Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Longboat Key votes 6-1 to hire Harmer as manager

The county commission will decide a formal hiring process when they return from recess, but it could be as simple as voting.

  • By
  • | 12:50 p.m. July 17, 2017
County Administrator Tom Harmer plans to officially resign in December.
County Administrator Tom Harmer plans to officially resign in December.
  • Longboat Key
  • News
  • Share

Longboat Key has its man.

The Town Commission on Monday, July 17 voted 6-1 to ratify a five-year contract allowing Tom Harmer, the Sarasota County Administrator, to take over as Town Manager later this year. Vice Mayor Ed Zunz was the sole dissenting vote.

"I don't think we can find a better person who has more of the right background for this community than Mr. Harmer," said Commissioner Jim Brown. "I don't think we will be disappointed."

Earlier this year, Town Manager Dave Bullock announced his plan to retire in January 2018. The Town Commission, in opening the search for Bullock’s replacement in early June, stressed the importance of hiring a candidate who understood the intricacies and nuances of overseeing business on Longboat.

Later that month, commissioners directed Bullock to pursue Harmer as a candidate for the job. Harmer, 59, called the town’s interest “unsolicited and unexpected.”

On July 12, Harmer told the County Commission he had accepted Longboat Key’s offer, pending Town Commission approval.

On Monday, the commission merely had to approve the already-negotiated contract, which town officials said was based on Bullock's agreement with the town. Harmer, who said he would stay on as the top county executive until December, was on hand for the vote.

Zunz referred to Harmer as "extremely well-qualified for this position," but the vice mayor took issue with the hiring process undertaken by the town.

"I have a serious problem with the manner in which we arrived here so quickly and found ourselves with only one candidate to discuss," Zunz said.

Commissioner George Spoll said Zunz was “reflecting a reaction” among some Key residents who desired a more elaborate search bearing multiple candidates for the town manager position. When the commission first discussed the hiring process, Spoll had suggested the town seek out candidates nationwide.

“By selecting a group of people and comparing them and having that discussion, it validates the wisdom of your final choice,” Spoll said.

“I’m not questioning, personally, the qualifications of Mr. Harmer,” Spoll added. “I don’t think anybody would do so.”

Mayor Terry Gans argued that the commission, in June, had agreed in directing Bullock to begin a 30-day targeted search for a new town manager, then subsequently directed Bullock to pursue Harmer.

If the town had not identified a viable candidate within that 30-day period, the Town Commission would have broadened the search, Gans said.

“We have someone… that we all like and we all agree is a proper man for the job,” Gans said. “And we’re muddying it with questions of, ‘Did the angels dance on a pin in a certain way?’”

Harmer has more than 30 years' experience in local government, including eight spent as city manager of Titusville, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s east coast. He has been county administrator for Sarasota since 2014.

After the positive vote, Harmer told commissioners he's enjoyed his time as county administrator, but the chance to serve the Key as town manager is "difficult to turn down." He added that he understands how important the commission's decision is for the Longboat community. 

“This is a unique opportunity. It doesn’t come up very often” Harmer said. “I am here today very thankful that you initally thought of me.”

Where does the county go from here?

For Sarasota County, the process of hiring a new administrator could be as simple as a vote by commissioners.

According to the county charter, to hire a new administrator, four commissioners need to vote to approve someone, or three commissioners need to vote to approve someone at two separate meetings.

The county commission will reconvene from recess in August. At that time commissioners could decide what type of hiring process they want to take moving forward before a vote, according to a county spokesperson.

The only qualifications outlined in the charter are that a candidate have a master’s degree and two years’ experience as a city manager or county administrator, or a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of “progressively responsible professional or managerial experience.”

The county administrator position must be filled within 90 days of Harmer’s vacancy, the charter states. Harmer plans to officially resign in December.

Staff writer Cassidy Alexander contributed to this story. 


Latest News