For the past year, Sarasota’s city manager has been criticized both inside and outside City Hall for failing to engage and communicate with his employees and the citizens of Sarasota.
Bob Bartolotta came under fire for failing to effectively voice his objectives to city employees and residents; his style is not to “work the room.” And that put off some people, who figured that he must not care enough to get out and talk to the public.
In their performance reviews late last year, one of the main traits city commissioners instructed Bartolotta to improve upon was his relations with staff and the citizenry.
Without fanfare, he has been doing just that.
Bartolotta is now a regular attendee of the Downtown Improvement District, Downtown Sarasota Alliance, St. Armands Business Improvement District, Coalition of Business Associates, Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations and the Police Advisory Panel.
“It’s a direct response to the commission’s desires,” said Bartolotta. “I’ve taken it to heart.”
The increased visibility has been good for both the neighborhood and business groups and the city manager himself.
“You get a much better sense of the depth of feelings on certain issues,” he said. “You can put rumors to bed, and it gives us a chance to explain some things.”
More times than not, board members from the various groups take advantage of Bartolotta’s attendance and ask him questions about issues that are important to them.
“I’m really happy he’s there,” said Ernie Ritz, vice chairman of the Downtown Improvement District and adviser to the Downtown Sarasota Alliance. “It’s not the structured political theater of the City Commission. Commissioners don’t answer you. (Bartolotta) can actually answer us.”
Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation and a former Sarasota mayor, had been candid in his criticism of Bartolotta, saying that he didn’t feel the city manager was trying to build a consensus in the community.
Since Bartlotta began attending Coalition of Business Associates meetings, Kirschner has changed his mind.
“He’s not a glad-hander,” said Kirschner. “But people now see that there is a method to his madness. He certainly has started to reach out.”
Bartolotta has been increasing his visibility within City Hall, as well, setting up meetings with entire departments to get feedback from his employees.
“It’s been sporadic, but I’m trying to make it more regular,” he said. “The dilemma is there are so many meetings,” he said. “You have to pick and choose.”
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