MANATEE COUNTY — For once, they sat in the same room and listened to the same voice while learning about the county they run.
At its quarterly leadership training Sept. 11, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 100 Manatee County department directors — leading the mosquito sprayers, the marine rescuers and the landfill operators of the county — took part in both a business briefing and a social hour, as a unit.
Before the training began, when it was still dark outside, individual departments snuck in the room and decorated their assigned tables with canned foods and other goods to be donated to Meals on Wheels PLUS.
They turned 2,066 pounds of donations into art, stacking cans atop cans, boxes of oatmeal atop diaper bags to create towers, tropical vacation spots and even people.
The employees, representing 15 departments and a 1,600-person county government work force, then sat down at the tables for a more serious session.
They applauded when their leader, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, announced raises based on performance.
“Everyone here touches someone or something in the county,” Hunzeker told the staff. “It’s not until I’m in front of you that I realize you collectively keep the county going.”
Staff then was briefed on the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association’s successful bid to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.
Elliot Falcione, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, told them Manatee County staff out-volunteered Sarasota County in securing the event and how the championships will serve as a larger branding opportunity for the region.
The employees learned from a Manatee Glens staff member about the psychology of changing behavior and observed changes to the county’s website — how it will be made more efficient and visual and connected with social media.
But, then, things got more lighthearted again when, during a speech about the importance of building relationships and the lengths he goes to do it, Falcione called himself a “pain in the you-know-what.”
He showed a picture of himself from Chungju, South Korea, where he, along with a contingent from Sarasota and Manatee counties, witnessed the 2013 World Rowing Championships.
In the photo, Falcione poses with smiling Korean women, whom he calls the “Korean Spice Girls.”
Jokes aside, Falcione’s aside carried a message.
“I’ve built a lot of relationships the last 20 years,” Falcione said. “But there’s still a lot you I don’t know. Lets get to know each other, to know each other’s skill set. We might not mesh, but I call that unconditional love for the good of the community.”
By the afternoon, Manatee County employees went back to work, ready to serve together.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].