BREAKING NEWS — Michael Brown Resigns as County Manager

by ARLnow.com October 1, 2010 at 10:18 am 6,127 71 Comments

(Updated at 11:00 a.m.) After just four months on the job, County Manager Michael Brown has abruptly resigned. His resignation letter arrived at the county board offices yesterday.

“I hearby resign the position of County Manager for Arlington County effective today,” Brown wrote. “This action is regrettable but necessary because of the health of my wife Linda Lee. I need to take time now to assist her.”

“Arlington is a fine community and I was pleased to serve here,” Brown concluded. “I wish you all the best in the future.”

County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said Brown will likely be returning to Savannah, where he was served as city manager for 15 years before coming to Arlington.

“He’s a real gentleman and we appreciate his efforts here,” Fisette said. “We wish him the best.”

Barbara Donnellan, formerly the interim county manager, was appointed the new permanent county manager at 10:20 this morning. She is Arlington’s first permanent female county manager.

Fisette says Donnellan, who has been with Arlington County for 27 years, will be able to “hit the ground running.”

“There will be no noticeable transition, nothing will fall through the cracks with Barbara,” he said. “She knows the organization inside and out… we are pleased to have someone of her capacity and ability available to step in.”

  • Steve

    You shouldn’t have posted this. It’s too likely that someone is just trying to punk you.

    • AC Employee

      No punking here – it was also just announced to all county staff

  • AggieGirl

    Nope, this is true. An email went out to all County employees about an hour ago.

  • Alex

    He came, he saw the budget problems, he left… ?

  • KateKirk

    Wonder who he pissed off so quickly…?

  • Saddened

    and disappointed. I met him, he seemed like a good fit and Savannah is such a cool place I was hoping he could bring a little of that character to Arlington. So, no nation-wide search for a replacement this time ?

  • Employee

    Just came from the special county board meeting where Barbara Donnellan was named the new manager.

  • shirley

    Is it finally obvious to people that there are TWO organizations that can’t keep top management — WMATA and Arlington County.
    Both of these organizations should be the most coveted jobs in the Country. And yet both have Zimmie on the board.
    I think it is VERY obvious. And people in 2100 will agree.

    • Deb

      You know, you might have legitimate reasons for thinking that Chris Zimmerman is an ineffective Board member, but when you use derisive knicknames for someone it just undercuts your position. If you can’t respect your opponent, you’re not worthy of my respect.

      • shirley

        deb, I don’t need it, but thanks.
        Zimmie is a commonly accepted term for him. And all politicians have nicknames.
        BTW, is Deb a nickname for Deborah?

        • Deb

          All politicians have nicknames? We clearly live in different worlds.

          • shirley

            Deb, try this: google “Zimmie” and “Arlington” and see how many references there are to him.
            then try “hizonner” “marion barry”
            or “babs” “favola” “arlington”
            shall i continue?

        • Seriously?

          No, it’s not ‘commonly accepted.’ It’s a derisive term, and most people know that. Everything else you say about him is negative – no need to play naive on this point.

          • shirley

            Does Zimmie pay you to constantly badger people who challenge authority? Isn’t that a fundamental right of a democracy to question our leadership?
            The Zimmie lapdogs are the pathetic and naive ones. Seriously now.

    • Frog

      Ron Carlee was County Manager for nearly a decade. At the same time, “Zimmie” has been on the Board as well.

    • Jessica

      Arlington has an amazingly well run local government, i.e. county. If you don’t appreciate it go spend time almost anywhere else. If you’d rather live somewhere else, go for it. This county government is innovative and effective and I thank Chris Zimmerman along with the rest of the County Board for it. I’m here because they run the county in a way I’m proud to call home.

      • Ditto

        Well said. I agree.

      • Burger

        Sigh… of course someone would think this. Arlington county isn’t run well because it has a lot of money but has a lot of money to throw at the problems. But that well is starting dry up and I’d bet Brown saw the writing on the wall when he talked about salaries being an issue and the Board told him to shove it.

