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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 4 years ago

County Commission grades its top staff

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

It seemed like a bad day for Sarasota County commissioners to review their highest paid — and only — employees.

Tuesday, March 19, during their regular meeting, commissioners struggled to understand the details of a $36.8 million financial valuation of Dolomite Utilities Corp., an acquisition target. The discussion lasted two hours before they moved on to the annual reviews for Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid and County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh.

Earlier in the day, Commissioner Joe Barbetta questioned DeMarsh about mistakes that delayed a major settlement with Siesta Key business owner Chris Brown, and he questioned Reid about a
$3 million under-estimate of the Beach Road drainage improvement project.

“Huge mistakes are being made,” Barbetta said. “I mean, when I see a $3 million error, it’s pretty bad.”
Commissioners gave Reid satisfactory reviews overall, noting communication as the most prominent area in need of change.

Commissioners praised Reid’s work cleaning up the procurement department, after former County Administrator Jim Ley resigned amid the purchasing scandal in 2011, and for his appointment of new county administrators Tom Harmer, Mark Cunningham and Lee Ann Lowery.

“You’ve made some excellent hires,” Barbetta said.

Cultural problems leftover from Ley’s administration are partly to blame for service issues and project delays, Commissioner Nora Patterson said.

Through public emails this month, Commissioner Christine Robinson questioned Reid about whether staff properly followed County Commission direction during community meetings on the Sarasota 2050 plan and about delayed one-on-one meetings with her.

Under Ley, staff would regularly “pop in” to chat with commissioners after meetings to answer questions that were unanswered in the commission chambers, Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason and Robinson said.

“For whatever reason, staff doesn’t feel the ability to do that,” Patterson said. “They feel the need that everything has to be formalized now.”

Commissioners gave higher marks to DeMarsh, who makes an annual salary of about $207,000. The lowest score was 3.69 (on an academic grade scale) from Barbetta.

But, Barbetta leveled criticism at one of DeMarsh’s attorneys. Commissioners only have oversight of DeMarsh and Reid, who makes an annual salary of $190,000.

“There still is a culture in this organization that hasn’t changed, and it still permeates,” Barbetta said.

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