March 23, 2021 Manatee County Commission Meeting Observations-
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee is monitoring the Board of County Commissioners. This report lists the items of interest to the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law. The following are the major points from the Board of Manatee County Commissioners Regular Meeting on March 23, 2021, monitored by Ruth Harenchar and Coleen Friedman.
Items of Interest
Citizen Comments – A citizen brought a giant postcard for Kruse containing 100+ pictures of citizens indicating that they care about accountability re: Baugh setting up the pop-up clinic and not using the County lottery for participants.
Citizen Oversight Commission – The 3 people approved for the Citizens Oversight Committee for Infrastructure Sales Tax Advisory Board were Taura Denis (re-appointment/unanimously approved), Kristy Zinna (unanimously approved), and Brian Spletzer (4 votes).
The Acting Administrator, Karen Stewart, gave a brief overview of the impact to the county of the American Rescue Plan. This complicated legislation will require in depth analysis. Servia recommended hiring a consultant to help staff analyze the ramifications. Van Ostenbridge noted a condition of the money is that taxes cannot be lowered. No Motion or next steps.
Jacob Saur, Director of Public Safety gave a COVID response update. Currently:
- 6.5% positivity rate for past week
- Effective 3/22 eligible age for vaccine dropped to 50+
- Total Weekly Vaccines delivered at all County POD’s: 13,800
Acting County Administrator
An overview of 30 applicants for interim County Administrator (CA) by Kim Stroud, Human Resources Director was initiated. Five of the 7 commissioners sent their top 3 candidates to her. Attorney Clague added that he had been directed to add to the contract for the interim CA limits on the scope of terminations of current county employees that the person could enact.
Van Ostenbridge immediately endorsed Scott Hopes and introduced a motion to appoint Hopes as interim CA.
A contract negotiated by Van Ostenbridge for Hopes had a salary of $210,000, plus other compensation and perks. Other commissioners seemed surprised by this information. Van Ostenbridge stated he had negotiated the salary with Hopes by phone.
Commissioners received the contract at 5pm the day before the meeting. Attorney Clague explained that due to Sunshine Law he felt that the contract suggested by Van Ostenbridge had to be distributed to the board at same time.
Reactions by Commissioners and Public Comments:
- Whitmore had reviewed candidates and said she felt they were being railroaded to choose Hopes. Bellamy also voiced a concern about setting up protocols and then not following them. He contacted the county attorney when Hopes called him asking for his priorities.
- Misty Servia stated it was critical to be transparent and follow the process.
- Kruse initially looked at how the finalists were ranked by some of the commissioners to narrow the field to 2, Hopes and Napoli. He ultimately endorsed following the process and considering more than one candidate.
- Van Ostenbridge, Baugh and Satcher all pushed for immediate acceptance of the Hopes for the position.
- Multiple callers (6) strongly cautioned the Board to think twice about Hopes referring to various allegations and that the Board didn’t follow their own process. Several people spoke in favor of Hopes.
When the motion was called for a vote, it failed when Kruse joined Whitmore, Bellamy, and Servia to oppose selection of Hopes and the contract. Subsequently a Kruse motion to direct the Chair and Human Resources to renegotiate the contract with Hopes and simultaneously set up Zoom interviews with Napoli passed 5/2 (Servia and Bellamy voting no). A motion was made to decide on acting commissioner at the Land Use Meeting on 4/1/2021 at 9 am time certain. The motion passed 6/1 (Bellamy voting no).
Tallahassee Visit by Commissioners – Servia summarized the meetings in Tallahassee and was visibly disturbed about the role played by a political operative in the meetings. She stated she had received attack emails and texts from this person. Because she felt Baugh was unable to be transparent, and for her lack of leadership, Servia made a motion to remove Baugh as chair. The motion failed 4/2 (Servia and Bellamy voting yes, Whitmore absent).
Redevelopment and Economic Development annual report for FY19-20 – Incentive programs for economic development, which would broaden the economic base and expand existing businesses, were reviewed . The projected 10 year impact for the county is a 46% return on investment with $20.9M to the school district and $18.7M to county.
LWV of Manatee County Statement on Good Governance:County Commissioners are elected by the people of Manatee County. Once elected, they are responsible for representing all their constituents, not just those who supported them. As publicly elected representatives, they are expected to conduct their business for the County in the sunshine in full view of the public. Acting ethically and transparently is particularly important when issues are controversial and significant opposition is expected. The public must be confident that their concerns are heard and considered prior to the decision being made.
- Prior to lunch, the Commissioners generally exhibited good governance behaviors.
- The commissioners did not follow their own, long discussed, process to consider candidates for the acting county administrator position. They have not given equal hearing to the two identified candidates. At the 3/9 meeting there were 3 identified candidates (Hopes, DiMaio, Mills). Two did not apply, possibly because it was previously presented that the interim County Administrator could not apply for the permanent position. It is not clear if this still applies.
- Conclusions regarding good governance and the selection of an interim Administrator:
- Commissioners have not had adequate time to consider broad impacts when considering the motion to hire Hopes and the terms of the contract negotiated by one commissioner without going through the usual hiring/contract process.
- Commissioners did not apply policies, decisions, and actions consistently, regardless of personal connections.
- Contract negotiation by Van Ostenbridge, while not illegal, was not working collaboratively and showed no consideration for achieving consensus.
- It is unusual for contracts to be negotiated before agreement on the hiring of an individual. It is highly unusual for one commissioner to do contract negotiations. Although defended as being “in the Sunshine” this negotiation was not in the spirit on Florida’s Sunshine laws.
- Numerous sarcastic statements from Commissioners about being transparent/Sunshine Laws. Strict attention not only to the letter of the Sunshine Law but also the spirit would have allowed the Commission to achieve more, saved considerable time and given the citizens more confidence in the County Commission.