- Former Arlington County Manager Michael Brown
If hiring Michael Brown as Arlington's county manager was a mistake, County Board members didn’t see it at the time, they say. Outside the Arlington County Retired Employees Association’s semi-annual luncheon Thursday afternoon, a few of them agreed to talk to TBD about Brown, who despite having submitted a resignation letter citing the ill health of his wife Sept. 30, board members now acknowledge was forced out of the position.
"He had a very successful experience in Savannah," board member Barbara Favola says. Was hiring him a mistake? "Yes," she says. "When you look back, hindsight is 20/20."
She doesn’t think the board was negligent in any way, however. "You don’t really know until you try something," she says.
"The man had been city manager in Savannah for 15 years," adds Chairman Jay Fisette. "And he went through a lot of interviews."
Vice-Chairman Chris Zimmerman attributes the county’s woes with its former county manager in part to an imperfect hiring process. When you hire internally, "you have a much better sense of what you’re getting."
"With someone from outside, it’s a fairly imperfect process. It’s difficult to know," Zimmerman says.
Brown’s replacement, Barbara Donnellan, is an internal pick who previously served as deputy county manager and interim county manager while the board was hiring Brown. Most of Arlington's past county managers have been pulled from the rank and file.
"The county has long thrived with county managers that came from within," says Zimmerman. "But I do think organizations need to be able to go outside, too."
There’s an inevitable downside to that, though, he says. "Sometimes, things just don’t work out."
Brown’s experience as city manager of Savannah, Ga. was a big part of the reason Arlington hired him. Savannah seemed comparable to Arlington, with a population of 134,000. (Arlington’s is a little over 200,000.)
"It’s comparable in the basic sense. But it’s not part of a three-state area, an an area with the influence of the federal government," Zimmerman says. "It may not be as comparable as may have been thought at the time. Arlington is unique."
The board’s still not saying when things began to sour with Brown. "We were working with him directly and we reached the point we did at four and a half months," Fisette says. (That basically amounts to the amount of time, to the day, that Brown worked for Arlington.)
And it wasn’t a major blunder that led to the firing, he says. "He didn’t do anything horrible. He’s a good guy," Zimmerman says. "It’s unfortunate."
TBD's attempts to reach Brown for comment have thus far been unsuccessful. Are you in touch with Brown? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.