        So now, the Board gets a lackey they can push around and agree to all the Board’s inane uses of money nicely backed up by rising taxes.

        • shirley

          Burger, good point. Arlington is well run because it has tons of money to throw around. Absolutely. Most communities would die for a planetarium or a nature center yet we can’t fund that. because we are constantly pandering to award programs so we can be recognized for innovative this and that… that is not good government.

      • Banksy

        I agree, Jessica. I moved to Arlington 25 years ago, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

      • Paul

        Arlington just spends money and does not spend a whole lot of time thinking.

        The county board is a monopoly and no new ideas come out of there. Chris Zimmerman is a joke. He actually thinks METRO is a well run organization. He is useless on METRO and worse on our Board. He will never get my vote.

        They spend our money like Congress…. little thought about where it comes from. Because they just raise my taxes and fees when they need more.

    • YTK

      Well, I never thought Fisette was so hot either.
      This is a typical slow Southern Town with typical Slow Southern management.

  • Lou

    I wondered why the County sent an email last night announcing a special meeting to discuss “certain employment contract matters” at 10:00 this morning. Seemed kind of short notice and a bit weird.

  • Jeff Miller

    Can’t really blame him. During his short tenure, Mr. Brown has seen the County Board threaten to obstruct federal immigration enforcement, throw more than $1 million into an absurd abusive lawsuit (“HOT lanes are racist”), harass business owners over signs, and other antics. That can’t be what he had expected. And I’m sure he doesn’t want his good reputation tarnished by further association with our nutty government.

    • Just the Facts

      All of this was either in play or on the horizon when Brown took the job so they are likely not reasons Brown left.

  • Greg

    Hopefully there will be a further explanation. This type of sudden departure from a top-level position leaves the County with some egg on its face.

    • Lou

      But the spin is already out:

      Arlington County Names First Woman County Manager

      • Jeff Miller

        LOL – the Board is shameless! First they wouldn’t appoint Barbara as permanent County Manager; then they undercut her on the budget, both as to spending and taxes (even though she was following the Board’s guidance); and now they’re trying to take credit for promoting her!

        • Novanglus

          “First they wouldn’t appoint Barbara as permanent County Manager”

          She declined to apply the first time. That was well covered in the press at the time.

          • gringo

            Interesting explanation, Jeff, but you forgot to mention the Illuminati and the black helicopters.

    • Greg

      Just to clarify, I posted this before the news was released that Brown left due to family illness. Obviously I’m not calling for an investigation into what problems his wife has.

      • Burger

        Not that I know either but health issues is generally viewed as a way to cover-up a larger disagreement and provide face for both sides to say “It was working out…but…


        Most folks would want to keep their job and their health insurance when a family member was ill.

  • Let’s Be Free

    OK insiders, time for the gossip, anecdotes, insights and intrigue. We all know the guy wasn’t just homesick. What’s the real story?

    • An illness in the family. I’ll have details shortly.

      • ArlingtonAaron

        No, no. You are confused. No illness. Everything that happens in this county is directly caused by the failure of progressive policy in the county that is the best place to live in the country because of its progressive policy!


      • Let’s Be Free

        I appreciate your following up on this Arlnow. For future reference, the awkard (no tortured) wording of Brown’s statement was a giveaway, as was the instant replacement. Obviously a deal was struck and Brown’s poor wife is being used as a pawn or the County Board has committed an outrageous act of upper crust welfare. Either way, these guys (and gals) gotta go. It’s time for change.

  • Whitney Wilson

    Hopefully he can work out whatever personal issues he is going through. I wonder if the County will get a refund on some portion of the fees it paid to the search firm used to hire Brown.

    • Katie

      huh? His wife is ill. For cryin out loud…

      • Whitney Wilson

        When I left the comment, I wasn’t aware of the nature of the problem which caused his resignation. Obviously I wish both he and his wife well.

