The future of the South Jersey Economic Development District and the competence of SJEDD Executive Director Gordon Dahl have been called into question by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The freeholders have called upon SJEDD’s board to take a vote of confidence in Dahl within 30 days. If the board does not unanimously support Dahl, he should be removed immediately and a “qualified permanent successor” should be found, according to a resolution passed Tuesday.
The same resolution also outlines a course of action for dissolving the district if it doesn’t prove to be financially sustainable within 90 days.
Meanwhile, Cape May County does not want to take any more chances with the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park project under development at the William J. Hughes Technical Center. The resolution calls for SJEDD’s board to immediately find a “competent interim manager” to guide the district through the resolution of the NextGen project.
SJEDD, which has led a $7 million infrastructure installation at the park, has been under pressure to turn over the lease agreement for the park’s land to the park’s board. To date, the district has refused as board members have voted not to turn over the lease unless the district is reimbursed for $858,000 it spent over the course of the project that is not reimbursable under grant agreements.
A watchdog report by The Press of Atlantic City last month revealed that contractors who have completed the infrastructure installation at the park are owed $495,000. One of those contractors has since sued the district for $169,700 and others have threatened legal action as well.
In January, Dahl and the district’s then-attorney Noah Bronkesh turned down a bridge loan from the state Economic Development Administration that would have allowed the district to pay those contractors. The terms of the loan would have required the district to simultaneously turn over lease for the park’s land, and thus, not recoup the $858,000.
Cape May County’s resolution calls for the district to resolve all of its financial and operational difficulties within 90 days and demonstrate that it can sustain itself within that timeframe. If all counties are not assured the district is viable, it should be dissolved, according to a 4-0 vote of the freeholders with one member absent.
The resolution states that the SJEDD will need to satisfy all outstanding debt, divide assets and equitably separate all employees before dissolving the district.
The district has three employees: Dahl, senior planning officer Diana Schiavo and administrative assistant Deborah Dalton. SJEDD was formed in 1979 for regional planning purposes and as a way to secure additional federal EDA funding.