In a departure that will put new pressure on Key Biscayne’s plan to fight sea level rise, the island’s well-regarded public works chief, Jake Ozyman, is leaving for greener pastures in the condo canyons of Aventura.
He wasn’t lured away by a higher salary. In fact, he’s taking the job for a bit less than the $191,000 he is earning now.
“My commute got progressively worse. I made it in an hour five years ago,” Ozyman said. Now, he says he regularly spends four hours a day commuting to the island from Davie.
“It’s become unbearable,” he said. “It’s one-seventh of my life.”
The departure comes just as Key Biscayne is putting more details on its ambitious plan to combat sea level rise — at least $250 million in public works projects to counter increasing street flooding, beach erosion, and utility undergrounding projects.
The departure is prompting Village Manager Steve Williamson to find a replacement quickly, as the first project, the frequently flooded area near the K-8 school, approaches the bid phase. Ozyman’s last day is May 12.
“He is one of the most dedicated, hard workers that I’ve seen,” Williamson said. “There are talented people out there, but it’s not going to be easy. It also requires a special fit into what I think is a really close-knit team.”
Williamson said he is tweaking the job description and will be advertising for the position this week.
In Aventura, meanwhile, the top city official said he was thrilled to have lured Ozyman to fill a vacancy in the city of 40,000.
“Yes, we are stealing him,” said City Manager Ron Wasson. “Jake really stood out and we were just happy he took it.”
Key Biscayne’s high cost of living has forced the overwhelming majority of employees, including Williamson and major department heads, to live off-island. Just eight of 131 full-time Village employees live on the island, according to Human Resources Director Juan Gutierrez.
Ozyman has offered to help the Village get through the upcoming budget preparation, even if it means making guest appearances at Village Council meetings.
“This was not easy for me. I love this place, I love the people I work for,” Ozyman said. But the traffic –mostly before he even approaches Key Biscayne– was consuming 20 hours a week.
Does he have any advice for his successor?
“We have a very aggressive resiliency program in place. Keep your head up, and push through it. It will happen.”
“With some stress,” he chuckled.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.