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Shirley Leung

Taking time picking the next BRA chief

Mayor Martin Walsh (left) named John Barros to be the city’s first chief of economic development.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/GLOBE STAFF

The exodus at the Boston Redevelopment Authority begins.

Jim Tierney, the agency’s chief of staff and a behind-the-scenes go-to guy, is leaving to take a big job at Jones Lang LaSalle , a move the commercial real estate firm is making public Wednesday. Tierney, who has been at the BRA for seven years, will become the market director for New England, overseeing Jones Lang LaSalle’s growth and strategic direction.

Tierney was a familiar face to development insiders. If you couldn’t get to the BRA director on something, you dealt with planning director Kairos Shen or Tierney. His name was floated as a possible successor to Peter Meade, who resigned last month with the change of administrations. But when the agency’s number two, Brian Golden, became acting chief, everyone figured Tierney wasn’t going to stick around.


In an interview, Tierney, 40, said he might want to run the BRA someday, but not now.

“I’m ready for something different,” he said. Besides, Tierney thinks Mayor Marty Walsh should put his own stamp on the agency. “It’s really important to have someone new coming to the job,” he said.

Who the next BRA director will be is the parlor game du jour in the business community. Last week, the chatter at the Bristol Lounge, where the power brokers in this town still lunch on fat expense accounts, was that our mayor is having a hard time finding someone to helm the BRA.

Walsh, if you can believe it, offered the job to three people, and they all turned him down. News like that could make it hard to finish your Pantry Salad at this Four Seasons Hotel see-and-be-seen spot.

Jim Tierney, the BRA’s chief of staff and a behind-the-scenes go-to guy, is leaving in March to take a big job at Jones Lang LaSalle.Handout

A day later, I caught up with Walsh on the other side of town in Dudley Square. He and newly appointed economic development chief John Barros were getting a hard-hat tour of the renovation of the Ferdinand Building, which will be the new headquarters for Boston public schools.


So are the rumors true, Mayor Walsh? Can you not find anyone to be your BRA director?

“Tell me one who has turned it down. I have not spoken about the job to anyone,” he said. “I haven’t even spoken to John about it. But we will.”

That’s a common theme Walsh strikes when he talks about the redevelopment agency. Our new mayor is prone to introducing bold ideas, but can be methodical about implementation. During the campaign, he vowed to shake up the powerful BRA and make the development process more transparent and streamlined. He’s still planning to do that, and last week launched an audit of the agency to a better handle changes he envisions.

Candidate Walsh talked about needing state legislation to revamp the BRA, but Mayor Walsh says he’s going to wait for the results of the audit, which should come by the end of April. There’s a chance he can fix the BRA without going to the Legislature, which helped establish the agency. That’s probably a good thing because the session ends in July, and he’s running out of time to make significant changes this year.

Which brings me back to the BRA director search. Walsh would like to find a permanent leader by the summer but is not going to rush it. The timetable may make real estate executives anxious, but Walsh is trying to hire someone whose job description is being rewritten as we speak. Already, the BRA chief is no longer part of his Cabinet; Barros, in his new role, takes that slot.


With so much change in the air, taking it easy may be the best course of action when it comes to picking the next development chief.

That means the business community should find another parlor game. This one is getting boring fast.

Shirley Leung can be reached at sleung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.