Throughout the holiday week, YourObserver.com will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2011 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers and the Pelican Press. Check back each day for a reprinting — along with any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 26, 2011
For 14 years, Jim Ley served as Sarasota County administrator.
It took just minutes for him to say his final goodbyes after the County Commission accepted his resignation Wednesday.
Caught up in a procurement-department scandal that took place under his watch, Ley offered his resignation during the Tuesday, May 24 commission meeting.
“It’s clear I have become the issue,” said Ley. “I have become the lightning rod.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Ley also listed his greatest achievements while in office (see sidebar page 2A).
Commissioners accepted his resignation the following day.
The Sarasota County Commission chambers were nearly full May 25 to see the administrator go.
Television and still cameras were trained on Ley while he sat in his usual chair, third seat from the right. His facial expressions did not allude to anything out of the ordinary.
He presided over the presentation of retirement gifts for two longtime county employees — he was all smiles while he shook hands and gave out hugs.
But then it came time to discuss Ley’s departure.
His attorney, Dan Bailey, detailed a mutual agreement that would pay Ley $265,000 in severance, which is an amount equal to a year’s salary and benefits.
In actuality, he would have been eligible for $385,000 if the commission fired him without cause, which would mean he did not commit serious crimes while in office.
It was the subject of crimes that nearly derailed the resignation.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta insisted the agreement include a clause that stated, “During my tenure as county administrator, I have not violated any laws.”
“I’m not casting aspersions,” said Barbetta. “But every (county) employee has to sign that. I don’t see why the county administrator is any different.”
Barbetta’s point was that if it was discovered later that Ley did commit a crime related to the procurement scandal or anything else, the county would not have to pay his severance package.
The rest of the commission did not want to include that clause.
“If we don’t have an inkling of evidence he committed a crime, why would he be singled out?” asked Commissioner Jon Thaxton.
With the resignation package now in agreement, Ley thanked his wife, county residents and his staff, whom he called “a lean, mean dedicated machine.”
He walked down the row of commission seats, again shaking hands and giving hugs, before walking out the backdoor, leaving his seat empty.
Commissioners nominated Major Kurt Hoffman, of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, as the interim county administrator, while they conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.
Who is Kurt Hoffman?
County commissioners tapped Maj. Kurt Hoffman of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to serve as the interim county administrator, while they conduct a national search for Jim Ley’s permanent replacement.
Hoffman accepted the job.
“My goal will be to stabilize the role of county administrator and restore public confidence in Sarasota County government,” he said. “We will move forward and find efficient ways to get the work of the people done.”
Hoffman serves as the sheriff’s office’s administrative-division commander and its general counsel.
A former state prosecutor, he spent 20-plus years working in the criminal-justice system and is a member of the Florida Bar’s labor-and-employment law and city, county and local government law sections.
During his parting words, Jim Ley recited a list of what he believed were his greatest achievements during his 14 years as Sarasota County administrator.
• Lowered property taxes by nearly 25%
• Achieved a Triple-A bond rating — one of only a few dozen counties in the U.S. to do so.
• Kept per-capita cost of government flat to declining and per-capita number of employees flat to declining, while serving a larger population with a robust set of services.
• Changed the county from being the most water-poor public water purveyor to the water-richest county in the region.
• Knit together a collection of private and public water and sewer franchises into a public utility.
• Virtually eliminated the flooding hazard that used to plague parts of the county.
• Preserved tens of thousands of acres of park and environmental land.
• Increased library system by one-third and modernized nearly all of the existing libraries.
• Doubled the size of the transit system.
• Expanded coverage of emergency services and quality of its staff.
• Made large investments in the road system.
• Passed two surtax extensions, enabling an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure.
• Built a new jail addition, while managing the jail population.
• Helped the needy, but encouraged responsibility from those same people by requiring results from the human-services grant program.
• Made community safer through wildfire mitigation.
• Passed a charter amendment that better governed uncoordinated annexations.
• Focused on the benefits of recreation tourism as a means to diversify the economy, namely creating a world-class rowing facility.
• Cited greatest accomplishment as being the quality of county staff and its attitude toward public service.