The Community is curious to learn more about new interim Miami Beach City Manager Kathie Brooks, the quiet powerhouse behind the city’s financial planning. Miami Beach News sat down with this Jamaican-born University of Miami alumnus at her fourth floor City Hall office to gain insight into this influential woman’s life, and give citizens the inside scoop on their newest public official.
Miami Beach News: What was your reaction to bring chosen for this prestigious position?
Brooks: I was extremely honored; I love the city, I live here and have been a resident for 25 years. It is home to me and my family, and I know how important a job it is as it affects our residents and our businesses. I feel I have the support of staff and many community members that would help make it easier.
MBN: Can you tell us about your professional background?
I actually started out as a planner, specifically in transportation planning; I began first in consulting and then moved into government. As a result, I helped negotiate the final funding for the Metro Mover project in downtown Miami, and one of the things I learned is that plans don’t get implemented without funding. From there, I went on to head up the administrative functions in the solid waste department in Miami Dade County. Hurricane Andrew had just hit Miami, so I was involved in negotiations for the 80+ million dollar contract for the debris removal.
In 2001, the County decided to move more toward a strategic management approach, so I was brought over into the County manager’s office to head up the plan. It involved eight planning teams for different areas: public safety, infrastructure, health and human services- and for each had a planning team, comprised of elected officials, community leaders, department staff, and then managed by an overall core planning team for the County. Bottom line was two years later; we had the County’s first strategic plan in place.
After that I moved into the budget office for the County and realigned their budget process to reflect the priorities in the strategic plan. That was when I was approached by the City of Miami Beach- they were looking for a budget and quality improvement Director and they wanted one that had much more of that strategic management focus and so from there I came to the City.
MBN: It sounds like you’ve dealt with your fair share of crisis management and tremendous responsibility- how would you say your background experience, in particular as budget director, prepared you to fill this position?
There are a couple of things: number one is that my background experience has provided me the opportunities to move into different roles, and focus on different areas of expertise and each time I’ve been successful at it, so although I realize this is a big challenge to step into, I feel that I can be successful. Of course I’ve had varied subject areas- I’ve had transportation, solid waste, planning, so I have a lot of background there. Some of it was a little while ago so I’d never pretend today to be the expert in those areas but at least it gives me a perspective to bring to the table. One of the things that the city has to do in the short term is by September adopt our budget for 2013, so my background there is clearly going to make that happen.
The other major initiative is our labor contracts: four of these contracts expire in September of this year and the fifth one expires in April 2013. I have been involved in labor negotiations in my prior career but I was extensively involved in labor negotiations here in the city the last go-around, so I do have that perspective of what the city has recently done. I also have been the liaison with the Budget Advisory committee who have been working on pension reform for the last year and have recommendations that are ready to be released to the commission.
MBN: What are some of your personal goals during your time here?
I want to do everything that I can to move the city forward, and it may be a short time so I don’t know how much I’ll get done, but that is definitely priority in terms of addressing corruption, wrongdoing, et cetera while also focusing on the “little things” that impact residents quality of life. Obviously with any change, an organization goes through stress, so the more that I can do to manage that stress and boost morale is also very important so we do not want to lose productivity. With change you always hope that in the long run you come out in a better place, but there’s that interim period where you definitely lose productivity.
MBN: What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a city manager to possess?
I think integrity, as well as to be open, available and transparent to the Commissioners and the community, You always have to keep in mind that you work for the public.
MBN: What distinctive qualities do you bring to the table?
I think just the fact that I was uniquely able to provide the ability to transition from the current City Manager in this interim period, and since I hope to be with the city for some time, to be able to transition when they bring in the permanent manager. Also because I have been here, I do know the departments and the players and am very familiar with the organization and many of the issues. Thirdly, many of the items that are going to be short-term issues like the budget and labor negotiations I’m already involved with.
MBN: Do you have aspirations to become the new fulltime City Manager after interim?
No, I do not. I will tell you that I recognize it is a tremendous amount of work and I have a family so I hope to be able to manage this transition and be able to turn it over to whomever the Commission selects.
MBN: Tell us about your family
I’ve been married, gosh, for 25 years to Alex Rey [former Miami Beach building director and current Miami Lakes Town Manager]. We actually moved to Miami Beach shortly before we were married and moved into our first house on the beach about a week before our wedding. I have three children, all boys- Alexander, Javier and Jonathan- ranging in age from 23 to 15.
MBN: You’ve always been behind the City’s books and numbers; what’s a little-known fact about yourself?
I’m actually in the community a lot although I work quietly behind the scenes: I walk my neighborhood or either North Beach Red Corridor everyday early in the morning because it’s the only way I get exercise! So I am out there seeing what’s happening in the community; a lot of department directors know me from that- it’s not unusual that I’ll call something in that I see. It’s as important for my mind as it is for my health. Also, I lived in Canada for a few years and would travel back there during holiday breaks from the University of Miami, where I studied geography.
Kathie Brooks was selected among five candidates as the Interim City Manager by the City Commission upon veteran manager Jorge Gonzalez’ resignation on July 8th after 12 years of service.