Surfside town manager steps down, branches out

Six months after announcing his retirement, Surfside Town Manager Roger M. Carlton is ready to give up his old career and start a couple of new ones.

“I’m going to write a book,” said Carlton, whose last day as town manager was Friday. “I’m also going to fix antique clocks and sell them. But first, I owe my wife a national parks trip.”

Carlton, who retired after a 43-year career — most of it in public service — was hired as Surfside’s interim town manager in mid-September 2010 before being formally hired in December.

At the time, Surfside Mayor Daniel Dietch compared Carlton with an elite sports car.

“He’s like a Ferrari,” Dietch said of Carlton in 2010. “He’s high-powered, with a lot of knowledge and capability.”

During the April town commission meeting — Carlton’s last — Dietch said, “Our town manager is a warrior, but he has the soul of a gentleman. He will be missed.”

Among his accomplishments as town manager, Carlton counts the community center as one of his better ones.

“We built it on time and within budget,” he said. “The community center reunited this town.”

Richard Iacobacci, who once ran for a seat on the commission, said he was sorry to see Carlton go.

“I think he did an excellent job for Surfside. I really believe that if he had been town manager when we were having all the negotiations for the community center, we would have had a two- or three-story facility.”

Carlton is also happy to have played a part in the many projects that are helping to improve the town, including the water, sewer and storm drainage; the undergrounding of utilities; and two new hotels, including the Grand Beach and a Marriott Suites.

Carlton’s long résumé includes stints as acting city manager for the city of South Miami; city manager for Miami Beach; chief of staff for then-County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, as well as assistant county manager for Miami-Dade County. He also has held jobs at Florida International University and the University of South Florida. He also was executive vice president at Wometco Enterprises and was senior vice president for Lockheed Martin IMS.

In the early 1970s, Carlton managed grant programs for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Kentucky and Florida. He then spent four years as an assistant to then-Pinellas County administrator Merrett Stierheim. That job began a long-term professional relationship between the two.

When Stierheim was Miami-Dade’s county manager from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, he hired Carlton to work as his executive assistant. Among his several duties, Carlton oversaw the management and budget office, the finance department and the Office of Employee Relations.

“When I first met Roger, he was applying for a job in Pinellas, but I didn’t like him,” Stierheim said. “His hair was too long.”

Stierheim eventually did hire Carlton. “I learned to trust him. And he was bright — so bright, he scared me. But I have always liked to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.”

“Roger personifies excellent leadership,” Stierheim said. “We’re at a time now when leadership is sorely needed in government. Roger is the consummate public servant, and he tells you like it is. I’m going to miss him.”

Stierheim wasn’t the only well-known mentor in Carlton’s life. The list includes Mitchell Wolfson, founder of Wometco Enterprises; Dewey Knight, a former county manager; and Dr. Paul Ahr of Camillus House.

While many residents of Surfside thought Carlton did a fine job, there were others who did not feel the same.

When Surfside hired Carlton in 2010, Joseph Graubart, who was vice mayor at the time, had some philosophical differences with Carlton. Those concerns have not changed.

“I feel about Roger the way I feel about most Miami-Dade politicians,” said Graubart, who is now a commissioner. “It’s not so much what he does, but how he does it. But I’m happy to see him go.”

Nevertheless, Graubart said he wished Carlton and his family a “healthy and long life in North Carolina.”

Carlton plans to leave South Florida toward the end of May. While in North Carolina, he’ll resume, full-time, a lifelong love: fixing cuckoo clocks.

“I became fascinated with antique clocks during a visit to an antique shop with my wife many years ago,” he said. “I spent hours watching the shop owner repair the clocks, and I’ve been hooked on it since.”

Carlton has collected so many clocks, cuckoo and otherwise, over the years that at midnight “no one gets any sleep at home. They just all go off at the same time.”

But Carlton also wants to write a book about public administration.

“It’ll be like a textbook on how to handle certain people and situations while in office,” he said.