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Commissioner applauds County manager choice

July 2, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

New Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais officially began work on Monday. His selection, which was unanimously approved by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners last week, may not have been the first preference for the County officials, but he is well liked among local authorities and considered a good choice to replace Interim County Manager Doug Meurer.

Commissioner Larry Kiker is especially delighted about the choice, specifically because Desjarlais was his leading candidate to take the job.

"I'm just happy as can be. He was my choice all along," said Kiker. "He is everything I was looking for in a manager and has a solid base to work from. He's the guy hands down."

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New Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais was a busy man during his first day of work as the lead man for County government.

Desjarlais is well acquainted with the Southwest Florida area and has served in his current role previously. The Fort Myers resident has lived locally most of his life and spent seven years as county manager of Broward County from 1998 to 2005.

"I'm honored to be able to come back to Lee County as county manager, the place where I grew up and love," he said at the BOCC meeting last week. "This is a great organization and a great town.

Desjarlais will earn $182,000, with $15,000 deferred compensation and a $6,000 car allowance.

He was named county manager after the county's top pick, El Paso (Texas) City Manager Joyce Wilson, couldn't come to a contract agreement with Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass.

Desjarlais will oversee a $1.76 billion budget and 2,457 employees. As Broward County manager, he supervised a $2.5 billion budget and 6,500 employees.

Desjarlais has worked in various areas of government. Prior to the Broward position, his career was with Lee County government as a paramedic, EMS director, Public Safety director, Community Services director and assistant County manager under Don Stilwell, a post he left in late 1997 to head to Broward.

During a special meeting on June 5 to interview candidates for County manager, Kiker was the only commissioner to select Desjarlais as his first choice, while the other four chose Wilson. In fact, Kiker picked Wilson as his third choice, but changed his vote afterwards to achieve unanimous approval for Wilson. Overall, Desjarlais was the BOCC's second choice.

Kikier stated he spoke to Desjarlais before the hiring process and even before the new County manager applied for the position. He also has met Desjarlais' family and enjoyed their company.

"I talked to him about budgets, his philosophy and County government in general," said Kiker. "It was pretty much a match from the very beginning. I am really looking forward to working with him. I think he's the right guy to help us get our budget numbers right. His family is nice and all behind him."

During the one-on-one conversation, Kiker said Desjarlais' early career goal was to become Lee County manager.

"He told me that when he went to Broward County, he thought he earned the rights to come back and apply," said Kiker.

Last Tuesday, as he was about to address the commission, Desjarlais accidentally knocked the microphone off the podium.

"Take that off his pay," Pendergrass quipped.

The Commission chairman did comment in a positive manner about the successful contract negotiations, something he was unable to achieve with Wilson.

"I'm pleased that in working with Roger we were able to negotiate a fair and equitable contract. I'm also pleased to announce that there is no severance package attached at the cost of Lee County taxpayers," Pendergrass said. "We look forward to moving ahead."

When former manager Karen Hawes resigned in October, she received a year's severance, costing taxpayers $170,000, which was agreed upon under the terms of her 2009 contract.

Last Tuesday, Commissioner Tammy Hall said the county is getting a man who has more of a big picture view of where Lee County needs to go.

"Most important, he's hands on. He's managing people from top to bottom, not just through other managers," Hall said. "I think he's a roll-up-your-sleeves guy who will know as much, if not more, about a lot of things. He'll hit the floor running."

Desjarlais comes to the position from the Lee County Property Appraiser Office, where he resigned his post as chief deputy.

Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said the county and his office are the big winners in this decision.

"He fit the bill for me because of his experience in county government, and it worked out well. It's sad to lose a man, but it's for the common good," Wilkinson said. "He understands the relationship between constitutional officers and the county."

Desjarlais holds a bachelor's degree in public administration from Barry University. He grew up in rural Michigan before moving to Southwest Florida, graduating from Cypress Lake High School. He and his wife of 39 years, Vivian, have a daughter and grandchildren.

Meurer, whom commissioners appointed last November while launching a national search, will return to his role as assistant county manager over Public Works while providing assistance to Desjarlais in whatever capacity.

--Chuck Ballaro contributed to this report



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