by Debbie Shannon

Business Experience Translates Well to Running a City

When Dr. Brenda Fettrow was 20 she did something few of us can only dream of.  “I was an athlete and very fortunate to try out for the Olympics in Colorado Springs,” said Cocoa’s deputy city manager.

The Longwood University basketball player did not make the 1980 team, but she impressed Olympic officials, made the cut three times and survived four days of grueling practices.  This Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native, who earned a B.S. in psychology, still holds university records for steals and foul shooting and logged over 1,000 points in her basketball career.

That determination and focus that brought her glory back then is still prevalent in her life today.

She graduated from Rollins College with a M.A. in Counseling and Psychology and from the University of Florida with an Ed.D., Doctor of Education degree in 1999.

As deputy city manager, Dr. Fettrow works closely with Ric Holt, the city manager, overseeing seven departments including public works; finance; fire; police; community and economic development; administrative services; and the regional water and utilities system.  “I enjoy working closely with him and the city council,” this Port St. John resident said.

Cocoa, a city with 17,000 residents, operates on an annual budget of $105 million.  Her office is located in the 42,000 square-foot City Hall building that opened in August, where she has an expansive view of the Indian River and the city below.

Dr. Fettrow says she enjoys all aspects of her job and is working hard to make the city operate efficiently – not an easy chore with lower property valuations and budget challenges.


When Dr. Fettrow was hired for this position in 2008, she brought with her a wealth of operations and budget skills acquired from almost 20 years of experience working at Brevard Community College in Cocoa.

While she was initially hired to work as Director of the Office for Students with Disabilities, she worked her way up to Cocoa campus president and vice president of Student Services.  She was also the interim executive director of the BCC Foundation; vice president of resource development; and was elected as a commissioner for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

She raised $1.1 million towards the renovations of the physical education building and the YMCA that now operates a full-service family center on the campus.  “It is the only facility of its type in the country,” she said.  Today, she is chairman of the board for the Cocoa YMCA Family Center and chairman of the board for the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

She is a board member of Circles of Care, Brevard Cultural Alliance and she is a member of the Civilian/Military Community Relations Council.

Reflecting back on her academic career, she says her career change was a “good fit.”

“Government is a business and I was overseeing finance and purchasing and all those skills transferred to this position so you can run the city like a business organization,” she said.  “That is why this career change transition has not been too difficult.”


Several prominent professionals, including Dr. Thomas Gamble, the former district president of BCC, who promoted her to one of the three vice president positions, have mentored Dr. Fettrow.  “I always aspired to be the leader of an educational institution by the time I was 40,” she said.  “Education is the great equalizer that changes people’s lives.”

She also credits Lang Houston, owner of Crest Cleaners, with helping her reach her goals.  “He is a very, very good man and a sharp businessperson and I speak with him often and he is very helpful,” she said.

Dr. Fettrow, who interacts daily with her “internal customers,” her employees and her “external customers,” the citizens and elected officials, often relies on lessons learned from one of her favorite books, Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit by Lee. G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal.

“Be totally honest and do everything with the highest level of integrity,” she said.

Dr. Fettrow says her core values include the “Team Cocoa” concept, a collaborative partnership where “together everyone achieves more and everybody wins.”

“The more you communicate, the more successful you can be,” she said.  Her mantra is simple: “Be dedicated to the goal, have a plan, think it through.   It is hard for me to accept no for an answer,” she said.  “I like creative solutions and I like to figure out a way to make things happen.”


Dr. Fettrow has always been in a high profile position and to stay focused she gets up before dawn and runs three miles a day.  “I feel worse if I don’t run and I feel much better when I do,” she said.

She often visits her mother, who lives in Satellite Beach, and she has decided that Brevard County will always be her permanent home.  She plays golf on weekends and has traveled to 40 states.  “I was fly fishing in Idaho last summer and my goal is to visit all 50 states,” she said.