        As for the other matter raised in my comment, I don’t know how the search firm was compensated. In many instances it is at least partially based on the salary of the employee who is ultimately hired, and in many cases some of that money may be refunded if the employee does not stay in the job for a certain period of time. If that’s the case here, I hope the County gets some money back, since he was only here for a short time.

  • RestonRunner86

    Wow. You Arlingtonians are rough. The poor man’s wife is very ill, and some of you are crying for an investigation? Just let him be in peace.

  • Katie

    Poor reading comprehension, I suspect.

    It’s an epidemic.

    • Pe4

      (Updated at 11:00 a.m.)

      ^ That’s when the information regarding his wife’s illness was added. Prior posters didn’t have that information. No need for personal attacks.

      • Deb

        And yet they all jumped to the worst conclusions.

  • Jason DL

    No personal attacks people – just support. If he was asked to leave, if his wife is ill, who cares. Find the love.

  • John

    I know why… he had to deal with the arrogant and demanding citizens of Arlington…

    • AllenB

      What part of “this action is regrettable but necessary because of the health of my wife Linda Lee. I need to take time now to assist her.” don’t you understand? It was added at 11am and yet your know-nothing comment was left at 1154am.

  • Ross

    Thanks, Mr. Brown. Best wishes to your wife. Welcome Ms. Donnellan. Congratulations and good luck.

  • Jason

    I appreciate the altruism in his decision.
    It’s unfortunate that Arlnow released this story without the complete fact prompting some of distasteful remarks.

    • Justin

      No, it’s unfortunate that some commentors chose to jump to conclusions without knowing the complete story.

      • Banksy

        +1, Justin

        I wish Mr. Brown, his wife, and family all the best. The nasty comments left by a certain few are not representative of the Arlington that I know and love.

  • Larry

    This is very strange. County Board promised a nationwide search for a new county manager, but in a meeting this morning lasting less than 30 minutes, the board appoints an insider. Why not appoint an acting manager and look again or at least take time to consider options?

    • Thes

      Not so strange, perhaps. They *just* finished a nationwide search, in which Donnellan did not participate as a candidate. They’ve seen who is out there and know how she compares. This time, apparently, she was interested. Possibly, they really think she’s the best option.

    • arlington 30 years

      Agree that the rush decision is unusual.

    • kt

      Arlington County taxpayers should be outraged with the Board, and the amount of money they have spent on recruitment. First, the rumor about not offering the number one candidate enough money, then paying the number two candidate more money plus, $110,000 in severance. Finally, paying Donnellan $15,000 more than Brown? Sounds like the problem is the leadership of the Board. Would this have happened if Barbara Favola was the chairman as opposed to Jay Fisette – I doubt it.

  • Observer

    The County Board has done this before, the last time they hired an “outsider” to be County Manager. I believe Donahue was his last name. They then did what they did today – turn to an insider (Carlee) in the County Government structure who they can control, who will not pursue effective governing and management policies that in any way challenge what Zimmerman wants done and how he wants it done. Any real chance of innovative, cost effective local government just left town.

    • Frog

      Why is everything Zimmerman’s fault? He’s not the only Board member.

      • ZimFault

        Didn’t the WMATA Board do something similar, when they rejected acting local Dan Tangherlini and brought in the incompetent John Catoe after a national search?

        • About Dan T

          Tangherlini left Metro to join the Fenty Administration – which he then left to join the Obama Administration. He wasn’t rejected by anyone. Catoe was chosen after a national search (following Tangherlini’s departure.)

          • ZimFault

            But didn’t Dan T. accept the Fenty job because they began the national search rather than promote him from “acting” to GM?

          • DWayne

            As I recall, Dan was interested in taking over METRO but left when they decided they were looking elsewhere. It turns out it may not have been a great decision by the METRO board, but that wasn’t necessarily obvious at the time. Cato certainly came in with all the right credentials and experience, but circumstances didn’t exactly work out for him or METRO during his tenure.

