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New year brings leadership changes in city government

Top positions in city administration and the Sarasota Police Department have opened up in the past 10 weeks, but the new city manager is optimistic about a smooth transition.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. February 18, 2021
  • Sarasota
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Since Dec. 7, the city has announced the hiring of a city manager, deputy city manager, chief of police and deputy police chief.

The city has also accepted the resignations of former City Manager Tom Barwin, former Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and former Assistant City Manager John Lege.

Despite the turnover in some of the city’s top leadership positions, there aren’t new faces stepping into City Hall or the Sarasota Police Department. The city has focused on internal promotions to fill roles. Marlon Brown, formerly deputy city manager, is now city manager. Brown promoted Pat Robinson, former deputy police chief, to deputy city manager. Brown also selected Jim Rieser, an SPD captain, as the new chief of police. Rieser elevated Capt. Rex Troche to deputy chief.

During an introductory news conference for Rieser, Brown said he wanted to prioritize promoting from within whenever possible and appropriate. Brown said there are several reasons for this philosophy. He values people who have built a relationship with the community and the organization in which they’re working. Conducting a statewide or national job search can be costly and time-consuming, and external candidates have a learning curve before they have a full grasp on local issues.

“When you have that talent within, and someone who comes up through the ranks has made those relationships and connections both internally and externally, it’s an easy decision,” Brown said.

The city has not only focused on internal promotions but also moved swiftly to fill open leadership positions. The City Commission signaled its intent to hire Brown as city manager at the same meeting it finalized Barwin’s retirement plan. Three days later, Brown announced Robinson would step into the deputy city manager role. Less than 48 hours after DiPino’s resignation became public, the city introduced Rieser as her replacement.

Brown, who’s worked for the city since 2009, said his familiarity with staff has helped him feel comfortable acting decisively in response to job openings. He noted that both Robinson and Rieser had ascended up the ranks of the Sarasota Police Department and had good reputations among their colleagues and members of the public.

Police Chief Jim Rieser
Police Chief Jim Rieser

For Rieser, appointing Troche as deputy chief was just the first in a series of forthcoming command staff hires for the Sarasota Police Department. Rieser said he would eventually be naming two captains, two lieutenants and two sergeants. Both Brown and Rieser listed the ability to effectively engage with the community as a leading quality they were looking for in top employees.

Still less than a month into his new position, Rieser expressed excitement about the opportunity to fill out the organization’s leadership roles.

“I think when the community sees who these people are, they’re going to know what I know: that they are amazingly capable, hard workers, and they have the city of Sarasota, this profession — law enforcement, this institution — and the officers and the civilians at this agency at their heart,” Rieser said.

Although Brown said he valued continuity when announcing Rieser’s promotion, he also doesn’t see the recent vacancies and hires as disruptive. He noted the changes affected just three of more than a dozen positions at the department-head level or higher, and he was confident all city staff members would be able to keep the local government operating smoothly. Brown also said he would not be filling Lege’s assistant city manager position, created in 2016.

Headed into budget season for fiscal year 2022, Brown said he would be examining the city’s organization chart to determine if any additional changes might be warranted. As future openings arise, Brown said the city wasn’t opposed to an external search if the situation demanded it, but he also said the city wanted to recognize the value of quality internal candidates.

“The hiring philosophy is to hire the best talent, to hire someone of high ethical values, someone who knows how to treat employees, knows how to treat the community, knows how to get the job done,” Brown said.


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