By Mary Hladky
It’s now official: George Brown will become city manager on Jan. 1, taking the reins from Leif Ahnell, who has held that position for 24 years.
They anointed Brown, who has served as deputy city manager since 2004, to become Ahnell’s successor in May, saying his invaluable experience and historical knowledge of the city would allow him to slide seamlessly into his new role.
At the time, Brown was expected to take over on April 1, the day after Ahnell was to retire. Ahnell entered the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan in 2017 and was required to retire by March 31.
But Ahnell has since moved up his departure date to Dec. 31 and will receive $143,205.17 in compensation for his earlier exit. Ever since the council tapped Brown to become city manager, Ahnell has taken a less visible role in city governance.
He has been held in high regard by council members for many years and consistently received top marks in annual job performance evaluations. A certified public accountant and certified government finance officer, Ahnell has drawn special praise for his handling of city finances, balancing the city’s growth with the council’s long-standing desire to keep a low tax rate.
Under the terms of the employment agreement, Brown will get a raise. His annual salary will be $290,000, up from $228,488. Ahnell’s salary is $318,000.
Brown also will get a $500 monthly car allowance, a city-provided cell phone and laptop computer, health and life insurance and a contribution to his retirement plan that equals 6% of his base salary each month.
Of other South Florida managers whose cities have general fund budgets similar to Boca Raton’s, Brown’s salary is nearly identical to that of West Palm Beach City Administrator Faye Johnson, according to data compiled by the city’s Human Resources Department.
The highest city manager salary in eight similar cities is $362,211 in Pembroke Pines and the lowest is $213,000 in Deerfield Beach.
Deputy Mayor Monica Mayotte first floated the idea of elevating Brown in February. Council member Marc Wigder, who was sworn into office on March 31, raised the idea again in May.
“We have a clear transition path,” he said at the time. “With Mr. Ahnell’s retirement looming, Mr. Brown is clearly ready to be our city manager.”
Other members quickly agreed, and the council abandoned plans to hire an executive recruitment firm to help find Ahnell’s successor.
Brown joined the city’s building inspection division in 1977 and rose through the ranks to become assistant city manager. He left for a five-year stint in real estate management and then to work with a nonprofit, but was recruited to return to the city both times.
He has handled many of the city’s most complex matters, including the sale of the city’s western golf course in 2021 and the lease of city land in Mizner Park last year that cleared the way for construction of the proposed Center for Arts and Innovation.