Newly appointed Lakeland City Manager Tony Delgado tells us about being at the helm
photography by Philip Pietri
The Lakelander: Please tell us about yourself.
Tony Delgado: I am 55 years old, and I’ve been married to my wonderful wife, Robin, for 22 years. I was born and raised in the great metropolis of Chicago, Illinois, in a wonderful Mexican household with three siblings (a brother and two sisters) and two loving, hardworking parents.
I received my bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation administration from Southern Illinois University in 1983 and immediately following graduation began my first career in the sports, entertainment, and convention industry in St. Louis working at the St. Louis Checkerdome (Arena). That career spanned 18-plus years, taking me from St. Louis back to Chicago, Philadelphia, Tampa, and ultimately Lakeland. Along the way, I had the great opportunity to work in many entertainment venues and stadiums around the country promoting and managing special events as well as booking and marketing live entertainment, conventions, and meetings at the venues I worked for. That career path took a pretty significant change in 2000 when I was provided the opportunity to enter into the municipal administration field with the City of Lakeland.
I am an avid sports fan with a die-hard love affair with the Chicago Cubs. I also enjoy attending live music and sporting events as well searching out great food experiences when traveling.
TL: How long have you been involved in Lakeland’s government?
TD: I have been employed by the City of Lakeland for 19-plus years. I started my career with the City at the Lakeland Center as the facility’s assistant director and within four years was given the opportunity to become part of the City administrative management team. I have been part of that team for the last 15 years as assistant city manager, deputy city manager, and ultimately city manager, appointed this past January (2016).
TL: What is your vision for Lakeland? Does it differ from that of your predecessors? Is it different than the city’s current course?
TD: I am confident that my vision for Lakeland is not dissimilar than that of my predecessors. The goal of our office and the organization is to assist in creating a vibrant, innovative, culturally inclusive world-class community through the efforts of a community working together to achieve what we all would consider an exceptional quality of life.
I have great aspirations for the City and our organization. This community has made exceptional strides in welcoming and working with new business development and continues to do so. With Central Florida — between Tampa and Orlando quickly becoming a strong regional entity as has been expected — the City of Lakeland is positioning itself for growth, and the municipal organization must prepare by establishing some level of streamlining the regulatory processes and enhancing our current customer-centric philosophy. Additionally, it is our plan to continue to explore options and initiatives to build upon the outstanding quality of life our community currently enjoys — from maintaining first-class public-safety operations to continuing the efforts to establish quality recreational and community gathering places to creating a welcoming community for a diverse population.
TL: What projects and developments in Lakeland are you excited about?
TD: Obviously, I have a pretty great vantage point to be involved in some great new initiatives. Those that stand out to me today are associated with new business, residential, and quality-of-life projects that should make the community even more enticing to those considering a place to live, work, and play in Florida.
The Catapult 2 project being spearheaded by the Lakeland Economic Development Council will help forge a new level of entrepreneurship and small-business development that will certainly assist our diverse small-business base. The renovation of Joker Marchant Stadium and the Tigertown baseball complex will not only provide a first-class fan experience and enhance the minor-league operations of our Detroit Tiger Baseball Club partners, but more importantly it has allowed the City to solidify that relationship for another 20 years and reap the economic benefits for many years to come. I am also very excited to see new residential development growing in the downtown core with projects like NoBay (North Bay) which will hopefully entice those who want that urban-living lifestyle. I am also excited about how the City has embraced the university and college community and continues to work hard at keeping those new, young professionals in our area.
THE GOAL OF OUR OFFICE IS TO ASSIST
IN CREATING A VIBRANT, INNOVATIVE,
CULTURALLY INCLUSIVE WORLD-CLASS
COMMUNITY THROUGH THE EFFORTS OF
A COMMUNITY WORKING TOGETHER TO
ACHIEVE WHAT WE ALL WOULD CONSIDER AN
EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY OF LIFE.
TL: What things about Lakeland keep you up at night?
TD: Interestingly enough, there are only a few issues: maintaining the wonderful quality of life our community enjoys, while balancing the budget impacts associated with upkeep and maintenance of the services and operation as we continue to evaluate new, creative initiatives and projects. The inevitable realization that our organizational workforce is moving toward a significant turnover, with many of our experienced public servants nearing retirement age in the next five to seven years. The organization will need to ramp up our succession planning efforts and begin evaluating our operations for efficiencies. And, finally, helping prepare our organization and businesses processes for meeting the needs of the business and residential community as our region grows and quickly develops across the Interstate-4 corridor.
TL: How does a city like Lakeland determine best practices in the realms of economics, government and infrastructure, and then implement them?
TD: The City of Lakeland takes great pride in our benchmarking and evaluation processes. Through a variety of avenues lead by our Department of OMB and individual department evaluations, we regularly look at our peer municipalities in Florida and the nation when apropos for best practice opportunities. Financially, we continue to strive for a fair 7.5 percent reserve within our general operating funds and fair operational and maintenance reserves within our enterprise operations as we establish annual budgets in order to provide some level of safe haven for the taxpayers and utility rate payers. Our organization is continually looking for best-practice options, and administration welcomes ideas from every team member.
The City Commission is currently implementing a benchmarking study utilizing an independent consultant to provide a data-driven review of where our organization currently stands with our peer municipalities, and whether there are areas we can concentrate on enhancing operations in the future. We expect this benchmarking study to be completed sometime in the early summer.
TL: What do you like most about living in Lakeland?
TD: I believe that Lakeland offers a wonderful quality of life that mixes urban vibrancies with a close-knit neighborhood of wonderful people, businesses, and recreational amenities. This close-knit atmosphere allows the opportunity to become involved in the community and
really help make a difference. The core of the City is also is creating a great small urban vibe which will only grow with the influx of new business, professionals, and a diverse population. That is pretty exciting, to say the least.
TL: Any final thoughts?
TD: I am extremely humbled and excited to have been appointed the city manager of this wonderful community. I believe that the 15 years working under two outstanding city managers and a variety of city commissioners who have always attempted to do what is best for our City have prepared me well and have given me a realistic understanding of our operations and the community we serve.
My goal, as it has always been from the first day I began my career with the City at the Lakeland Center 19-plus years ago, has been to be fair, honest, and take into account the opinions of those we serve while we look for new and creative ways of helping our community and organizational team grow. We have outstanding community partners who have always offered assistance and have acted as a solid sounding board for the municipal
government operations, and I expect us to continue enhancing their input. Our City team is prepared for the future, and we appreciate everyone who continues to believe in Lakeland and the future of positive growth.