Lakeland’s City Commission on Friday discussed City Manager Shawn Sherrouse’s job review, giving the Lakeland native an overall score of 4.1 out of 5 – a hair above “performance meets expectations.”
Sherrouse’s highest scores came in the areas of communication and relationships with commissioners, earning an average 4.3 in both. His biggest improvement over last year was in communication, up from 3.9.
An area they saw could be improved was stakeholder relations, which got a rating of 3.9 this year, a slight improvement over last year’s 3.8. The written, anonymous comments in this category were diverse. One commissioner said they were unsure if he is motivated to learn about stakeholder groups, while another said the city seems to have a good image with stakeholder groups.
During Friday morning’s meeting, the overall picture painted was of a city manager who is disciplined and professional and gets the job done in the style of a former U.S. Marine – one who has overseen city operations through a pandemic.
But several commissioners also said employees spoke privately with them about what they perceived – possibly incorrectly – about Sherrouse’s demeanor. Several used the word “unapproachable.” Mayor Bill Mutz said it might be a matter of some employees getting to know Sherrouse’s management style, which stands in contrast with predecessor Tony Delgado’s, an extrovert who often socialized with staff and commissioners. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those opportunities have been few for Sherrouse. Only recently was he able to host an employee celebration for his staff of 2,136 full-time staff and 534 part-time employees.
Mutz pointed out that the commissioners with the longest tenure – he with seven years and Phillip Walker with 13 years – both rated Sherrouse the highest, with Walker giving him almost all 5’s and Mutz’s score averaging to 4.4 in seven categories: fiscal management; supervision and leadership; policy and planning; stakeholder relations; communications; relationships with commissioners; and management style.
Mutz described Sherrouse as having a “contemplative style,” one that involves him silently thinking over issues rather than thinking and talking out loud about problems and/or solutions.
“I’ve learned to recognize that when, sometimes, I feel these gaps that you’re very, very purposely being strategic in them,” Mutz said.
Commissioner Mike Musick, elected last year, said his 3.4 score – the lowest of the panel – had more to do with him being unsure of what Sherrouse’s role was in some areas, rather than truly believing that he does an average job.
“A lot of it, I think, comes down to me now where I need to do a better job asking questions,” Musick said. “So as opposed to erring on the side of ranking high, when I didn’t know, I ranked low, which doesn’t reflect well, perhaps, which is why I think it’s good to have the opportunity to present (here).”
Commissioner Stephanie Madden spoke about Sherrouse’s nose-to-the-grindstone approach to his job since taking over from Delgado in 2020, saying she would like to see him emerge from his understandable style as “emergency management operator” to one who looks forward with his vision for the city. She pointed out that he has been managing under the stress of an emergency instead of managing as a visionary leader.
“It really is going to be up to our city manager, to really, it is up to you to get 2,600 employees dreaming and visioning and rowing all in that same direction to get us where we hope to go,” Madden said. “I kind of wanted this to be a little more of a diatribe today to help you kind of catch the spirit of, like, let’s do this, like, let’s pivot away from emergency management and let’s go into a visionary future where, Shawn, you hear us and we feel heard in our one-on-ones, we’ve built our communication style. I gave you a 5 for relationship with commissioners … because I do feel like we do build trust. You listen to me, you hear me.”
Madden also said she wanted to see some creative financial planning and obtaining grants to help supplement the city’s budget, including obtaining federal funds that are currently being handed out. She said she was heartened to see him use the same bike path she uses and to hear him say he wants Lakeland to be the most bike- and pedestrian-friendly city in the country. She also commended him for attending the Smart City conference.
“That is your best self and that is who I believe in and that’s who I want to see,” Madden said. “I don’t know if our employees have all seen that. They’ve probably seen a sterner Shawn.”
Several commissioners also talked about Sherrouse getting his office leadership team back up to speed. He recently promoted Emily Colon to deputy city manager, but the office has been without a third leader. The commissioners and Sherrouse all said they look forward to the hiring of an assistant city manager to take some work off of Sherrouse’s and Colon’s plates. That, they said, will allow him time to dream with the commissioners of how to make Lakeland the best city in America.
Sherrouse said Colon is a great deputy city manager and teammate and they look forward to bringing on a third manager.
“When I had COVID, I was directing and managing this city from a hospital bed and from my house because, at the time, just unfortunately I just didn’t have that comfort level to hand that over. That is gone. If something happened to me today, Emily is ready to run this organization,” Sherrouse said. “And so I understand the urgency of everybody wanting to see an assistant city manager, but I will tell you that … it has gotten Emily where I wanted Emily … a trusted teammate that I have here that I can hand the keys to if I need to and we will now bring that third person on and they will develop better under Emily.”
Sherrouse was very receptive to the feedback during the meeting.
“This staff is the best staff that Lakeland could have and if there’s anything that I’m regretful for, it’s hearing some of the comments that have been made about staff feeling like that I was unapproachable or that I did not listen to them or that I was too quick to respond and I want everyone to know, especially and particularly staff, that that’s not intentional,” Sherrouse said. “And if given the opportunity to have someone take the risk to come and talk to me about that, they’ll find someone who’s extremely apologetic if I hurt their feelings or if I did not listen to them in the way that I should have.”
He said discussion and debate in meetings is something he encourages because he wants to be able to see an issue from all angles to make the best recommendation to the city commission. He said he does take the time to make the best decision he can, which he knows can come across as stoic. He promised commissioners and staff to improve and meet the challenges they have set forth.
“We will be as visionary as we can be, but I do want that directed by your strategic plan and that’s the way it should be,” Sherrouse said. “I’m not elected by the people — you are. And I want to acquiesce to that. I never want to be influencing in a way that’s going opposite of the voice that you have for the people of this community … I want our staff, who are watching and listening, to know how much I care for them.”
Sherrouse ended by saying he will be implementing an employee engagement survey and wants to make sure they are being paid at market rates.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-272-9250.
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