It took three tries, according to Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, but the board Wednesday morning finally managed to surprise Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis with expressions of gratitude for his leadership.
The Jan. 11 meeting was scheduled to be Lewis’ last one, with new County Administrator Randall Reid arriving Jan. 23.
Just after the start of the meeting, the board members called Lewis to the front of the room. New Chairwoman Christine Robinson said they had an honorary degree to present to him, in recognition of his “outstanding performance and dedication,” after taking over the administrative reins in June, following the resignation of County Administrator Jim Ley in the aftermath of the Procurement Department scandal.
Robinson drew laughter, however, when she pointed out that the degree was in “interim-ology,” referring to previous interim positions Lewis had handled in the county before the commission hired him.
Fueling more laughter, Robinson said Lewis had great fondness for many county employees, but his favorites were the sentinel chickens used by the Health Department to alert officials if mosquitoes in the area were carrying encephalitis. Robinson said the commission was renaming the birds “the honorary Terry Lewis Sentinel Chicken Flock.”
Lewis had told The Observer Group in August that he had had to learn about many facets of county government with which he was unfamiliar, including the existence of those chickens.
Next, Robinson said, the commissioners had taken up a collection among themselves to donate $500 in his honor to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches. That organization, she noted, is very important to Lewis.
Then, each board member took a turn at the mic.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton referred to Lewis as “this brilliant person behind the scenes, just getting things done.”
“You came and stepped up to the plate when we really needed a confidence-builder, both with the public and our staff,” Commissioner Nora Patterson said.
“You’re just the consummate professional,” said Commissioner Joe Barbetta, whose idea it was to hire Lewis. “You just blew me away with what you’ve done.”
Commissioner Carolyn Mason said she felt sure Lewis would turn up in another interim post.
Robinson noted that Lewis enabled people to develop trust once again in county government, “and words can’t express our gratitude for that.”