ATLANTIC CITY — The man leading a state takeover of this city met the public Thursday, but didn't have details on plans to fix the city's finances.
Jeffrey Chiesa, a former state attorney general, U.S. senator and now the state's designee in the city, introduced himself at a City Council meeting and fielded questions from residents.
He didn't always have answers.
Chiesa said the state doesn’t yet have a plan to close the resort’s $100 million budget hole and pay down the city’s $500 million debt. No final decisions have been made, he said.
"It has been two weeks,” Chiesa told the crowd. “My plan is to do what I think is necessary to create a structural financial situation that works not for six months, not for a year, but indefinitely so that this place can flourish in a way that it deserves to flourish.”
He said he and his law firm will be paid hourly for their work, but didn't say what the hourly rate will be. The state retention agreement still isn’t complete.
“We’ll make sure that’s available once it’s been finalized,” he said.
But Chiesa, who has authority to sell city assets, hire or fire workers or break union contracts, among other powers, said he’d listen to residents and stakeholders before making major decisions.
“What this designation has done is consolidate authority, per the legislation, in the designee to make those decisions,” he said. “That does not mean that I’m not listening. That does not mean I’m pretending I have all the answers without consulting with other people.”
Chiesa called the city a "jewel" and "truly unique.” And he said he understood concerns about an outsider overseeing the city.
“I know that most of you don’t know who I am,” he said. “All I can do is be judged by my actions and the decision that I make, and I hope you give me time to do that.”
Chiesa at times faced an antagonistic audience.
“I’m not going to say welcome to Atlantic City because your presence is welcome, but your position is not,” said Charles Goodman, a city resident and member of the city’s branch of the NAACP.
Chiesa also got some quirky questions.
No, he will not be moving to Atlantic City to pay property taxes.
Yes, his name is pronounced “Kee-A-zuh.”
No one at home calls him “king” or “czar.”
Despite the lack of details on what he'll do, Chiesa said he must move quickly to address immediate issues. State officials have said reaching agreements with casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes is an early priority. After that, it will be focusing on city expenses.
“That timeframe is pretty compressed,” he told the audience. “So we will take the steps we need to take.”