The South Jersey Economic Development District’s board will meet April 2 to decide the fate of longtime Executive Director Gordon Dahl and discuss the future of the organization, which has three months to sort out its financial difficulties or face dissolution.
SJEDD board Chairman Leonard Desiderio said board members will take a vote of confidence — or no confidence — in Dahl’s abilities. He has been at the district’s helm for 25 years and has directed the $7 million infrastructure installation at the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township.
Last week, the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders called on the district’s board to decide Dahl’s future within 30 days. The resolution calls for the district to sever all ties with Dahl if he does not receive unanimous support. The same resolution sets a 90-day timeframe to review the district’s finances. If all member counties are not convinced the district is sustainable, it would be dissolved.
Dahl did not return calls or emails Wednesday. It is not known whether he plans to retain legal counsel. His most recent contract — in place since 2008 — automatically renews each February and is not tied to performance evaluations.
Dahl’s competency was called into question after Atlantic County severed ties with the SJEDD earlier this year, questioning why the district was two years behind in its audits. In a February watchdog report, The Press of Atlantic City reported that the district spent $858,000 on the project that was not reimbursable under grant agreements, and another $495,000 was owed to contractors, one of which has since sued the district.
The district’s board traditionally meets four times a year — usually at a restaurant in one of the member counties. The April 2 meeting, however, will take place at 6 p.m. in a conference room at Cumberland County Community College. The board has between 18 and 20 members from Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, but Desiderio said he was unable to provide an exact count.
The board also will discuss appointing an interim manager to guide the district through the remainder of the NextGen project. The appointment may signal a willingness to cooperate with the NextGen park’s board, which wants to acquire the SJEDD’s rights to the lease for the park’s land. To date, the board has refused to turn over its rights to the lease unless it is reimbursed $858,000
Desiderio said he has someone in mind for the position but declined to name the individual.
The SJEDD does not have a working website. Atlantic County had hosted www.sjedd.com on its server as a courtesy. However, after the county withdrew from the district, it said it would no longer host the site.
Contact Jennifer Bogdan