ATLANTIC CITY — The state will continue its oversight of the city until government, civic engagement and community partnerships improve, according to a report from the governor’s appointed special counsel.
The long-awaited report from Jim Johnson, a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary and 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was released Thursday and recommends the state continue in its role overseeing Atlantic City through 2021, while working with local entities to enhance the resort’s outlook.
“The citizens of Atlantic City deserve to have their local elected officials control their destiny,” said Mayor Frank Gilliam. “I am very optimistic that this is a huge step in the right direction for Atlantic City and its future.”
Johnson’s report lists several recommendations for city and state officials as well as a plan for implementing them.
“In order to accomplish these initiatives, Atlantic City must reject approaches based on silos and silver bullets and work to develop in a broad, inclusive and comprehensive way,” Johnson said. “Stakeholders in the city will have to do many things well, but they don’t have to do them all at once.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, who appointed Johnson in February, said the report’s recommendations were made independently and many are still under review by the administration, but he emphasized his support for the final product.
“This report goes beyond Atlantic City’s finances and outlines tasks to address chronic issues so that everyone can share in the new opportunities emerging in the city,” Murphy said. “Without a doubt, positive things are happening in Atlantic City. However, if we want to see today’s progress endure long into the future, we have to tackle longstanding challenges such as poverty, unemployment, affordable housing and public health. Most importantly, we must invest in the people who live and work here.”
In order for local control to be fully returned to Atlantic City’s elected officials before the statutorily defined five years, state legislative action in the form of an amendment to the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act would need to be passed.
Murphy, who campaigned on ending the state takeover enacted in 2016 by his predecessor, former Gov. Chris Christie, said his administration is committed to a “partnership” with city officials.
“We can do tremendous things in Atlantic City, but only if we do them working together and only if we focus on broadening the economy,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.
The report’s recommendations include:
• Focusing on the fundamentals of local government by building the capacity and talent of municipal employees through training and better technology to deliver essential services, respond to constituent concerns, collect more revenue and plan for development and growth
• Building a diverse economy by supporting the stability of the gaming industry, developing jobs with the potential for growth and higher wages, supporting the health of small businesses and creating career ladders within the casino industry
• Improving amenities that affect residents’ quality of life and can attract new residents by developing strategic projects such as a food market, walkable neighborhoods, and after-school and summer programs for children
• Enhancing the city’s strengths by using the network of neighborhood civic associations, arts organizations and cultural institutions, introducing non-partisan community engagement tools and building a community collaboration database
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• Addressing social challenges and creating pathways to opportunity by providing support for households facing foreclosure, rehabbing vacant and abandoned homes and selling them to working families at affordable prices, tackling public health issues such as infant mortality and obesity, identifying state grant programs to support the city’s youth, and developing training programs to prepare unemployed residents for work
A key component in successfully executing the plan’s recommendations is better coordination among the city’s various entities, namely City Council, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the state Department of Community Affairs, which presently has oversight over the day-to-day functions of government.
The transitional report’s review team proposed the creation of a state coordinating council to implement the recommendations and keep people “on task and accountable for results.”
Oliver, who is also the head of the DCA, said the department would be creating a dedicated Atlantic City project office in the resort for that purpose.
“We’re not going away,” Murphy said. “We’re going to go out and execute this plan.”