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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 23, 202205:00 AM EST

Business Strategy: Cheryl Brown: ‘I have a go-getter personality’

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After 31 years working in city government, Cheryl Brown launched her consulting company to help businesses become more efficient.
by: Dan Macdonald Staff Writer

Cheryl Brown completed 31 years with the city of Jacksonville in January. It was a career where her work as director and City Council secretary changed how Council operates and constituents interact with lawmakers.

Instead of leaving City Hall with a legacy and retiring, she already had laid the groundwork for CLBrown Business and Management Consulting LLC.

Her vision was proving her skills and winning clients.

“I have a go-getter personality. I’m project-driven. The more you give me the better I like it,” Brown said.

Brown, 56, is from Nichols in Polk County. She earned her bachelor’s of science degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice and master’s in Applied Social Sciences at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

She completed her doctorate virtually starting with the University of Phoenix and completing the degree in Organizational Management and Leadership at another virtual school, Word Bible College.

Her pursuit of a doctorate began in 2008 and she received it in 2014, while she was preparing for her next career.

“I knew I wanted to do something different and to do that I had to be credentialed,” she said.

When Brown joined the city as a Council researcher in 1990, all of the legislation, records and other data were on paper.

It took a keen memory to readily find information.

The notes she is working with became the business plan for her company, CLBrown Business and Management Consulting LLC.

The modern technology was the IBM Selectric typewriter. Carbon paper was used for copies. 

When computers were introduced, the word processing software was WordPerfect, the industry standard before Microsoft Word.

Brown knew there had to be a better way to organize records.

She went to the city’s IT department working with Mike Young and Steve Cassada and department heads to find and develop software to make city records searchable.

The result in 2001 was searchable documents on www.coj.net. People can use their personal computer, tablet or smartphone to track legislation’s progress with a few keystrokes.

A Council member can have nearly all Council and committee preparation materials and documents on a laptop rather than in thick binders.

When city government moved from Bay Street to the former renovated May-Cohens store at 117 W. Duval St. in 1996-97, the historic building kept much of its interior grandeur.

The large Council chamber included several television monitors along the walls flanking the members’ dais. Those TVs were difficult for all members of the audience to see.

Brown again teamed with the city’s technical departments to install six retractable screens that fold out of the ceiling. The view was better and everyone could face the front rather than the walls.

She worked with the Jacksonville Historical Society to keep the interior’s design integrity.

Brown also upgraded the software used at Council meetings to take roll and tabulate votes. Today, the software keeps track of speakers on the queue and can retrieve bill documentation.

As Council secretary, Brown has written manuals and teaching plans to keep business transparent and legal. Every four years, new Council members and their executive assistants must take training that Brown developed using state guidelines.

“There are things we have to follow. I tried to be as supportive as I could be but everything had to work within a framework of being legal, moral and ethical,” she said.

Brown told the mayor’s office and Council of her intentions to retire before 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic changed that.

Citizens could not safely gather for a noticed committee or Council meeting, so Brown and her staff recreated the Council experience remotely while complying with the Florida Sunshine Law.

The Council chamber became the command center. Access was limited. Clear dividers were installed. The private elevator used by elected officials and staff was closed.

Everyone entering the Council offices needed to sign in and have their temperature checked. Executive assistants had to schedule when they would come to City Hall. No two assistants could have their workstations near one another.

Cleaning procedures were instituted before anyone could leave the Council offices.

The new Zoom technology was adapted and the first meeting was March 13, 2020. That meant training each Council member individually at their home or business. Meetings continued to be properly noticed and agendas available on coj.net.

Brown and her staff recorded each vote by hand from individual Council members before posting results on Zoom. 

The city’s partnership with cable television providers allowed citizens to watch proceedings on Channel 99, which is devoted to city programming, Brown said.

With coronavirus variants continuing to spread, Brown decided not to delay her move to private business. Her daughter is in high school and Council returned to in-person meetings.

Brown’s career has been spent developing efficiency systems, and that is her focus at CLBrown Business and Management Consulting LLC. 

She works from home and schedules client meetings virtually or in person at a library or other public space.

In her files, she has several pages of handwritten notes and ideas on sheets of notebook paper. 

The notes contain specific delivery ideas as well as aspirational and motivational phrases. That’s where she created the parameters of her business.

Brown developed the skill set to teach team building, training, leadership and the use of technology to increase performance.

“I see myself as a servant leader in the community. I’m an engager and an influencer,” she said.

The challenge now is marketing to prospective clients. She began networking before the business plan was fully developed.

One idea is limiting dependence on business cards. Unless the information immediately is transfered into contacts software, the cards are misplaced or ignored.

Brown encourages people to exchange contact information electronically from phone to phone.

If a business card is preferred, she will have a QR code printed on the back so that all the information can be scanned into a prospective client’s contacts.

It is technology she developed for Council members so constituents easily could access the officials’ webpages on coj.net.

Brown realizes the value of being known in the community, so networking is important.

“I am doing what I would have told other people to do. You need to have your boots on the ground. People feel value in what I have been doing all of these years. I know how to engage both with the city and business to get things done,” she said.

Her profile with the city will open some doors, but she knows she has to knock first.

 

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