federal Highway along some parts, but spans farther west closer to West Boynton Beach Boulevard, where it spans just west of Interstate 95.
David Merker, a city commissioner and board member, said new people on the board could give the city new direction.
"New people would bring new ideas, which is what Boynton Beach keeps crying they want," Merker said. "The redevelopment agency is extremely important and I want to see qualified professional people, who care for the city."
Some city officials think that a change to a completely citizen-run board could be a bad idea if people put their own personal interests before the city's redevelopment.
Jerry Taylor, mayor and board chair, said that current system works just fine.
"If it isn't broke, why fix it?" he said. He is not against an independent board, but he said that it's hard to find qualified candidates that aren't participating for personal gain.
"It is difficult to find people who don't have a horse in the race," he said. "There are Realtors, architects and lobbyists who have their own personal or business reasons for joining the board."
Casello's proposal comes as some commissioners and residents have scrutinized the agency's ability to lure redevelopment and amenities.
The redevelopment agency was created in 1981 under the city's control. Then in 2000, after community support the board was turned over to a seven-member independent board. In 2007, the commission took control of the board because of questionable and expensive land purchases. That board voted to include two independent citizen board members, in addition to the five-member commission.
Casello said he anticipates that his proposal to adjust who serves on the board will be on a city agenda in September.

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