Marty Lawing, most recently county manager in Guilford County, North Carolina, was selected Friday as the next city manager of Fort Myers.
Lawing was a first-ballot selection by the city council in a special meeting. In the voting process council members were asked to rank the three remaining candidates in order. After Lawing was ranked first on four ballots, his appointment was confirmed on a 5-2 vote.
Mayor Kevin Anderson and council members Darla Bonk, Liston Bochette, and Fred Burson made Lawing their first choice. Johnny Streets Jr. made Thomas Hutka, a former Broward County public works director, his favored pick.
Terolyn Watson and Teresa Watkins Brown chose not to rank the candidates.
Previous City Manager: Fort Myers City Manager Saeed Kazemi sticks by retirement
Watson and Brown voted against appointing Lawing when a confirmation vote was taken. Council members who ranked Lawing first were joined by Streets in the 5-2 vote to make Lawing the manager.
Watson said that while she thought each of the finalists could do the job, she wasn’t ready to make a choice.
“I think we should seek a little bit more talent for such an important position. I think we could see a little bit more,” Watson said. “They all brought something different to the table … I just wanted to see a little more talent before I make a decision like this.”
Anderson said the finalists were all “highly qualified” and that he based his choice on who would make the best fit with the community.
“I felt each one would be a good fit, but I felt that Mr. Lawing would be the best fit,” Anderson said. “He came across very open, willing to listen, he had good thoughts on issues, and I just had the feeling that he will be able to come in, hit the ground running, develop the right relationships internally and externally.”
After the vote, Lawing told the council he appreciated their faith and confidence and called Fort Myers “a great city.”
With incumbent city manager Saeed Kazemi scheduled to retire at the end of the workday Friday, Streets proposed that Phyllis Calloway, administrator of the city attorney’s office, take over as interim manager while Lawing completes contract negotiations and his move to Fort Myers.
In making the nomination, Streets praised Calloway, saying that she has “the knowledge to do this as an interim, but also could be considered as a city manager at some time.”
Calloway was sworn in to the post after the meeting.
In an interview with The News-Press, Lawing said he was “very selective as to the cities and counties I would be interested in” and found Fort Myers fit his objectives.
“I was attracted by the location, the fact that after I did my research I saw that it’s a growth community, and I’ve worked in growing communities,” he said. “That’s challenging and rewarding for me.”
Fort Myers provided the right combination of lifestyle and professional advantages to make it a position he wanted, he said.
“I’ve worked in coastal regions and although this is not exactly on the coast, but it’s close enough so I think it would be a great place to live,” he said. “The more research I did on the organization and the council and some of the staff and leadership, I just thought it would be a good professional opportunity.”
Lawing left his position in Guilford County after the 2020 election, when Democrats won the majority of the Guilford county commission seats for the first time since his original appointment in 2013. He resigned after a private meeting with the commissioners.
Lawing, 60, is married to his wife, Susan, and has one stepson. He pronounces his name LAW-wing.
In a profession in which job tenures don’t always last long, Lawing served longer than is typical.
Guilford County has 537,000 residents and a $628 million budget. He held that manager’s job for close to seven years and was in his previous job as manager in Brunswick, North Carolina, for more than a dozen years.
His career in public management began as an intern in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and he joined the city staff as an an assistant to the city manager following the internship.
He then took a series of jobs as administrator in four South Carolina cities.
Communities in which he worked ranged in population from 3,600 to 125,000 residents.
His start date has not been specified.
Calloway joined city government in 2019 as the administrator of the city attorney’s office. She was credited with working to resolve a complex dispute between City Attorney Grant Alley, who is appointed by the city council, and and the now-departed Terry Cramer, who served as the city administrative attorney.
A resident of unincorporated Lee County, she holds an executive juris doctorate degree designed for people who intend to work in business rather than in court.
Friday was Kazemi’s last day as manager. He took over as interim manager in 2015 and was appointed to the post permanently in February 2016. He is an engineer by training.
Contract negotiations between the city and Lawing are to begin immediately. He was paid $226,000 per year in North Carolina, including a 2.8% pay raise that took effect as part of his contract buyout.
Lawing said he looks forward to working in Fort Myers and promised to be accessible.
“I’ve always been that way and have been very collaborative with people internal to the organization as a well as to external stakeholders,” he said.