City commissioners take turns praising him before authorizing contract
With praise and expressions of appreciation, the Sarasota city commissioners this week formally hired Marlon Brown as their new city manager.
Having served as interim city manager since Dec. 7, 2020 — and, before that, as deputy city manager since July 2009 — Brown will succeed Tom Barwin, whom the City Commission hired in 2012. Barwin announced his retirement in December 2020.
It took less than 15 minutes on Jan. 19 — mostly because of board members’ comments — for City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to confirm the unanimous approval of Brown’s contract after Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch made the motion calling for the action. The other board members almost simultaneously seconded the motion.
“This community, over the past several weeks, has expressed so much support for you,” Mayor Hagen Brody told Brown near the end of the commission’s regular meeting that night. Brody added that he did not believe Brown was aware of all those comments.
“I have had people coming out of the woodwork in organizations, just emphasizing how great you will be in this role,” Brody continued in addressing Brown.
Additionally, Brody talked of his delight in the fact that Brown will be the first person of color to serve as Sarasota city manager.
Brown is a native of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
“I will take this opportunity to sign the employment agreement right here and right now,” Brody said as he put pen to paper.
The only changes in that contract since it was made available in the packet for the meeting, Brown explained at the outset of the agenda item, involved his base salary and the deletion of the phrase “or adjust” in the sentence that said, “The decision to increase or adjust Brown’s salary or benefits shall be solely within the discretion of the City Commission.”
Instead of base pay of $204,000, Brown told the board members he wanted the figure to be $196,500.
Additionally, the contract calls for the city to pay Brown $8,000 to assist in his residential relocation to within the city limits, which will be required no later than Aug. 31. That move is a requirement of the City Charter, the contract says.
Brown also will receive a $600 monthly motor vehicle allowance.
An abundance of commendations
In alphabetical order, Brody asked for comments from the commissioners before the vote on the contract.
Going first, Commissioner Liz Alpert, who first won election to the board in 2015, pointed out of Brown, “He’s been doing a great job for many, many years …” She noted his “total dedication and total knowledge about what goes on in the city.”
During her turn, Ahearn-Koch told Brown, “I really want to thank this commission” — including Vice Mayor Erik “E” Arroyo and Commissioner Kyle Scott Battie, who were elected in November 2020 — “for seeing immediately the value that you have brought to this commission and to this city.”
Ahearn-Koch added, “I think we saved ourselves time and money [by not advertising for a new city manager], and I’m very happy with this contract …”
Next, Battie said, “I have complete and utter confidence in his abilities to perform his duties as city manager.”
Turning to Brown, Battie added, “I think highly of you, man, in the short time that we have gotten to work together.” Brown had helped him navigate through what Battie called “uncharted waters” as a new commissioner.”
Moreover, Battie told Brown, “I think that you bring a great deal of dignity and esteem to this position.”
Arroyo said he did not think Brown needed him to offer any compliments. “You know very well that I respect you, and I think you’re very competent …”
Arroyo did raise the point that the commissioners last year declined to provide cost-of-living raises to the Charter officials — Brown, then-Manager Barwin and City Auditor and Clerk Griggs. Given Brown’s new contract, Arroyo continued, “I think we need to lift that restriction [for Griggs].”
The decision was linked to the economic constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Mayor Brody pointed out, “Mr. Brown’s not taking a raise on his base salary … and I think that’s … very noble and important.”
Brody added, “I think our salary review for employees … needs to be more systematic than it’s been in the past. … I definitely look forward to addressing salaries and raises and performance on an annual basis, moving forward.”
Brown’s contract does call for the commissioners to “conduct an annual salary review [for him] at the same time as general employees are considered for salary review.”
Taking his turn to talk about Brown, Brody said, “Not a lot of people get to see how hard this man works behind closed doors.” Brody mentioned a trip to City Hall over the holidays, when he saw Brown in Brown’s office, checking emails.
“He’s typically the first one in the office and the last one to leave,” Brody said of Brown.
“I feel that with this city manager employment contract,” Brody continued, “we are hiring one of the best, if not the best, city managers in the country.”
Just before Griggs called the roll for votes on Commissioner Ahearn-Koch’s motion, she also addressed Brown: “I support you 100%. You know how I feel about you personally, so I’m super happy about this.”
City Attorney Robert Fournier added, “I just couldn’t be more pleased.”
After the vote, Brody took the opportunity to express his pleasure at Brown’s having named former Deputy City Police Chief Pat Robinson as Interim Deputy City Manager.
Brown joked about whether Robinson would want to keep the job on a permanent basis.
A history of public service
Brown’s resume, which he had attached to the proposed contract in the Jan. 19 agenda packet, noted that he received his Bachelor of Arts in geography from West Virginia University and a Master of City Planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He also has received certification as a planner, as a credentialed manager and as a public manager. The latter designation was accorded him by Florida State University’s Florida Center for Public Management.
Brown began his career as a management trainee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1988.
From 1994 to 1999, he was the administrator of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the City of Tallahassee and Leon County.
Then, from December 2003 to April 2005, Brown served as interim transit director for the City of Tallahassee. He was named assistant to the city manager in Tallahassee in November 1999 and remained in that position until April 2005.
Brown next served as the Gadsden County administrator from May 2005 to December 2008, and then he held the position of county advisor on economic stimulus for the Florida Association of Counties from March 2009 to June 2009.