Former Sarasota Commissioner Charles Hines is not a slam dunk as other candidates come into the picture.
EDIT: This article originally said Karen Stewart will serve as acting administrator through March 9. The motion passed by commissioners appointed her through March 23. The article has been changed to correct this error.
Manatee County Commissioners voted 6-1 to execute a separation agreement with Administrator Cheri Coryea on Tuesday, paving the way for a search for a new administrator.
Commissioner Reggie Bellamy earlier had made a motion to keep Coryea for at least a year to "prove she can move the county forward" but that motion was denied 4-3.
The commission also denied a motion 4-3 to appoint Charles Hines as acting administrator. Carol Whitmore, Bellamy and Misty Servia voted to approve the motion.
Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge raised concerns about his lack of administrative experience, while Commissioner George Kruse said the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision for such an important and well-paid position, even if it is a temporary basis. Commissioner Vanessa Baugh was concerned about the eight-month term proposed in Hines’ contract as well as his salary, which was the same as Coryea’s.
Instead, the commission voted 6-1 to appoint Deputy Administrator Karen Stewart to the role through March 23. Whitmore cast the dissenting vote, because she said Stewart is only accepting the role because it was asked of her, rather than because she wants it.
Appointing Stewart to the role for two weeks bought the board time to consider more candidates. The commission voted unanimously to direct Clague to draw up an agreement for the acting administrator role that will be presented to commissioners no later than the March 4 land use meeting. Commissioners can then debate which specific terms should be included in a contract, such as term length.
In the meantime, the commission will evaluate three candidates: Hines, Manatee County School Board member Scott Hopes and Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance President and CEO Dom DiMaio.
Hopes spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he’d be an ideal candidate, because he has a doctorate degree in business administration and added he’s the best candidate to bring common-sense business principles to the Manatee County bureaucracy, largely because of his experience as chairman and CEO of international health and medical information services and technology company company CliniLinc.
As for Coryea, she will receive her usual rate of pay and make herself available through March 2 to answer any questions Hines might have, per the agreement. She will also receive 20 weeks worth of severance pay, 400 hours of leave, 500 hours of sick leave, 197 hours of compensatory time and all deferred compensation she was due to receive in 2021. She will also be reimbursed $5,000 in legal fees relating to her separation.
Commissioner George Kruse said it was a fair agreement for a 30-year county employee and added it was important to note the departure as a separation, not a termination. Otherwise, the four commissioners who voted to separate with Coryea largely ceded the conversation to those who defended Coryea.
“She’s taking the fall for political reasons, in my mind,” Whitmore said.
Bellamy said it was ironic Manatee County was choosing to separate with Coryea for no clear transgression considering the backlash commissioners such as Baugh and Kruse had received over the past several weeks because of mistakes they made. He said the administrator role is about performance, and it was wrong to separate with Coryea before she even had the chance to be evaluated by the current board.
“She does not like the way the county is being portrayed, and she doesn’t want this to become a spectacle,” Bellamy said.