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Lee County names new county manager

By Staff | Jun 25, 2013

Roger Desjarlais of Fort Myers knows Lee County like the back of his hand, having lived here most of his life and worked in various areas of the government

Desjarlais, who spent seven years as county manager of Broward County, was selected Tuesday as the next Lee County Manager after the Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 to enter into a contract with him.

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 her.

Desjarlais will oversee a $1.76 billion budget and 2,457 employees. His start date is scheduled for Monday.

Desjarlais started his job rather clumsily, accidentally knocking the microphone off the podium as he was about to address the commission.

“Take that off his pay,” Commission Chairman Cecil Pendergrass laughed.

“I’m honored to be able to come back to Lee County as county manager, the place where I grew up and love,” Desjarlais said. “This is a great organization and a great town. I’m ready to get going on Monday.”

“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.

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 will resign 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.”

He served as Broward County Manager from 1998 to 2005, overseeing a $2.5 billion budget and 6,500 employees. Prior to that, 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.

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.

Desjarlais replaces Interim County Manager Doug Meurer, who commissioners appointed last November while launching a national search.

Meurer will return to his role as assistant county manager over Public Works while providing assistance to Desjarlais in whatever capacity.