Decades of spending casino funds caught up with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in September, as two reports portrayed an agency that has focused too much on glitz and not enough on rebuilding the resort.

ATLANTIC CITY — Decades of spending casino funds caught up with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority this month, as two reports portrayed an agency that has focused too much on glitz and not enough on rebuilding the resort.

Last week, a state performance audit found CRDA spent millions of dollars without regard for what it received in return, an analysis authority officials were hesitant to fully embrace.

Then on Thursday, a long-awaited report from the Governor’s Office on the state’s takeover of Atlantic City said the authority “had not lived up to its potential” and “made investment choices that often had little to do with the core interests of the city.”

“Much of public policy in and about Atlantic City has been hampered by two things: one, a lack of coordination, particularly between CRDA and the city and, two, a single-minded focus on bold, even singular solutions,” according to the report.

“Silos and silver bullets,” was how report author Jim Johnson, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, referred to the lack of collaboration and long-term planning.

The report, which outlined steps the city would need to take to get out from under state control, emphasized the need for CRDA to become a partner in that effort and specifically recommended a “reorientation of CRDA’s focus to better serve community needs and make disciplined, strategic investments to bolster the local economy.”

“The CRDA is currently reviewing the report issued yesterday from Special Counsel Jim Johnson to Governor (Phil) Murphy,” Executive Director Matt Doherty said Friday in a statement. “Once reviewed, the CRDA will devise an appropriate strategy to meet the goals set forth in this plan.”

That raises the question: How exactly can the state agency effectively implement its new mission?

Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University and former deputy director of the state Division of Local Government Services, said it was too early to say what steps CRDA needs to take to implement the reports’ recommendations.

But, Pfeiffer said, it was clear the state agency could not, and should not, attempt to do it alone.

“It’s going to take a village of organizations to get Atlantic City where it needs to be,” he said. “The biggest challenge is getting everyone to the table.”

Johnson’s report suggests CRDA should be a member of a local executive council that includes the mayor, City Council president and other community stakeholders.

A project office, according to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, would be based in Atlantic City to oversee working groups such as economic development, jobs, public safety and health, land-use planning and development, youth services, government effectiveness and accountability.

Pfeiffer said the success of the plan will be measured by focusing on the details and establishing processes to move it forward. He added it would take a commitment of resources and engagement.

“Success lies in implementation processes,” he said. “Getting there will take significant doses of time, attention and money.”

Jim Kennedy, a former CRDA executive director and local economic analyst, took to social media following the release of Johnson’s report to underscore the effort needed to make the Atlantic City plan successful.

“To make it work (and it can work) is going to take hundreds of millions and more than a decade,” Kennedy wrote on Twitter. “It’s also going to take the best efforts of the guys in suites still partying on Stockton’s campus,” a reference to the university’s ribbon cutting Thursday, which several prominent state and local officials attended, with the notable exception of Murphy.

Kennedy went on to tweet that the Atlantic City plan “was full of great intentions.”

“It takes a hard look at the huge challenges Atlantic City faces,” he wrote. “But in the end it fails to recommend the Marshall Plan scale investment the city needs to create prosperity.”

Contact: 609-272-7222 Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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