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East County Tuesday, Mar. 23, 2021 1 year ago

Manatee County commissioners delay selecting an interim administrator until April 1

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A vote to appoint Manatee County School Board member Scott Hopes failed Tuesday, though he is still the frontrunner for the position.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Manatee County Commissioners delayed their choice for an interim administrator until at least April 1.

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher and Kevin Van Ostenbridge voted to appoint Hopes at Tuesday's meeting. Commissioners George Kruse, Carol Whitmore, Misty Servia and Reggie Bellamy didn’t necessarily reject Hopes as a candidate, but they voted not to approve Hopes until they had properly considered the other candidates.

They are expected to name an interim administrator at the 9 a.m. April 1 county land use meeting. 

The county received 30 applications for the interim administrator job, but the only other candidate who gained any traction was Joseph Napoli, the city manager of Cooper City, a Fort Lauderdale suburb with a population of about 29,000. Napoli was Whitmore’s first choice and the second choice of Kruse and an undisclosed commissioner, based on the commissioners’ review of the 30 resumes. He was also a deputy city manager in Miami from 2018 to 2020 and the chief of staff at Miami International Airport from 2014 to 2018.

Kruse and Servia said Hopes is their first-choice candidate, but Servia said she wants to see the search process through to its conclusion. Kruse said it wouldn’t take long to complete the county’s search process by interviewing Napoli.

“Seven of us could’ve had Dr. Hopes number one, and that would have been a different story,” Kruse said. “But in my opinion, if only six of us did and one person had someone else number one, we promised a process. We promised efficiency, and I think we've met this efficiency. I don't see why we're stopping a process so close to the end just to stop a process. We said we're going to do our job.”

Van Ostenbridge disagreed with Kruse, saying the search process had reached its conclusion naturally based on five commissioners viewing Hopes as their top choice after reviewing the 30 resumes. He also said he was open to negotiating specific aspects of the contract, but to no avail.

“I think that we have looked at it,” Baugh said. “I think that we've gone through the process that this board voted and approved in our last meeting. So we can sit and we can continue discussing this, but I will tell you that five people on this board selected Dr. Hopes as their number one. So I don't know why we're still going through this.”

After the vote not to appoint Hines at Tuesday's meeting, commissioners voted 5-2 to schedule individual interviews with Napoli and renegotiate the proposed interim administrator contract that was attached to the denied resolution to appoint Hopes, with Servia and Bellamy casting the dissenting votes.

Hopes’ proposed contract became a point of contention when Whitmore and Bellamy objected to his would-be salary, which was listed at $210,000. Van Ostenbridge, who was the first commissioner to propose Hopes as a candidate, said he negotiated the salary with Hopes on a phone call.

Manatee County Attorney William Clague said commissioners have negotiated a handful of employee salaries in the past, though he added the county attorney has always been present for those negotiations. Clague also said Van Ostenbridge’s actions were legal.

Former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines asked for $192,000 when he was seeking the interim administrator position, the same salary as former Administrator Cheri Coryea. At the time, Baugh said the salary was too high.

Neal Communities Land Development Manager Michael Neal came to the meeting to speak in favor of Hopes. He praised Hopes’ leadership abilities and said the county should take the opportunity to approve a contract Neal viewed as favorable for the county, given another candidate might negotiate relocation expenses and Hopes lives in Manatee County. He also said commissioners should stop “grasping at straws and more excuses” to delay an appointment.

“Me personally, as a citizen, as someone who's very involved, you guys and ladies have the power, the ability and the mandate to lead, to end the turmoil,” Neal said.

Hopes was in attendance and said it was ironic Whitmore, Servia and Bellamy were concerned about the process after they voted to appoint Hines without a search.

“Somebody other than me, they’d just walk out the door,” Hopes said. “But I'm here because I do believe I can be a partner of yours and an employee of yours to serve your constituents by taking your policies and using a lot of experience to implement them efficiently and effectively.”

Servia said the situations aren’t comparable because at the time, they thought Stewart was unwilling to carry on as acting administrator beyond an emergency basis. The county has since convinced Stewart to stay in the role until the interim search has played out.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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