Sarasota City Attorney Fournier announces plan to retire at end of February 2025

Deputy City Attorney Connolly to follow suit

City Attorney Robert Fournier makes a point during a City Commission meeting. File photo

Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier has announced his retirement, effective Feb. 28, 2025, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In an April 17 letter addressed to the city commissioners, Fournier pointed out that, “Later this year it will be 20 years since I was appointed to the position of City Attorney … This approaching milestone has caused me to believe that the time has come to start thinking about retirement.”

Moreover, Fournier noted, “Deputy City Attorney Mike Connolly has authorized me to further advise you that he also intends to conclude his service as Deputy City Attorney” and retire on the same date. Connolly has served in his position “for the past 20 years as well,” Fournier added.

Therefore, Fournier continued, “I have decided to allow my office lease to expire next March and to not exercise the remaining renewal options on the lease.”

“I thought it was important to notify the Commission well in advance of the target date for Mr. Connolly’s and my departure so that there would be ample time for the Commission to discuss and evaluate options for moving forward,” he noted. “If more time is needed to help with the transition,” Fournier added, “I do have some flexibility under the right circumstances as I am in good health and am not planning on leaving Sarasota.”

The remaining partners in the firm — John Shamsey, Joe Mladinich and Joe Polzak — “are all willing and able to continue representing the City of Sarasota if desired by the City Commission, which I believe would be advantageous to the conduct of the City’s legal business and provide valuable continuity in that regard as well,” Fournier also wrote. “The five of us have worked together effectively and harmoniously for many years, which makes this decision very difficult, but nonetheless necessary at this time,” Fournier added.

He was available to discuss the matter with any commissioner who would like to talk with him, Fournier continued.

Fournier emailed the commissioners his letter just before 5 p.m. on April 17, the city email folder shows.

The first response that the News Leader found in that folder went from Commissioner Debbie Trice to City Manager Marlon Brown at 6:10 p.m. the same day.

“This is the news I anticipated that you would be conveying today,” Trice wrote.

Then she pointed out, “I believe that over the years there has been concern that the City Attorney’s compensation has been an hourly rate rather than salaried. I would appreciate having a Workshop to discuss making the City Attorney a salaried position before we initiate a search for Mr. Fournier’s replacement,” she added.

The adopted city budget for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2023, shows the retainer for the city attorney was unchanged from the amount listed in the actual budget for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years: $43,957. For the deputy city attorney, the amount for all three fiscal years was $18,402.

However, the total amount included in the current budget for the City Attorney’s Office is $1,573,955, to reflect the attorneys’ work on a variety of city issues, including the handling of property acquisition.

City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs listens as Deputy City Attorney Mike Connolly reads from material during the April 15 City Commission meeting. News Leader image

Brown responded 10 minutes later: “I agree now that it is public that there should be a conversation. I believe the best path to do this should be under your comments at the next [City Commission] meeting,” Brown told Trice.
He felt that if she brought up the issue then, he continued, the other commissioners readily would agree to scheduling such a discussion.

The next regular meeting of the City Commission will be on Monday, May 6.

Mayor Liz Alpert also responded to Fournier. In an April 21 email, she wrote, “I am sorry to hear this. You and Mike Connelly have been a tremendous asset to the City over your 20 years. But I certainly understand the desire to retire. The job of an attorney is not an easy one as I well know. However, the job of the City Attorney is also subject to more public scrutiny than the average attorney which brings with it even more challenges.”

Alpert added, “Looking forward to having a productive remaining time with you.”

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