Pennie Zuercher was named Finance Director for Wilton Manors in the city commission chambers on September 8, 2019, and she received a standing ovation. Now her last day is set for Nov. 30.
When she took the job, no one had any idea what was in store. COVID threw all the best laid plans out the window, leaving Wilton Manors’ staff to do the best they could, which often required taking a best-educated-guess.
Zuercher’s insight helped take the guesswork out of the budgeting process. It was hard to predict revenue when you couldn’t even know when people could hang out together. During her tenure, she has helped streamline the budget process, making it easier to separate traditional, recurring costs and giving more scrutiny to individual items.
To be sure, her job is not to set policy, but to make recommendations. In a farewell interview with OutSFL, she takes pride in seeing the city balance financial realities with quality of life.
“We’re a service to the residents. Not everything gives us a financial return. We also make sure we’re noting the intangible return. What are the residents getting? I think it’s really improved the process.”
Social distancing increased the use of the city’s parks, and she believes they are better than ever.
“I’m pleased how beautiful the parks are beginning to look. It’s great.”
In her position, she often finds herself in a shoot-the-messenger situation. It’s a hazard of the job she takes in stride.
“People need to have someone they can ask questions. I know when they say ‘You did this!’ that they’re not talking about Pennie. They see me as the city, and that’s okay. We all need to be able to vent.”
She knows everyone wants their street to be top priority.
“I try to focus on what they’re seeing and how they’re impacted. I think it’s also important we [look beyond] our [neighborhoods].”
Welcome To Wilton
“We didn’t come here by accident. We researched the city before applying,” Zuercher said.
She came from working with a large school district and didn’t shift gears lightly. It’s a choice she and her husband, Geoff, don’t regret.
“We love the people here. We have so many good friends. We go to Infinity and ten to twelve couples are hanging out. It’s such a community environment.”
You often see her walking down Wilton Drive, popping up at restaurants or grabbing a quick cocktail. Living in, and working for, the city gives her a unique perspective.
“I love our neighborhood associations. But at some point we need to come together so the west side can hear what’s going on in the east, and CANA can tell the east and west what’s happening.”
Optimally, she’d like to see a meeting of the minds to find common cause.
“We don’t always see that the exact same thing is going on elsewhere in the city. It would be great if the neighborhood associations got together one time a year and let everybody hear what’s going on.”
So, what happens on Dec. 1?
“I get off a plane in Nice, France.”
Zuercher is saying “au revoir” to South Florida and “bonjour” to the South of France.
“Lifestyle is very different. They work to live, we live to work. It’s slower paced and about spending time with friends.”
She lives with an autoimmune disease that is exacerbated by stress, so she’s stepping away for a low-key life.
She expects her new home will draw friends. “I’m gonna walk a lot more than I even did here. I like the mom & pop type of shopping. Our village has a daily market every morning. Good, whole, fresh food.”
Zuercher will jump back across the pond from time to time, and expects the city’s development to flourish without being overbearing. And when a hotel opens in the city, she expects to stay there.
“I’ll probably get a room at the new hotel. My mother taught me that family and friends are like fish, after three days they go bad.”
But as she flies off, she has nothing but gratitude for Wilton.
“I appreciate everyone in this community that has embraced me, especially the residents.”