In a classic pose, Peter Cervelli explains what's what.
The Dade County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) holds its monthly meeting this afternoon, and on the agenda one item sticks out: "Update on selection of new E.D. Director."
The word "update" implies that IDA must have begun the process earlier, during one of its executive, or closed-door session, to which the public--and press--are not privy; the term "E.D. director" means "economic development director"; and the adjective "new" implies something is fixin' to happen to the old one. Thus The Planet called the IDA office this morning with words to the effect of Say it ain't so, Peter!
But Peter Cervelli, the economic development director in question, confirmed the news: He's retiring. "It's true," he said by phone Monday morning. "I am headed for the old folks' home."
Cervelli, 71, said he's in fine health--"If I was dying, I'd stay here and milk it as long as I could"--but that that's the point; he and his wife, Betty, want some time to travel and enjoy life while the getting's good. "My wife has been bugging me for quite a long time," said Cervelli.
To the uninitiated, the wisecracking New Yorker may seem out of place in rural Dade County; but in fact, Cervelli, whose name means "brains" in Italian, is a fixture in local government. He has been Dade's trusted economic development guru since there was economic development in Dade.
Cervelli, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, worked in New Jersey and in the heart of Manhattan--195 Broadway, he specifies--for AT&T, from which he retired in 1999. He and his wife moved to Lookout Mountain in 2000 to be near Betty's mother, and Cervelli shortly began a second career chasing down grants for his new hometown as the city of Trenton's "Better Hometown Manager."
Meanwhile, Cervelli ran for county political office in 2008 and won the District 4 seat on the Dade County Commission, from which he etched a permanent niche in The Planet's memory by saying, in his precise Northeastern tones: "I have never been a good old boy before."
Cervelli served eight years in his Trenton day job, in which he was also director and general factotum of the Downtown Development Authority, and four years as a Dade commissioner. Then, in a seriously rotten run of luck, he lost both gigs in 2012, when then-Mayor Anthony Emanuel abruptly eliminated the Better Home Town manager job and Allan Bradford, the current District 4 commissioner, successfully challenged him for the county commission seat.
But Cervelli didn't stay down long, and the next year, 2013, moved into a job IDA had pretty much created for him, economic development director. Then, just last year, IDA, Trenton under a new mayor and Dade County all united to make Cervelli's job a full-time county position funded jointly by the three entities. At that point the job was opened for other candidates, but Cervelli didn't know if any were interviewed, and in fact they would have had a hard time besting his qualifications.
And so, it might be reasonably be argued, will whoever moves into the job now. In first the DDA and then the IDA, economic development in Dade meant Cervelli and Cervelli meant economic development. In a field in which millions of public dollars are routinely proffered up to private corporations, Cervelli managed to be trusted by city, county and even (to some extent) the ravening press. Cervelli carved out for himself a unique and peculiar position in this fiercely independent backwater, the pulsing brain behind Dade's forward motion.
What will Dade do without its central cortex? Cervelli's not worried about it. "There are smart people in the world besides me," he said. He said the position has already been advertised on economic development websites and will shortly be on Dade's own, and that the county has received one application he knows of.
Nathan Wooten, chairman of IDA, agreed Cervelli will be a tough act to follow. "Peter has been with us for quite some time and has been invaluable to us," said Wooten by email. "He is the primary reason that Vanguard is here and that Lake Region is still here. He has gone way above what was required to make things happen for Dade County."
With that in mind, said Wooten, IDA is eager to get someone in the ED slot before Cervelli heads out to pasture, or in any case to pastures new. "We are hopeful to have a replacement in place by May 1 so that Peter can get him/her 'trained,'" wrote Wooten.
Cervelli says that IDA's focus sans Cervelli will in all probability remain the same as it is with him at the helm: attracting "ratables"--industry and business to generate tax revenues and relieve the burden of residential property owners--and creating jobs. "That doesn't change," he said.
IDA meets at 3 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month in the Dade Administrative Building.