Sitting outside her home last week, Mayor Suzanne Atwell reached for her indispensible blue-and-pink iPhone. She was expecting an email from staff at City Hall.
Atwell is constantly checking her phone. She first looks at emails early in the morning while she drinks her one cup of coffee at home.
Then, the mayor is off to City Hall.
Throughout the day she might leave for a lunch meeting at C’est La Vie or Café Americano, but then it’s back to the office — until it’s time to get to one of the dozens of events she attends during the week.
Her City Hall office is where she feels most comfortable, and it’s where she spends “a lot of time” listening. Although Atwell, a former mental-health counselor, says being a city commissioner is different in many ways from her former job, there is one major similarity — listening.
“I’m a talker, but in my office, I’m a listener,” Atwell says. “When I meet with a constituent or a developer, it’s private. You give me info, I will process it.”
Although some criticize whether a Bird Key resident has her pulse on the entire community, Atwell maintains she “is a student of every neighborhood” and tries to understand the specific issues of neighborhoods including Newtown, where she works out at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex.
With her schedule of events and meetings, Atwell doesn’t have much free time to sit outside, but she does enjoy fishing from her dock when her son, Josh, visits from Charlotte, N.C. Atwell moved in 1994 to Sarasota with her husband, Robert.
Atwell, who has been appointed mayor twice, tries to take a “well-balanced” approach when it comes to city issues.
A registered Democrat, the mayor has a pink “Stand with Planned Parenthood” poster displayed on the bookshelf in her home office. One of her top issues is renewable energy in the city. But Atwell’s guiding influence at the commission dais has nothing to do with political parties (City Commission elections are non-partisan) or a single base of supporters.
As an example of Atwell’s centrist approach, she points to a 3-2 vote in September, in which she voted against a program for alternative energy in the city. Atwell was the deciding vote; she said that the initiative was too costly and that the city should consider other partnerships.
“It would have been a financial nightmare,” Atwell says about the program.
Atwell plans to continue a search for alternative programs for renewable energy.
Atwell’s other top priorities address downtown issues: finding solutions to an increase in the homeless population and related crime downtown and working on changes to density caps to allow more attainable housing.
She would also like to keep momentum going on redevelopment, including efforts in the Rosemary District.
Family: Husband, Robert; sons, Josh, 38, and Justin, 43
Occupation: Former mental-health counselor at Coastal Behavioral Healthcare, Sarasota; former director of development at American Association of Community Colleges, Washington, D.C.
Hometown: Sharon, Mass.
Hobbies: Exercising at Robert L. Taylor Community Complex; walking the Ringling Bridge; hiking; and fishing with her son, Josh
Education: George Washington University, bachelor’s in psychology/human development; Marymount University, master’s in clinical psychology