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Assistant Sarasota County Administrators Tom Harmer, Lee Ann Lowery, and Mark Cunningham, and County Administrator Randall Reid confer with commissioners during a Dec. 7 retreat.
Siesta Key Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 5 years ago

LOOKING AHEAD: County Staff Shuffle

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Sarasota County residents wanted change after a government purchasing scandal forced the resignation of former County Administrator Jim Ley in 2011.

They got it.

Enter Eagle Scout, lecturer and present Sarasota County administrator Randall Reid, who will soon celebrate his one-year anniversary at the position he took after leaving the top spot with Alachua County.

Florida State University and Integrity Florida gave Sarasota County high marks on ethics in a November report. Under Reid’s leadership, flyers with mottos about ethical responsibility line the walls and bathrooms of the administration building at 1660 Ringling Blvd.

But, communication problems within the county administration tied to estimates of the price of the Siesta Key beach improvement project, and the three-month delay of its design, have prompted Sarasota County commissioners to criticize Reid and his staff’s conduct.

In November, Reid penned an article on the project’s benefits to the county without input from the board. Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said the tactic was in poor style.

“I think the consultants are due an apology,” Barbetta said during the board retreat Dec. 7. “I don’t like that style.”

Organizational overhaul
Reid has flipped the county government’s horizontal management structure, which, under Ley, operated on its side. He has added three assistant county administrators: Tom Harmer, Lee Ann Lowery and Mark Cunningham.

“I’m not a morphing manager, by the way, when I set up management structures,” Reid said during a Dec. 7 County Commission retreat.

Ten executive directors and officers worked directly under Ley and former Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock. Reid said this created communication barriers in an organization that requires frequent cooperation.

For example, the beach project requires natural resources staff, emergency operations personnel and parks and recreation employees, among other connections, to confer on the design and permitting.

In a draft of the new organizational structure, Reid has funneled operations into a community services group, a community-planning group and a management systems group, each with an assistant county administrator at its head.

Sarasota County Area Transit would fall under the community-planning group, while transportation engineering and maintenance would report to Harmer in management systems.

Lowery would oversee parks and recreation, health-and-human services and natural resources in the community services group.

Frequent County Commission public speaker Michael Figgins criticized Ley throughout his tenure with Sarasota County for being close with local developers; Ley resigned after members of his staff were accused of taking kickbacks and gifts from companies in exchange for contracts for government work.

Barbetta, in a Dec. 12 email, criticized Reid for seeking industry expertise from outside the county for a presentation planned on construction contracting techniques.

“Your ethics policy here would make highly questionable employing or allowing any existing vendor with a (county) contract to be considered for training employees here in a process they would be involved in directly or in any implied quid pro quo,” Reid responded.

Communication breakdown
Reid also wants to improve communication between citizens and the county.

The county’s email policy will change going into 2013.

Reid distributed a multi-colored flow chart during the Dec. 7 board retreat that depicted a citizen’s email winding path through county government as an example of inefficiency in the current communication structure.

The email’s path snaked through at least six county employees and spawned two information packets, one of which contained inaccurate information.

Reid’s new system encourages commissioners to use the email subject line and send constituent concerns to department heads even if they know the staff member who would best answer the question.

The retreat also sparked concerns from commissioners about staff presentations during board meetings.

“It’s pretty obvious that some of the folks who present to us are very nervous,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.

“They’ve got to relax,” Barbetta said.

More to watch
In addition to the goal of improving communication, Reid provided commissioners with a list of 93 critical issues, of which maintenance of sports fields surfaced as a primary concern.

Barbetta, along with the local destination marketing organization Visit Sarasota County, has leaned toward sports tourism as a growing economic opportunity.

The former convention and visitors bureau recently launched a sports commission to oversee that initiative.

Contact Alex Mahadevan at [email protected].


Charles Hines, a Venice attorney, won the election to replace longtime Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton as District 5 representative.

Although Thaxton was known for his dry witticisms, Hines may be more of a practical joker.

Deputy County Administrator Bill Little unknowingly thwarted the freshman commissioner’s shenanigans during the Dec. 7 board retreat, when he removed a sign from the Twin Lakes Park bathroom that instructed individuals to call County Commissioner Joe Barbetta if they encountered a plumbing issue.

Fellow commissioners had earlier joked, after Hines was tardy returning from a lunch break, that he had been assigned to a made-up advisory board with weekly meetings at the county landfill.

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