When Tony Delgado was offered the chance to become Lakeland city manager in September 2015, he and his wife talked it over and decided he should give it at least five years. Today Delgado announced he will retire in September 2020 — five years after becoming the head of Lakeland’s municipal administration.

Delgado, 59, told commissioners today he’s ready to move into private life after a career in public service. “For me and Robin, we’re looking forward to the next chapter,” he told city commissioners this morning. Delgado’s wife retired from her banking job last year, and he said they’re looking forward to traveling and time with friends.

Delgado’s resignation letter to city commissioners was dated May 26, but it was first made public today as commissioners met in a day-long strategic planning session.

As that meeting started, Mayor Bill Mutz praised Delgado as a knowledgeable manager and effective communicator who didn’t shy from making tough decisions.

Delgado became city manager “at a time of very necessary healing within our city and the rebuilding of trust in our departments,” Mutz said.

Delgado had been assistant city manager and then deputy city manager for nearly 16 years before being asked to become interim city manager in September 2015 following a period of turmoil involving sex scandals at the Lakeland Police Department. He was confirmed as city manager three months later.

Mutz also said about Delgado: “His knowledge of the city, his ability to listen well and work with people, his courage to make decisions that need to be made even if they’re unpopular has allowed us as a commission to enjoy the incredible effectiveness of the city that runs frugally, appropriately and unemotionally in terms of doing the right things for the right reasons all of the time.”

Before moving into city management in 2000, Delgado’s career had focused on sports and entertainment management and promotion. He came to Lakeland in 1997 as assistant director of The Lakeland Center, now called the RP Funding Center.

A Chicago native, his career started with an internship at the St. Louis Checkerdome while he was finishing his degree in commercial recreation from Southern Illinois University in 1979.

Between then and coming to Lakeland, he worked for advertising and marketing firms and then at the Tampa Convention Center and Florida State Fair Authority.

Asked if there was significance to his departure date of Sept. 26, a Saturday, Delgado said he wanted to wait until the city’s fiscal 2021 budget is adopted.

He’s anticipating a challenging budget cycle because coronavirus-related revenue declines will result in cuts to city services. “Key services have to be a priority moving forward,” he told commissioners this morning.

In a phone interview today, LkldNow asked Delgado to list significant accomplishments made by the city since he became city manager. His responses included:

  • Assembling an “outstanding, creative, committed” leadership team after a period of strife. “Before the pandemic, we were flying pretty high and it’s all because of the staff and succession planning.”
  • Inducing growth in the downtown area and radiating into adjacent districts including Dixieland, the Massachusetts Avenue corridor in midtown and west Lakeland.
  • Making Lakeland Linder Airport an economic driver, including attracting Amazon Air and the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center.
  • Overcoming challenges including Hurricane Irma, a commissioner resigning after his murder arrest, moving a 100+-year-old Confederate monument, high-level employees leaving under duress, and COVID-19.

“A lot of companies are going to want to come to the city,” he said. “We’re perceived as a regional city, not as parochial. You see it with Florida Poly. You see it with the (Central Florida) Innovation District.”

LkldNow asked city commissioners via email to comment on what impact Delgado has had on the quality of life in Lakeland. Their responses:

Commissioner Chad McLeod: “Tony has had a significant impact on the quality of life in Lakeland. While there are the high-profile examples of recent things like Amazon, Heritage Plaza Parking Garage, Summit and other projects around the city, I think some of the strongest impacts are in his successful day-to-day operations of the city — managing the staff, overseeing the budget, responding to citizen concerns, etc.”

Mayor Bill Mutz: “Tony has been a consistent example of a listening leader who is trusted by city staff and has aggressively pursued opportunities that have helped Lakeland grow.  His knowledge and affability blended very effectively for being a Cubs fan.”

Commissioner Phillip Walker: “He gained a lot of insight as deputy city manager and was part of the planning for a lot of the projects that finally came to fruition after he became city manager. He’s always diligent about making sure everybody is kept connected by communicating with commissioners and general employees.”

There was no discussion at this morning’s City Commission session about next steps for identifying a new city manager.

Delgado’s management team is rounded out by Deputy City Manager Shawn Sherrouse, 48, who came to the city in 2016 after serving as assistant city manager of Auburndale, and Assistant City Manager Emily Colón, 33, who joined the city 14 months ago after serving as an administrator directing internal services for Pasco County government.

A city news release announcing Delgado’s retirement said he “enjoys golf, traveling, attending sports events, and concerts but truly loves baseball and is a ‘die-hard’ Chicago Cubs fan.”

Delgado’s retirement letter (View a larger version):

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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