The City Council's plan to hire its own downtown development director continued trudging forward Thursday. Though all but one of the finalists for the job dropped out in the face of opposition from most business groups, council members effectively reaffirmed their support of the plan in a 6-1 vote. Bob Kersteen was absent.
Member Connie Kone found no support in her call to suspend the hiring process and instead create a downtown development advisory board. Instead, the council voted to schedule a social gathering in which the remaining candidate for the job might mingle with residents and business interests.
Many business leaders, as well as Mayor David Fischer, oppose the move by the council, fearing the new position will create another layer of bureaucracy. But Council members, sitting in their capacity as members of the Community Redevelopment Agency, say the position offers them a chance to better coordinate strategies in downtown redevelopment districts and gives them an independent source of information.
The last remaining candidate for the CRA executive director job is Merrill J. Ladika, a planner in Hollywood, Fla. At least two council members, Kone and Jay Lasita, have expressed doubts she is qualified, and Kathleen Ford has suggested the council see if one of the candidates who withdrew her application, Mary Jane Stanley of Tallahassee, might reconsider.
Meanwhile, Ford also wants city staffers to look into the possibility of hiring an independent attorney for the CRA.