County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department director latest senior employee to opt for Longboat Key town position

Carolyn Brown submitted her resignation on July 27

Carolyn Brown. File photo

Yet another senior Sarasota County Government employee is headed to the Town of Longboat Key, The Sarasota News Leader has learned: Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.

Brown submitted her letter of resignation on Friday, July 27, Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told the News Leader in a July 30 email. Brown’s last official day with the county will be Oct. 11, Grant noted.

“Working for Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources for more than 30 years has been amazing,” Brown said in a statement Grant sent the News Leader. “It has provided me with invaluable opportunities and experiences and a career that has been truly enjoyable, meaningful and fun,” Brown added.

Brown’s first day with the county was Feb. 11, 1989, Grant told the News Leader. Brown held the position then of facility manager. In 2012, following the retirement of longtime county employee John McCarthy in July of that year, Brown became general manager of what was then the Parks and Recreation Department.

A reorganization several years ago of county departments — put into effect by former County Administrator Tom Harmer — added oversight of natural resources to the portfolio of Brown and her staff.

“As you know Carolyn has been a stalwart in protecting and creating access to our county parks and natural resources,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said in a prepared statement provided to the News Leader this week. “We are thankful to Carolyn for her years of public service with the county and wish her well in her future endeavors,” Lewis added. “Carolyn has indicated that while she is retiring from the county she will not stop working. She is taking on a new position with the Town of Longboat Key. She will be an asset for Longboat and having her in Longboat will be good for Sarasota County,” Lewis wrote.

In July 2017, Harmer — Brown’s former boss — announced to the County Commission that he had accepted an offer from the Town of Longboat Key to become town manager following the retirement of Dave Bullock. Harmer’s last day with Sarasota County was Dec. 8, 2017.

Almost exactly a year ago — in late July — Isaac Brownman, former director of the county’s Public Works Department and the county’s chief engineer, accepted the position of public works director with the Town of Longboat Key. Brownman had been a county employee for 17 years, then-county spokesman Jason Bartolone told the News Leader.

Then this spring, Tate Taylor, manager of the county’s Planning Services Division, left county employment; he began working for the town on March 28.

Former County Administrator Tom Harmer is the town manager of Longboat Key. File photo

Taylor joined the town’s Planning, Zoning & Building Department as a planner, Susan M. Phillips, assistant to the Longboat Town manager, confirmed for the News Leader.

In response to News Leader questions this week, Lynn Curreli, the human relations generalist for the Town of Longboat Key, wrote in a July 31 email that Brown will begin employment with the town as support services director on Oct. 29. The job offer was made to Brown on July 23, Curreli added.

Brown’s salary will be $97,500, Curreli noted.

Brown’s salary as a Sarasota County department director is $122,512, Grant told the News Leader.

Plaudits and serious issues for the department

On July 11, during the last County Commission meeting before the board began its traditional summer vacation, Brown and 14 of her staff members joined Commissioner Charles Hines at the front of the Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota as Hines read a proclamation making July Sarasota Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Month.

“Thank you for celebrating with us,” Brown told him, noting “how outstanding and wonderful our park system is here …” She added that members of the public “might not know how awesomeour department is and how awesomethe folks that work for [the department] are.”

Then she pointed to the fact that she and her staff just the previous week had received written notification that they had met “all 151 standards” for the department to win national accreditation. Only one step in the process remained, she said.

At that point, Brown asked the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff members surrounding her and Hines to introduce themselves and offer their titles.

Following those introductions, Hines told the group, “Thank you for everything you do,” noting the county’s “incredible amenities,” from natural areas to athletic fields. To Brown, he added, “Thanks for taking on the task of working toward accreditation.”

Commissioner Charles Hines (center, front row) is surrounded by staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department during the board’s regular meeting on July 11. Carolyn Brown (left of Hines) holds a copy of the proclamation Hines had read. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Government via Twitter

In response to News Leader questions, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester wrote in an Aug. 1 email that Sarasota County PRNR staff members “will go before the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies at a hearing on 9/24 at the [National Recreation and Park Association] NRPA Conference [in Indianapolis], to be interviewed and answer questions as the commission reviews our agency’s accreditation materials.”

Winchester added, “Following that final step, we will then know if we receive accreditation.”

Later during that July 11 meeting, Brown stepped to the podium to ask for the commission’s approval of a new parks interlocal agreement with the City of Sarasota.

“It’s Carolyn Day,” Chair Nancy Detert said.

“That’s ’cause it starts in the parks,” Brown replied, using the department slogan she often has publicized often over the years.

The Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department’s webpages feature a variety of photos from county facilities. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That afternoon, Brown appeared before the board again to provide an update on her staff’s research into the potential of implementing a paid parking program at Siesta Key Public Beach and other transit options as a means of combatting increasing traffic congestion on the island. The commissioners almost exactly a year earlier had asked Brown and her staff to begin researching a number of issues related to the traffic at the beach, which twice has been designated No. 1 in the United States by “Dr. Beach,” Stephen Leatherman, a world renowned expert on beaches who is a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

The paid parking issue and the parks interlocal agreements between county government and the county’s municipalities have been among Brown’s responsibilities with the highest profile over the past year. While the Sarasota City Commission and the City of Sarasota last month did both vote to approve a new agreement, Brown and Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham have not yet been successful in their negotiations with the City of Venice and the City of North Port, staff has acknowledged.

On Nov. 28, 2017, the County Commission voted 3-2 — with Detert and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo in the minority — to send letters to each municipality, initiating potential withdrawal from the current agreements as of the start of the 2019 fiscal year. Unless the board agreed to send the notification before Dec. 1, then-incoming interim County Administrator Lewis pointed out, it would have to wait another year to do so to start the process.

At the time, the commissioners were searching for a variety of ways to cut recurring expenses, in an effort to balance upcoming budgets.