  • Waiting for the truth

    He was on the job less than six months, but County Manager Michael Brown will receive six months’ salary – about $110,000 – and accrued leave as part of a severance package approved by County Board members.

    Marcy Foster, the county government’s director of human resources, confirmed the amount with the Sun Gazette.

    • Whitney Wilson

      It is a very nice gesture on the part of the Board, but I’m not sure it was the most fiscally responsible decision. There are lots of things the County could do with $50-75K and still have give Mr. Brown a nice severance package.

    • We’ve also confirmed what the Sun Gazette is reporting: http://www.arlnow.com/2010/10/01/brown-will-receive-110000-severance-payment/

      It’s hard to tell whether it was a “voluntary” resignation or not. Even off the record, county board members are saying it was a family-related decision. But then again they’re not exactly denying the other theories, either.

      Either way, I can attest that Mr. Brown is a great guy. It seems like every community member who got a chance to interact with him was happy with the experience. Whatever the actual reason for his departure, he’ll be missed by many.

  • Observer

    You do not get $110,000 in severance if you are resigning for personal reasons. There is a lot more to this story.

  • Captain Obvious

    I always wondered who believed the moon landing was faked, and that 9/11 was actually US missiles launched at our own people. Now I know: the commenters on this blog!

    Get a life, people. Read up on a little thing called Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

  • Joe

    I heard from a County insider involved in the search process that Mr. Brown wasn’t even the first choice in the national search. The first choice turned Arlington down because the Board lowballed him and offered compensation that was at the bottom of the market. Then the board, to avoid egg on their face and ending up empty handed after an expensive national search, actually pad to pay Mr. Brown more than they were willing to offer the #1 candidate. How crazy is that? I don’t doubt that Mr. Brown’s wife is ill, but who knows what is going on here. You don’t get 6 months severance for resigning — you only get it if you are being fired.

    • Jezebel

      Joe: yes.

      And, there needs to be a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities, authority, and room for press attention between the Manager and the elected officials. Arlington may have a ‘strong manager’ form of government, but current Board members clamor for publicity themselves and see themselves as the stars.

      I suspect Brown took the strong manager role too much to heart in his first year, and paid the price. Brown was decisive (Columbia Pike library) and candid (budget announcement prior to election), but his ear wasn’t tuned to the local politics well enough.

  • Ted

    The story I’d heard meshes with what Joe posted:
    –that the Board low-balled the #1 candidate on salary, benefits and relocation expenses
    –that they had to pay Brown more than they offered their #1 candidate
    –that Brown received nearly tripled what he was getting at Savannah in his role there

    Additionally, that Donnellan was not a candidate the first time around because she wasn’t considered viable. Maybe her performance as acting Manager changed that. But she was not a candidate this time either–she was quoted as saying she was surprised and this came out of nowhere. So the post that the Board had done a nation-wide search and concluded she’s the best available is silly–her credentials weren’t formally submitted in either case nor did she go through the hiring/IV process that other candidates went through.

    Maybe Donnellan will be a great Manager. But it sounds like the Board has badly managed a process which has turned out to be expensive, burned time and probably produced some bad decisions.

    • Clarendude

      According to this article


      Mr Brown was getting $220,000 annually in Arlington vs. $189,109 in Savannah. That’s not triple by my calculation. Maybe your source was including the severence package ?

      • Ted

        Actually, I believe the source you’re quoting is wrong (and my data was initially wrong–he was paid double, not nearly triple). I was basing my claim on an annual salary of about 90K which is what Michael Brown used to get in Savavanah. I didn’t realize that he got a pay increase to $120k in his last year there. The amount that the article you cite is based upon when he left he also got a check of over $50k for unused leave time. Not sure how the total comes to $189k that the savannahnow columnist quotes but that wasn’t the amount the City Manager got paid annually in Savannah. Just think about it–what with lower taxes and a lower cost of living, Michael Brown would be taking a pay CUT to move from a $189k job in Savannah to a $220k job in Arlington. Just the cost of housing alone would make that a losing proposition.


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