NAPLES — The smell of fresh paint lingered on the second floor of Naples City Hall as a city worker redecorated Mayor-elect John Sorey’s new office.
He covered Mayor Bill Barnett’s beige walls with a blue-gray color called “Gentle Rain,” careful to leave the painted city crest intact on the back wall. Behind a pair of bookshelves, he found bright yellow walls; remnants from the late, former Mayor Bonnie MacKenzie.
Every four to eight years, the corner office gets a makeover and the new mayor’s style — both personal and professional — reveals itself.
“I’ll put the credenza here,” Sorey said, pointing to the right of the city crest. “The desk will face more straight-on. Bill’s was in the corner. We took the blinds down. I like to be able to see.”
Sorey, 67, officially takes office at the Feb. 15 City Council meeting, which will resemble a game of musical chairs given that all council incumbents won re-election. Barnett plans to move from the center seat to Sorey’s former chair.
Sorey wants to resume town hall meetings during his term, with the first in March. Among his priorities are the hiring of a new city clerk and possible renewal of the city attorney’s contract in September. He also hopes to resolve contract negotiations between city leaders and the firefighters union, which have reached impasse.
While on council, he worked an average of 125 hours a month, and as mayor, he expects to work at least 200.
“The best thing my father taught me was how to work,” Sorey said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do than work.”
He said he will run a tight ship, eliminating redundancies in council conversation during its monthly meetings and keeping public comment to the three-minute limit. He sent a memo to council members Monday reminding them of rules already set in place regarding how to run a meeting.
“I’ve already spoken with Sue Smith,” Sorey said, referring to the longtime Naples resident who comments frequently during council meetings and often was granted a time extension when Barnett thought it appropriate. “I want everyone to respect the process.”
Sorey expects council members to read and know their materials for the meetings and to ask city staff any questions ahead of time. The Feb. 15 meeting for the swearing-in is typically ceremonial and brief with socializing and celebration. Sorey said council can chat for an hour before it’s back to business for a full-length meeting.
“I’m probably not going to win any friends on council trying to motivate them to be more structured,” Sorey acknowledged.
Councilmen Sam Saad and Doug Finlay said they’re curious as to how the Feb. 15 meeting will go and acknowledged both Barnett and Sorey have different styles.
“I think John is probably going to be a little more task-oriented, a little more agenda-oriented,” Saad said. “They’re both very amiable leaders.”
Finlay said judging by Sorey’s involvement in various county boards and committees, the new mayor will be more involved in politics at that level.
“I’m looking for John to be more involved in the inner workings between city and county government,” Finlay said. “That’s going to have a positive impact on the city, at least I hope so.”
Lou Vlasho, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, said Barnett was the epitome of mayors, a people-person who enjoyed the ceremonial parts of the job as much as the more serious responsibilities.
“I’ve known a lot of mayors but he is the only guy I call Mr. Mayor,” Vlasho said of Barnett. Like Saad and Finlay, Vlasho expects Sorey to run meetings differently.
“He’ll probably cut things off a little quicker than Barnett did,” Vlasho said. “We’d always counsel the mayor to hit that gavel a little more. I expect Sorey will hit the gavel a little more often.”
Barnett said he’s ready to let Sorey take the reins.
“People have asked me, ‘How are you going to keep your mouth shut?’” Barnett said. “I am going to keep my blinders on and focus on what’s at hand and what’s in front of us. I’ll let (Sorey) run his own show. I don’t want him to second-guess himself.”
Barnett, 71, moved all of his furniture to a new office on Eighth Street South where his cherry mahogany desk, bookshelves and chair fit like puzzle pieces in the space. He’s having a sign made for his door to read “Bill Barnett, City of Naples Councilman.”
Barnett still receives and responds to all the calls and emails intended for the mayor. And he’s a three-minute walk from City Hall, so he plans to stop by daily even as a council member. But the feeling is different.
“I’m so used to working with the energy of City Hall, everyone I meet with and see,” Barnett said. “And here I’m by myself.”
Still, Barnett said the transition from mayor to council will be easier than the alternative — leaving city government after eight years at the helm.
“It’s not as if all the sudden there’s been some plug pulled,” he said. “I don’t know how I would have dealt with it if I’d lost this election. (My wife) was skeptical about going back to council, but the workload will be less. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be rewarding.”
He approves of Sorey’s paint color and his decision to remove the blinds, but laments the red carpeting he had installed in 2008. The sample had looked burgundy. He hopes to be a help to Sorey as he takes on his new role.
“I remember waking up on that February day in 1996 and realizing I was the mayor of the city of Naples and I broke into a cold sweat, a panic,” Barnett said. “What do I do?”
City staff helped him adjust, among them Michael Moose, executive assistant to the mayor and council.
“He’s like family,” Barnett said.
Moose has worked for the city of Naples since 2002 and is moving on to his third mayor.
“Fortunately I’ve also worked with John for eight years,” Moose said. “He knows how I work. He’s another very busy man. A very smart, intelligent man and I appreciate that he knows what he’s doing.”
Moose said Barnett was an easy mayor to work with who spent much of his time interfacing with the public.
“He’s never crabby, and if he is, he keeps it to himself,” Moose said. “I always know where he is.”
Having Barnett on the council will be an advantage, Sorey said. He brings a knowledge of the job and the city and he’s popular among residents. He was the top vote-getter for the Jan. 31 election. Plus he was gracious in moving out of his office in time for Sorey to get situated.
On Thursday, Sorey pointed to the space where his 60-inch round table with six chairs will sit to the left of his desk. He won’t have a couch or sitting area like Barnett did, but he will keep the red carpeting. It’s still in great shape, despite the garish hue.
“He could have waited until Feb. 14 to move out,” Sorey said of Barnett. “As long as he doesn’t get my parking spot, he’ll be cool.”