Lakeland’s New City Manager Focuses on Community Engagement and Moving the City Forward
Lakeland’s new city manager, Shawn Sherrouse already knows what he wants to focus on first: engagement with customers and citizens.
“I want to develop a platform that likely will be web-based where our citizens and customers can go to offer suggestions. If they’re receiving service in a way that they’re not happy with, or if they’re OK with their service and have suggestions to improve it, or if they’ve experienced the same service in a different way in another location, we want them to provide that information to us,” Sherrouse said. “I want to receive a pipeline of information and have innovation teams at the city who study what we’re hearing. Can we implement changes to provide better services?”
Mayor Bill Mutz said Sherrouse is the “perfect leader” for Lakeland at this time. “He has the trust of city staff, citizens, the commission and regional leaders. Shawn also has a very winsome personality, is teachable and desires to grow city staff. This is an important aspect of how we create the next generation of leadership within the city.”
Mutz said he thinks Sherrouse will continue to grow. “Shawn is committed to expanding his innovation education and visioning parameters so he can lead Lakeland in a nimble way to become an even more impacting economic gem.”
Sherrouse will travel to cities similar to Lakeland to find best practices that he might employ in Lakeland, he said. “I’m appreciative of the fact they are investing not only in me but in the city so we can continue to improve. I will go, be embedded in other cities. It will be a great experiential type of training for me and will help improve upon services we offer today. They are great, but they can always be better.”
Sherrouse served as interim city manager after Tony Delgado retired in September 2020. Before that, he worked as deputy city manager and assistant city manager for two years each. He’s also worked at the Polk County Property Appraiser’s Office and in administration for the city of Auburndale. He’s a member of the International City/County Management Association and the Florida City/County Management Association, where he’s made many statewide contacts.
A Marine, he was deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
His mother has been a major influence in his life and career choice. “My mother taught me it was always about how you treat other people. She instilled that in me from an early age.”
An experience while in the Marine Corps cemented it — and it had nothing to do with war. “It was a local mission that I served on in North Carolina where we did things to assist the local community that led to a celebration, and the governor was there. Seeing just the sincere gratitude from that community struck a chord in me. Feeling that sense of making a positive impact led me to know that I wanted to be a public servant after the Marine Corps.”
A native of Lakeland, he earned his bachelor’s degree in management from Warner University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of South Florida.
He’s been involved in the local community for many years and graduated from Leadership Lakeland Class XXXVII and Leadership Polk Class IV. He serves on the board for Leadership Polk Alumni Association and the Camp Fire of Central Florida Youth Development Organization.
The search firm GovHR, which was hired to collect and vet resumes for a new city manager, received 126 resumes from 28 states, including 59 from Florida. The other finalists for the job were Natasha Hampton, assistant city manager for Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Ty Kovach, executive director for the Lake County Forest Preserve in Libertyville, Illinois.
Describing himself as having an “authentic” leadership style, Sherrouse said he will serve with humility. “I don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. I don’t have to have a solution to everything. I am well-intentioned. This is who Shawn Sherrouse is. Whatever we can do to find common ground and work for the betterment of the entire community, I’m all in.”
Along with Mutz, he will also be the “face” of Lakeland, something very different from his previous role in operations. “Now, I have the opportunity to work outward, to partner with agencies and communities that strengthen the city. I’m seizing the opportunity to make those connections and build those relationships and find ways to collaborate for the greater good of Lakeland.”
In 2018, when he served as chairman for the Leadership Polk class, he developed “Polk-tionary,” a game where players had to draw things related to Polk County. “I’ve been asked to return to do it for newer classes at the opening retreat. That’s the real Shawn there, the one who gets to interact and experience building those relationships.”
“As a member of the Leadership Polk Class where Shawn was the chairman, I witnessed his ability to lead and interact positively with classmates. He is approachable, open-minded and will listen to others. Shawn will do well in this new role,” stated Sean Malott, President of the Central Florida Development Council.
Sherrouse is excited about the short and long term. “As a native of Lakeland, I’m very proud to be serving this city. I love Lakeland and I love Polk County. Now I have the opportunity to serve my neighbors, friends and family. What a great way to go about my public service.”
His job will be a bit easier because of the many relationships he’s developed since returning from the Marine Corps. “I can pick up the phone and call any of the city managers and have conversations that are beneficial to their communities and Lakeland. All of that strengthens Polk County as a whole.”
His goal is to leave Lakeland a better place than he found it, knowing that will be difficult because of the work Delgado did moving the city forward.