Tony Delgado’s last day as Lakeland city manager is Saturday, so fans of his even-keeled management style took Monday’s City Commission meeting to heap praises on him.

John Ruffin, chair of the Concerned Citizens of Polk County, presented a plaque calling Delgado “the best city manager to date.” And, Ruffin said, “We mean that.”

“What I love about Tony is Tony always has an open-door policy. I can compare and contrast Tony with other city managers. You can call Tony and Tony will invariably get back the same day. There have been other city managers that it would take two or three weeks, if at all.”

Mayor Bill Mutz called Delgado a mentor “whose values were high and whose leadership skills so influential to me. I remember asking him the one thing he wanted to do as city manager and he said, ‘The No. 1 goal I say every day is I want to finish well.’ And you have.”

Earlier Monday, Delgado was presented a Detroit Tigers jersey with his name at the ribbon-cutting for the city’s new $7 million Lake Crago Recreation Complex. The jersey, a gift from the Tigers and the city Parks and Recreation Department, sported the number 3, Delgado’s high school baseball number.

Delgado came to Lakeland in 1997 as assistant manager of the Lakeland Center, now known as the RP Funding Center. He moved to City Hall and spent nearly 16 years as assistant city manager and deputy city manager. Then in September 2015, long-time City Manager Doug Thomas resigned and Delgado was named interim city manager. Three months later, the City Commission hired him as city manager.

“I have always told staff the one thing  we must do is maintain the brand, always do the right thing, be transparent and build public trust,” he told city commissioners Monday. “We are small cogs in doing that. You and I have the best staff. They live and breathe this city; they care about everyone in this city. Though at times even after listening and trying hard, you cannot always do what everyone wants.”

It can be tough, Delgado acknowledged, “especially this year.”

Delgado submitted his letter of resignation in May, before the racial tensions of the summer and before the city had to make budgetary adjustments to account for revenue losses due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said that though she is now one of his bosses, Delgado was one of her bosses when she was hired to be executive director of Polk Vision. “He was always helpful, gracious and under the radar,” she said.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden credited Delgado with much of the revitalization work downtown. “To see buildings erected, the parking garage with the private-public partnership, those are things that take a great communicator, negotiator and mediator. That skill set you have has been a great contributor to the vitality that has happened downtown.”

More than presenting routine ordinances and contracts, “you have allowed us to dream and think about what we can do as a commission and make Lakeland a city we want it to be,” Madden said.

“You taught me so much on how to communicate, especially when a citizen is not happy. You keep it cool, you communicate so eloquently and keep it kindly.”

The city’s lobbyists in Tallahassee, Seth McKeel and David Shepp, gave Delgado a flag that flew over the state Capitol on Sept. 20, along with a letter from Gov. Ron DeSantis thanking Delgado for more than 20 years of service to the city of Lakeland and the state of Florida.

Shepp said that in the 20 years he had been working with the city, Delgado “has spent more time in Tallahassee working with me on your behalf than anyone I know.”

McKeel, who was elected to the City Commission around the time Delgado arrived in Lakeland, said, “We cut our teeth at City Hall together. Tony has been a great mentor and great friend that entire time. We have been honored and blessed as a city to have Tony in leadership at critical times. He has had an incredibly steady hand in leading the city.”

City commissioners will interview finalists for the city manager job next month. Deputy City Manager Shawn Sherrouse, one of 119 applicants for the position, is serving as interim city manager.

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