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May 21, 2006 - Miami Herald (Neighbors section)

Anti-blight czar keeps coy before vote


Meeting city residents ahead of a North Miami City Council vote on hiring him to oversee redevelopment, Tony Crapp was cautious about stating an agenda for easing the city's blight and poverty.

Asked by a real estate investor for his goals this year, Crapp gave none.

''I'll have to take a close look and really assess the plan,'' Crapp said. ``Give me 30 days to assess and I'll be able to tell you.''

He added later, ``We can't over-promise and over-plan. That's been part of the problem here.''

Wednesday's meeting with the city's redevelopment advisory committee was a prelude to this week's vote on his hiring at a redevelopment meeting at City Hall. The meeting of Community Redevelopment Agency Board, which is made up of the City Council members, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Only four of the committee's 12 members showed up for the hastily called meeting, but even so, it was a tough crowd.

At its last official meeting May 4, the committee voted unanimously to express ''extreme disappointment'' about the City Council's failure to extend outgoing director Frank Schnidman's contract, and called for a national search for a replacement.

Those who did attend Wednesday's meeting alternated between expressing concerns about the abrupt move to hire Crapp and praise for his personal charm.

''Tony is one of the most well-known people in the area. In fact I can't think of many people in the city who don't know him,'' said Bill Valentine of the chamber of commerce.

``What a lot of people are saying, and I'm not saying this is going to happen, is that this could be the start of an good-old-boy system in our city.''

Crapp was expansive about his personal life, talking about a childhood in Liberty City and Allapattah, academic success at Harvard University and Princeton, followed by a series of administrative jobs with Miami-Dade County.

He showed no appetite to lower his request for a $195,000 salary, which is $30,000 more than the highest-paid redevelopment director in the area, according to a survey conducted in March by the city of Delray Beach.

''I have a job. I will continue to do that job if this doesn't work out,'' Crapp said when asked about concerns about his salary expressed by some City Council members.

Now a director of economic redevelopment for Miami-Dade County, Crapp has said his salary combined with scheduled raises is near $190,000.

''He'll be doing a hell of a lot better than me,'' said City of Miami redevelopment director Frank Rollason, who make about $140,000 to administer three agencies with a combined $25 million budget and a nine-person staff.

''Tony does know what he's doing. He knows how things work at County Hall,'' Rollason said.

'If they feel like, `hey, we have no idea what to do,' he could say, 'this is what I cost and I'm worth it.' ''

At a May 9 meeting, the council asked redevelopment attorney Steven Zelkowitz to renegotiate pay and other controversial areas of Crapp's contract.

Some in the city have also expressed concern that Crapp could shift the redevelopment focus from helping needy residents to building impressive public works, like the planned Olympic Training Center and public library that were resisted by outgoing director Frank Schnidman.

In an interview, Crapp said he would keep the focus on decent housing as originally envisioned in the plan to use taxes from Biscayne Landing's luxury housing.

''I think that's where most of the money is going to go,'' Crapp said. ``It has to be rehabbing and fixing up people's homes.''