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 JUNE 16, 2011
Terry Lewis had planned to retire months ago. He and Lisa, his wife of 30 years, had grand plans — world cruises, scuba diving in the Caribbean and warm summers in North Carolina.
But his phone won’t stop ringing.
The former colonel with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and former North Port police chief has been in high demand in the past year.
The latest call came from Sarasota County government, which tapped Lewis June 8 to serve as its interim county administrator following the resignation of former County Administrator Jim Ley, who left amid a widespread procurement scandal.
Lewis, 59, agreed to serve for up to six months.
“I want to stop the bleeding and then fix it,” he said. “The community wants to know how we’ll prevent it from happening again.”
It’s not the first time he’s been asked to provide his services to local governments in need.
After 28 years in the sheriff’s office, Lewis applied for an investigative role at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as well as the open chief post at North Port Police Department.
Within a week, Lewis was offered both jobs.
Again, he was in high demand.
He took the FDLE job and two years later, applied again to North Port Police Department and got the job.
“I told (North Port) I would stay three to five years and I would work hard to get people prepared to take my place as chief,” he said.
Lewis’ eye was once again trained on retirement. Although he loved his career, Lewis has a much different dream job.
“To teach sunburned tourists from Ohio to scuba dive,” he said.
He also loves world travel.
Last year, he had set a date on which he’d finally step down for good — April 27, the day he departed on a long cruise to Europe. The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris — their favorite destination.
But, Lewis’ retirement was short-lived. In October, North Port city manager resigned abruptly, and city commissioners asked Lewis to fill in.
He agreed to take the job — but only until April 27. After that, retirement was finally set to begin. Again.
But, less than a month later, on June 7, the phone rang again. It was Sarasota City Manager Bob Bartolotta, asking Lewis to consider consulting on a possible collaboration between the police department and sheriff’s office.
It’s difficult for Lewis to say no. He feels a great sense of civic responsibility, and he was prepared to say yes to Bartolotta, when County Commissioner Joe Barbetta called to ask if he would be interested in becoming the interim county administrator.
Lewis is a humble man and attributes his success to surrounding himself with “people who are smarter and more talented than I, who make me look good.”
Barbetta saw the value in Lewis.
“He works hard and is totally familiar with the county,” said Barbetta. “He’s always upbeat, always anxious to work and get involved. If you check around to each municipality, they all know him.”
Lewis will be paid $553 per day. So if we works the entire six months, he would earn more than $66,000.
“I was honored to be in the conversation,” Lewis said. “But I’ve always said I don’t know the difference between a DRI and an MRI.”
However, he does know people. And what he will be doing at the county is evaluating people and making sure the county emerges from the procurement scandal that cost Ley his job.
“I’m not going to sit here and just keep the wheels on the bus,” Lewis said. “I’m going to change things that need to be changed.”
After his contract expires, Lewis said it would be time for retirement at last.
“I want to make it to my 31st anniversary,” he joked.
Asked if he’ll ever answer the phone again, Lewis laughed — then paused.
“I have to answer the phone,” he said. “Because the dive shop may be calling with an offer.”
UPDATE: Terry Lewis will stay on until Feb. 15 to assist new county administrator Randall Reid during the transition process. Reid starts Jan. 23.
Terry Lewis has had his retirement plan in the works for years.
He worked as long as he has — 38 years — in part to see his son through college and law school.
Dan Lewis, 25, is now a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office in Sarasota. That office is in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office headquarters — the same building Lewis used to take a 2-year-old Dan when Lewis was a sheriff’s deputy.
Lewis’ longtime Sarasota home now belongs to his son. Lewis and his wife bought a waterfront home in Venice off Roberts Bay.
“I wanted to spend time in my backyard, watching the bridge go up and spend time on my boat,” he said.
The couple planned to turn into snowbirds, spending the summers in their cabin in North Carolina.
They had even ordered paint from a Lowe’s Home Improvement there, but that was before the county came calling.
“I guess we better call Lowe’s and cancel the paint,” he said.
His wife made another plan he said he cannot break.
So into his county contract, Lewis had a provision written in that he had to take an unpaid leave in October.
The couple will fly to Venice, Italy, to climb aboard the same ship on which they spent their 30th wedding anniversary and sail back home.
Then, it’s back to work.