The Governor’s Office released its highly-anticipated report on how the state is managing the takeover of Atlantic City earlier this month. And while the report suggested room for hope and optimism, the particulars were a little heavier.
The findings painted the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority‘s (CRDA) financial management of the city in a less- than-favorable light.
The state of the state’s management of AC
Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Murphy hired Jim Johnson, a one-time election rival, to evaluate the state’s management of Atlantic City.
In his first official report to Murphy, Johnson compiled five months of analysis to report on:
- The history of the city and what led to its current state
- The city’s challenges and the management of those challenges
- Recommendations for progress and the eventual return of the city to local control
There is one clear message throughout the report. To be successful and overcome the challenges Atlantic City faces, a group of invested stakeholders must take a seat at the table. Involvement of the public and private sector and colleges and universities are needed, now more than ever.
The report emphasizes the need to broaden the focus of revitalization beyond Atlantic City casinos and job growth.
“The revitalization effort must be inclusive and carried forward with a view toward benefiting all residents of Atlantic City.”
The report recommends focusing on six strategic areas:
- The economy and job development
- Land use issues and development
- Public safety
- Public health
- Youth and the creation of pathways to opportunity
- Building governmental capacity and enhancing coordination.
The six strategic areas show a vision for the revitalization of Atlantic City as being more complex than focusing on increasing tourism and opening new casinos.
“The city has been hamstrung by silos and silver bullets. Real progress will involve collaboration and a longer-term commitment to a deeper understanding of chronic problems of poverty.”
CRDA defends its practices
The CRDA is an extension of the New Jersey Executive Branch, and as such, its policies should reflect that of the current administration. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though.
Lack of coordination between involved parties and a narrow focus on “singular solutions” resulted in questionable spending practices.
The report provides specific examples of spending that goes against what is best for the city, including:
- $14 million for an observation wheel on the Steel Pier
- $6 million for an art installation on the vacant lot formerly
occupied by the Sands Casino
- $174,000 to have that same art installation removed
- $4 million per year for the Miss America Beauty Pageant
Board Chairman Robert Mulcahy defended the CRDA in a statement to the Press of Atlantic City:
“I want to make sure that the public understands that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is audited annually by one of the top independent accounting firms in the nation. Those professional audits have resulted in unmodified clean opinions, confirming the authority’s design, implementation, and maintenance of internal controls relevant to the preparation and fair presentation of financial statements. I think that’s very important in terms of things that have been said or done.”
The CRDA is ready to get strategic
The report proposes a new management structure that includes stakeholders invested in a prosperous city as mentioned above.
The need to establish efficient processes seems to be a key finding across the board.
“Success lies in implementation processes,” said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University. “Getting there will take significant doses of time, attention, and money.”
It was made very clear throughout the report that a coordinated effort and a shift to long-term strategic decision-making is what Atlantic City needs right now.
The report is comprehensive with concrete, detailed suggestions. It’s a lot to take in, but it seems the CRDA received the message loud and clear.
Executive Director Matt Doherty made a statement soon after the report’s release:
“The CRDA is currently reviewing the report issued yesterday from Special Counsel Jim Johnson to Governor (Phil) Murphy. Once reviewed, the CRDA will devise an appropriate strategy to meet the goals set forth in this plan.”