Downtown Vision Inc.’s board of directors announced Thursday its new executive director is Jacob Gordon, who has led a similar agency in New Jersey for eight years.
However, the hiring process apparently violated the state’s Sunshine Laws.
DVI board Chair Debbie Buckland said Thursday night that after a properly noticed meeting last week had been adjourned, members of the search committee evaluated the four finalists and Gordon came out on top.
Search Committee Chair Pat McElhaney said he then had discussions about Gordon with committee members, some of which occurred on the telephone.
He said the decision to hire Gordon was reached Tuesday.
“We didn’t meet,” he said in clarification. “I called everybody to make sure they were OK with the decision.”
Both the telephone discussions and the fact that a decision was not made in a public meeting violate Sunshine Laws.
Attorney George Gabel, whose specialties include Sunshine Law issues, said because Downtown Vision was created by City Council, a public entity, and performs public functions using a budget derived from public funds, the agency is subject to the Sunshine Law.
Its board members and members of selection or screening committees are defined as public officers under the law.
“All of their deliberations should be public and noticed,” Gabel said. “The public is an important participant in these discussions.”
Gabel also said since committee members conducted business outside public view, their selection process in this case could be called into question.
“Any decision made outside the Sunshine (Law) is voidable,” he said.
Gabel went on to say the remedy would be for the committee to “re-do everything they did in an open meeting so the public gets to participate.”
Buckland said Thursday evening she insisted on full transparency during the interview and selection process and “I thought that’s how we managed it.”
Both rounds of interviews with candidates were conducted in properly noticed public meetings.
Buckland said the board has received no formal instruction in the requirements of the Sunshine Law. She also said she has not reviewed the Government in the Sunshine Manual prepared and distributed to the public by the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
But, Buckland said, that will change as soon as possible.
“Rest assured, I will make it available,” Buckland said.
She did not return an email or phone call Friday morning to answer what the board’s next steps will be.
Gordon was selected to replace Terry Lorince, the organization’s executive director since it was created in 2000. Lorince’s retirement was effective March 31, but she remains as a consultant during the transition period.
Gordon for the past eight years has been executive director of the Camden, N.J., Special Services District, a Business Improvement District similar to DVI. He also is vice president of real estate, business development, policy and downtown issues and general counsel for Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Camden’s economic development initiative.
A former litigation attorney, Gordon earned his undergraduate degree in communications from the University of California, San Diego and received his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.
In 2014, his Camden Night Gardens project, similar to Downtown’s First Wednesday Art Walk, won the Pinnacle Award from the International Downtown Association. In 2012, Camden won the association’s Public Space Award for Roosevelt Plaza Park, the city’s central open space.
In addition to his experience directing an improvement district, the committee cited Gordon’s ability to secure $30 million in public and private grant funding for Camden as a factor that led to his selection.
“He’s a master fundraiser,” said Buckland.
In a news release distributed when the announcement was made, Gordon said he was looking forward to working with the board, the city, the Downtown Investment Authority and Downtown businesses.
“Through innovation, collaboration and dedication, we will help Downtown Jacksonville continue to increase its reputation as one of the preeminent urban centers in the U.S., with world class anchor institutions, attractions and amenities,” he said.
Gordon will be paid an annual salary of $115,000 with benefits including paid vacation and holidays, 401k match, health and dental care coverage with employee contribution, and parking. He will receive $7,000 for relocation expenses.
Gordon’s first day with DVI is scheduled for May 11.
Original article here.