First Step of Sarasota Names Sheriff Tom Knight as New CEO

SARASOTA, Fla., Nov. 17, 2020 — First Step of Sarasota continues to build on the strategic positioning of its reimagined and newly merged organization with the announcement of a bold pick for its next president and chief executive officer: Tom Knight, the outgoing sheriff of Sarasota County. 

First Step’s board of directors named Knight to the position after a comprehensive national executive search. He will leave his position as sheriff on Jan. 5, 2021, and begin in his new position on Jan. 25, taking over from interim CEO Gwen MacKenzie, the former CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System.

“Although we had many excellent candidates, our board voted unanimously to appoint Sheriff Knight,” First Step board chairman Pat Robinson said. “Tom has proven himself as an innovative leader who defies stereotypes and can transform organizations. He also has a genuine love for our community and passion for helping people who need support. We are confident in his abilities and excited to see where he leads First Step.” 

A familiar face to many, Knight has served as Sarasota County’s top law enforcement officer for the past 12 years. He was first elected as sheriff in November 2008 and subsequently ran unopposed for two additional four-year terms. With a budget of $121 million, he oversees approximately 1,000 employees as well as multiple divisions and services, including law enforcement, jail operations, animal services, judicial security, homeless outreach and the 911 emergency operations center. 

Knight leaves a legacy that includes a crime rate reduction of more than 50 percent and many firsts, including the first law enforcement executive to use county ordinances to fight “pill mills;” the first sheriff in the Southeastern U.S. to create jail-based recovery and community re-entry programs; the first in the region to implement the use of Narcan to prevent overdoses; and the first Florida sheriff to adopt intelligence-led policing. His innovative efforts resulted in widespread recognition, including the Florida Association of Counties Partner of the Year award and, recently, the Salvation Army’s Humanitarian of the Year award. 

“I am honored to have been selected for this position by the board of directors and eager to get to work with the excellent and highly dedicated employees of First Step." Knight said. "Addiction and mental illness eventually touch most families, regardless of age, income, or status, and I want to make sure our community has the best support and finest services available. I want to build on the work that has recently taken place and make First Step a model for our region and state.” 

About First Step of Sarasota 

First Step of Sarasota, a non-profit organization, finalized its consolidation with Coastal Behavioral Healthcare on July 1, 2020. It is now the largest nonprofit behavioral healthcare agency in Sarasota County. The organization is dedicated to creating wellness and inspiring the first step toward a better tomorrow for those with mental health and addiction disorders. First Step of Sarasota has seven outpatient offices, four residential programs for adults and youth, the crisis stabilization unit and detox/addiction receiving facility and 15 community outreach, prevention and intervention programs for adults and youth. First Step of Sarasota has 276 licensed beds, serves Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and De Soto Counties and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. 

Tom Knight

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