ALACHUA ‒ After having served as the City of Alachua’s Assistant City Manager and Communications and Executive Project Manager, on Aug. 6, 2021, Mike DaRoza was appointed City Manager. DaRoza wasn't expecting or seeking the job, but stepped in when Kamal Latham, who the Commission had earlier appointed to replace outgoing manager Adam Boukari, withdrew.
The Commission appointed DaRoza as Interim City Manager for a year. As Assistant City Manager and Communications and Executive Project Manager , DaRoza understood not only the requirements of the position but also the inner workings of the City’s departments as well as public relations.
Born in Fort Lauderdale, DaRoza moved to the Alachua area at the age of eight and has been involved in the community for 46 years. “Alachua is virtually my home. I went to high school at Santa Fe and my first job as a teen was at Hitchcock’s. I met my wife here and we raised our kids here.” For the last 20 years DaRoza has served as announcer for the Santa Fe Raiders Varsity Boys Basketball Team. “I have moved to other places but always returned home,” DaRoza said.
He has spent the majority of his life in business and communications. “In 1990 I took a job at Jack Busby's Design Cabinets and Furniture.” DaRoza started off sweeping floors and sanding doors and never expected to stay long. In the beginning it was just a paycheck to support the family. He wound up staying with the company for nearly 27 years doing virtually every job there except accountant and receptionist.
He worked his way up in the expanding business, eventually managing over 100 people in the organization. “Working there gave me skills in management, production, administering employees and finding methods to efficiently produce results. All of which were important in my job as Assistant City Manager and the current position,” DaRoza said.
While still working at Busby's, DaRoza began radio announcing for the high school’s varsity football team and found he had a talent for communicating and engaging people’s interest. As a side job he began writing for the High Springs Herald, eventually moving over to the then Alachua Today newspaper, covering both news and sports. “The job gave me new skills, improving my communication abilities and interviewing, as well as aspects of design, graphics, layout and web design,” DaRoza said. “It also gave me an understanding of the news media, which assisted me in communications with the City.”
“All of these skills have come in handy for the City Manager position. The job is fast paced and versatile with ever-changing priorities. When we were suddenly looking for a replacement for Adam [Boukari] the priority was to make a smooth transition so that everything kept running as efficiently as possible,” said DaRoza. “My position as Assistant City Manager gave me a good understanding of how each of the departments worked and what their needs were to do their job. We have a great staff here that provides excellent service to the community, which is our number-one priority,” DaRoza said.
DaRoza says the Commission has made it clear to staff the importance of education and the performance of our community schools. “Any thriving community depends on a strong educational network. Not only is it important for the future success of the children, but it also supports economic development and the growth of the community.” He said the quality of the schools is often the first question prospective residents ask before moving to an area. “We consider ourselves a GED to Ph.D. community. While we have a lot of growth in the science and bio tech industry in areas like Progress Park and Tech City, we also have a lot of job opportunities in our retail, industrial and distribution centers like Wal-Mart, Sysco and Dollar General.”
Growth in a small town can overwhelm infrastructure if not planned ahead, creating urban sprawl that taxes City services. DaRoza is confident that the City is in strong position regarding growth and infrastructure. “We are very fortunate that the City has thought ahead on future needs.”
Over the past three years, Alachua has constructed a second electrical substation, new water lines and wastewater facilities to cover the city limits and including expansion both in residential and commercial needs for the future. “Although I see no concerns about the already planned developments, and we have more than enough utilities capacity, we will review all development to make sure we are capable of handling growth with the services the City provides,” DaRoza said.
Another priority for the City has been development of Legacy Park and the cultural and recreational activities it provides. Having a place for people to play sports, exercise and enjoy entertainment while interacting as a community is important to the lifestyle the City strives to offer and has been a long-term goal. Under the City’s Legacy Park Master Plan, the City developed the multipurpose center in 2017 followed in 2019 with the addition of the amphitheater to provide concerts, shows and theater entertainment for residents.
However, some programming were put on hold due to the 2020 Covid pandemic. Now, the City is planning a variety of entertainment and sports events. However, DaRoza that the City is once again keeping a close eye on, and assessing daily, what is happening with the virus. “We currently have no plans to cancel any of the upcoming activities, but are keeping aware of the situation,” DaRoza said. “Checking news, medical data and caseloads have become part of my daily activities. While we want to return to a sense of normal life, our first concern is the safety of the community,” DaRoza said.
DaRoza has been in his new position for only three weeks, but is looking toward the future and making City services better for the community. “My first goal is to use my business management skills to help create an even more efficient organization to serve the community. In business, you are always on the margin, seeking profit through efficiency and reduced cost. You analyze the process as it is going on and take out the things that aren't adding value to the process to create a more lean and efficient work environment.
“While the government is not-for-profit, the same concept of a lean business process applies. The goal is to provide the best services for the community you can for the least cost and create a positive employee environment with high morale and pride,” said DaRoza. “This job is not about me; it is about the City team and the community. There is a phrase I have always lived by that says, ‘the higher one ascends in an organization, the more one should serve others.’”
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