By Noelle H. Lowery
Bob Brown is a quiet man with a warm handshake. His strength, intellect and integrity are palatable when he reminisces about his career as executive vice president of marketing operations of US Flow Corp. His honesty, humanity and spirit are visible in his sideway smile when he talks about growing up in Michigan, courting his wife and his passion for Marco Island.
Since moving to Marco Island permanently in 2004, he has served on the ad hoc Electric Committee which evaluated whether the city should own its own electric utility; the ad hoc Utility Committee, which was the precursor to the Utility Board; and most recently, on the Planning Board.
It is this experience combined with his reticent fortitude and competence that led City Councilor Larry Sacher to nominate Brown as Larry Magel’s replacement on the Marco Island City Council in August. “I felt that Bob had demonstrated his commitment to Marco by serving on a number of advisory committees and boards, and perhaps more importantly, because Council had some upcoming critical issues to be voted on, I felt that Bob was the one person in our community who was most up to date on the issues and would not require a ‘learning curve’,” explains Sacher.
Council Chairman Joe Batte echoes this sentiment: “Bob loves this city and has worked hard over the years on many issues critical to this city’s development. Bob is extremely effective in analyzing complex issues and dealing with them appropriately. Bob has the ability to make good decisions based upon his good judgment and his belief in what is the right thing to do. He listens to all, but makes decisions based upon what he feels is right.”
After nearly two months on council, Brown and his gifts have been put to the test. First, there was passing the FY2014 budget. Then, there was the utility bond refinancing and rate hikes. Next, there was the rebooting of the search for a new city manager and the naming of City Finance Director Guillermo Polanco as the interim city manager.
And there is much more to come: changes to the city code, the redesign of the plans for Smokehouse Bay Bridge, the battle with Collier County for a new advanced-life support ambulance, community discussions about renovating Fire Station 50 and building a new Mackle Park Community Center and tackling the city’s bond debt.
For Brown, though, there are two over-arching issues. First is the divided nature of the Marco Island community. “My biggest concern has always been the division on the island,” notes Brown. “My single biggest (lofty) goal is to get the various groups more focused and unified so we do not have such a spit in the community.”
Second is finding the right city manager for Marco Island. “The council has an interesting job,” Brown explains. “We work for the residents of Marco Island. We are their go between for (the city) running smoothly and efficiently. The staff has to have the tools to do their jobs. They also need to know how to work with each other and the public, and the city manager is the actual key to make the whole thing work right.”
Coastal Breeze News sat down with Brown to find out more about him and his plan to bring the community together.
Q: Tell me about your wife.
A: My wife and I have known each other since high school. She was from the rural area. I was from the city. We had gotten the chance to meet and to get to know each other. We had a lot of common interests that gave us the chance to really enjoy life in a pleasant way. We both had much closer to the same values… This led to us to getting engaged and getting married. She helped me work my way through my career. Ultimately, we had the chance to come this direction and enjoy the rest of our life together… How does anyone make it very far in life without the perfect spouse.
Q: Tell me about growing up in Michigan and how you came to Marco Island.
A: It is a very beautiful state. It will always be home. It has the four seasons. I would compare summers in Michigan to the best of any place in the lower 48 states. I was a skier. I ice fished. I grew up on Saginaw Bay. I am a water lover, and there is no way I could live any place that had no water around it. At some point, we had to make some decisions about where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. The east coast of Florida never impressed me, so we got to know the Gulf side and fell in love with it… During the early 1990’s, my wife and I purchased a condo in the Fort Myers area as a rental unit, and during that time a close friend our ours retired and ended up on Marco Island. After our first visit, we purchased a lot in the late ‘90’s and built our home in 2000. In 2004, we moved down to Marco permanently.
Q: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
A: Upon graduation from high school, I attended Delta College (a community college) for two years and received my Associates Degree and went on to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where I worked toward a degree in education. In those days, they were discouraging people from getting an education degree as there was not a need for teachers. I switched my major to business and before graduation was hired into an Industrial Distribution Company.
Q: Why teaching?
A: I have a musical background, and I played several instruments. Piano, organ and also brass instruments. I come from a musical family. My dad was a musician. I guess it was genetic. I also enjoy being arounds kids. I thought teaching would be the best place to throw my talents at the time. Everyone at the college said you are out of your mind; there are no jobs.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Marco Island?
A: The location. The beauty. The people. The people on this island are so unique. After I got here, I figured out no two groups of people walk the same path here. I decided to jump in and figure out what this is all about. I’ve gotten to know people from all walks of life and all types of political interests. I am not really a person who aligns myself with one group. I am a self-thinker and make my own decisions. The people are phenomenal. They have a drive to make things happen and make life better in general. What a great community to be in when you have a lot of people working in that direction.
Q: What is the importance of serving in a civic position?
A: Many times people feel they understand what is happening in the community that surrounds them, but frequently the information you gather can be limited. By serving in a civic position, you become an active participant in the community and understand better the issues that face your community, allowing you to make better informed decisions.
Q: What is the biggest issue facing Marco Island as a community right now?
A: The single biggest issue we have is our staggering debt. We need to get the utility paid off so that we can again be financially strong enough to continue to make our island paradise the beautiful community that it has always been.
Q: How do your life and career experiences translate to your work on city council?
A: It is important to work and use people skills to perhaps bring some cohesiveness and bring things together. The joke on the street is that we are 50-50 on everything including cityhood back in 1997. We are a very divided community, and that is personally frustrating. I can understand a single issue, but I don’t understand how every issue is like this. I feel there has to be a bond to bring our folks together and figure it out.