Lakeland Native Shawn Sherrouse Named City Manager

Shawn Sherrouse is going from a behind-the-scenes role as deputy city manager to the in-the-spotlight job as city manager — the city of Lakeland’s chief administrator. City commissioners promoted him in a 6-1 vote this afternoon, with Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley dissenting.

Sherrouse, 49, is the first Lakeland-born city manager since David Payne served for several years in the late 1950s.

McCarley and Commissioner Stephanie Madden had lobbied to extend the search in hopes of finding a game-changing candidate who can bring an outside perspective. 

McCarley told LkldNow after the vote, “I think Shawn will be great and I’m obviously going to support him.” But she said she had hoped for a broader field of candidates who could bring in new ideas, including more Florida applicants.

Sherrouse was one of 126 people who applied to succeed former Tony Delgado, who retired at the end of September after five years as city manager and 23 years with the city.

Over the last several weeks, the list was pared down, first to the top 8 presented by the GovHR USA recruitment firm hired to conduct a national search and eventually to the City Commission’s top 3 candidates.

In addition to Sherrouse, they included Natasha Hampton, 49, assistant city manager for Rocky Mount, N.C., and Ty Kovach, 59, executive director of Lake County Forest Preserve in Libertyville, Ill.

The finalists spent time on Monday touring the city, visiting city department heads and answering questions during an evening public event at Lake Crago Park. This morning, each was interviewed by the City Commission.

The morning interviews were not televised, although most City Commission meetings are, but today’s deliberations on the final choice were streamed live online and shown on the city’s cable channels,

During his interview this morning, Sherrouse stressed his:

  • Career focus on public service.
  • Personal relationships he’s developed with leaders throughout Polk County in previous roles with the cities of Lakeland and Auburndale and Polk County government.
  • Conviction that the city manager’s job is to use leadership of the city staff to implement policies set by the elected commission, not to try to nudge commissioners toward any staff-preferred agenda.

Here’s a recording and transcript of Sherrouse’s interview with the City Commission meeting this morning. The recorder was close to Sherrouse, so his answers are clearly audible; the questions from Mayor Bill Mutz are a bit muffled and the transcriptions of his voice are not as precise.

He acknowledged to commissioners that they haven’t seen him in a strong leadership role in his four-and-a-half years with the city, first as assistant city manager and then as deputy city manager. But that was by design.

“Tony (Delgado) was very upfront and honest with me when he hired me … he needed someone who would handle the operational side of the organization; he needed to have more time to interact and handle the the relationship with the commission, and with a lot of the external agencies and partners that we have relationships with. And so that’s what I agree to. And I hope that’s what I carried out for Tony.”

When commissioners convened at noon to choose the next city manager, there was no real discussion of the two out-of-town candidates, both of whom serve in organizations much smaller than Lakeland’s municipal government.

Instead the conversation centered around whether to hire Sherrouse or to extend the search in hopes of finding their ideal candidate.

Sherrouse speaks at Monday night’s community forum.

Madden started the conversation, saying she had hoped to attract a second-in-command at one of the innovative cities that she’d like Lakeland to emulate who was ready to take charge at a city our size.

Commissioner Scott Franklin said he, too, was disappointed that the candidates were all from much smaller jurisdictions, but he warned against expanding the search.

Sherrouse’s credentials would be attractive to cities around the country, he said, and “if we come back now and say, ‘We’re going back out again; you may still be a strong candidate,’ we’re effectively saying we’re looking for someone else to put ahead of you.”

Mayor Bill Mutz noted that Sherrouse received strong community support following Monday night’s community forum and ticked off his strengths: likable, highly respected, good communicator, authentic, trustworthy, forthright, good listener. And he suggested that the commission work with Sherrouse on filling any gaps in his skill set through training sessions and visits to model cities.

“We have a competent candidate who is teachable and will work to become everything he can be,” Mutz said. “Teachability means humility, and that is huge.”

Sherrouse received praise from city department heads who commented anonymously on the three finalists, with several mentioning they were impressed by his collaborative style and focus on public service as a calling.

The commission vote to promote Sherrouse is contingent on negotiation of an acceptable contract tentatively scheduled to be considered by the commission on Nov. 2. Until then, he remains interim city manager. In a recruitment report, Sherrouse said his expected salary is $196,000 a year.

Lakeland has a long history of promoting city managers from within. The only two outside hires in the last 60 years have been Bob Youkey, who served longest (1960 to 1986), and Doug Thomas, who held the post from 2003 to 2015. Former City Managers Gene Strickland, Roger Haar and Delgado had all been their predecessors’ assistant manager.

In a prepared statement, Sherrouse said,  “I am honored and humbled to be selected by the City Commission …  The commission’s encouragement and support to provide experiential training opportunities is both valued and appreciated.  Lakeland has a bright future ahead and I’m excited to work alongside the City Commission, city staff and the community to ensure success.”

Sherrouse is a lifetime Polk County resident, except for the eight years he spent in the U.S. Marine Corps. After his military service, he was a branch manager and residential appraisal supervisor with the Polk County Property Appraiser’s Office for 11 years. He worked for the city of Auburndale for 10 years, first as community development director and then as assistant city manager.

While working full time and raising two sons, Sherrouse earned several degrees, taking all of his classes at night. They include a bachelor’s in organizational management from Warner University in Lake Wales and a masters in public administration from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Explaining his deep Polk roots in a letter accompanying his application for the city manager position, Sherrouse said, “My family was recognized by former Gov. Lawton Chiles as a ‘pioneer family’ for establishing a homestead in north Lakeland in 1834.”

Video of today’s noon meeting to select the new city manager:

Special City Commission Meeting 2020.10.20 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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