City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo breaks into a smile as Sarasota’s new city manager, Tom Barwin, peers into the half-open door to the commissioner’s office at City Hall. Barwin walks in. The two shake hands.
“I like the tie,” Caragiulo says. “Are you going to be playing with The Duprees later?”
Barwin has a slightly perplexed expression at the obscure reference to the doo-wop group known for its polished attire.
“They’re a cover band,” Caragiulo explains.
Barwin shakes his head, implying that, no, he wouldn’t be playing with The Duprees.
“But, I really do like the tie,” Caragiulo says. “Vintage tie. Have to be tall to wear that tie. You don’t have a problem with that.”
The 6-foot-3 city manager grins at the compliment, and the two begin to chat. Barwin tells Caragiulo about the Sarasota Sailing Squadron’s annual regatta and the Sarasota Farmers Market — two staple Sarasota events that he checked out his first weekend in town.
But, now that Barwin has taken over as city manager, he won’t have much spare time.
Before 11 a.m. Tuesday, Caragiulo was the 35th person — by Barwin’s estimated count — that he met with on his first official day at work as Sarasota’s city manager. It was a long day of shaking hands that started early and ended late with the new manager’s first commission meeting.
It was also a morning without a computer, but Barwin was OK with that. While emails can be convenient, Barwin would rather meet with residents, city employees and elected officials in person, or chat on the phone.
“That’s what I’m here for,” Barwin says.
Barwin started his first day at 6:30 a.m., taking his Labradoodle, Cincy, for a walk, and having a light breakfast of apple slices and a bagel with his wife, Margaret “Peggy.” Fond of both coffee and tea, Barwin had a coffee with breakfast and a tea later in the morning. He was at his desk by 8 a.m., and less than an hour later he was watching the clock. His first meeting — at 9 a.m. sharp — was with the Downtown Improvement District, and the discussion included an update on the city’s new downtown economic development coordinator job opening. The city will be posting an advertisement for the job this week.
Filling the economic development position, along with other economic development and job-creation efforts, is a top priority for him. Barwin would like to see an effort to attract and keep more young professionals in Sarasota. He cites an Internet-based health-and-medicine start-up in Oak Park, Ill., as a previous economic bright spot during his six-year tenure there.
But the economic picture isn’t the only thing on Barwin’s radar. Sarasota has experienced a few tumultuous years, and as the city’s CEO and boss of more than 500 full-time employees, Barwin already has a lot on his to-do list. Anyone who follows the happenings at City Hall is watching Barwin closely to see what changes come with this new season of leadership. His desk is slowly accumulating paperwork, with upcoming issues stacked neatly on one corner, beside a folder adorned with an “I LOVE OAK PARK” bumper sticker. On a yellow sheet of legal paper, Barwin has written out the short-list of 13 candidates in consideration for the city’s next police chief. Narrowing down that list is one of Barwin’s first big tasks.
On his desk beside the police chief short-list and City Commission agenda packet, there are Bill Clinton and Marlon Brando bobbleheads, “the start of a collection,” Barwin explains. The bobblehead of the movie actor is a bit of an inside joke between Barwin and a city attorney with whom he formerly worked, who bared a resemblance to Brando. On the walls, there are paintings from a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua and a few editorial cartoons of Barwin that ran in Oak Park’s weekly newspaper, Wednesday Journal.
In between commission meetings, neighborhood events, one-on-one meetings and checking his email inbox — once he has a computer online at City Hall — Barwin plans to spend time with his wife in their Laurel Park rental cottage. He will also continue to keep in touch with his four sons, who live in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Houston. Barwin had four offers of employment, and before making a final decision, he asked his sons where they would like to visit most.
“I polled my sons, and they said it was a no-brainer,” Barwin says. “They agreed, hands down, that Sarasota was the winner. They are thrilled we are here.”
Walking his 7-year-old Labradoodle every day is a de-stresser for Barwin. And the dog is just beginning to acclimate after the 1,200-mile move from Illinois to Florida. Cincy is adjusting to his new home and the parade of lizards in the backyard, which he chases from time to time.
Before the end of his first day, Barwin met with many residents, including one who invited him to the upcoming Tiger Bay meeting. He said he would stop by the local non-partisan political group’s meeting. He shook hands with the police officer who was named employee of the month, Sgt. Tom Shanaflet, and met his family. Throughout the day, he put dozens of new contacts into his iPhone.
Although Barwin still has to finish unpacking the moving vans and decorating his office — a task his wife has been helping with — he is already starting to feel at home. Barwin’s great-great grandfather was a steamboat captain on the Great Lakes, and Barwin feels the same pull to the water; a pull fulfilled as he walks along Sarasota Bay. Though further south than the Great Lakes, he says there is a trace of a “Midwestern vibe” here on the sunset side of Florida, which makes him feel even more at home.
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