Hired in April 2021 to restructure Manatee County administration and staff, Administrator Scott Hopes said Aug. 4 that the heavy lifting is just about finished in terms of staff turmoil.
The latest departures were Public Safety Director Jacob Saur, who resigned in late July, and Utilities Director Mike Gore, who retired Aug. 2.
Hopes said those departures represent the end of the reorganization process, with no new major changes on the horizon.
“We're on the final approach to bring the new Manatee County government in for landing,” he said.
Origins of the changes
Hopes said that before his arrival county departments had been restructured during the pandemic, but he didn't consider that restructuring, which was done due to lost revenues and laid off employees, to be effective now.
When he took over as administrator, Hopes said the county's chain of command was not efficient. He said only one deputy county administrator position existed (occupied by Karen Stewart) with a vacancy for another such position. All directors reported directly to Hopes.
“That goes against every business theory that’s been written,” he said. “I took a very deliberate and strategic approach to redesigning the organization, in order to give it the greatest opportunity to succeed."
For the past 16 months, Hopes spent time building an executive leadership team, meeting with deputy county administrators to discuss how to realign departments and streamlining the chain of command.
But he said it is unfair to characterize turnover as a mass exodus during his time. Turnover has been significant during his tenure, as it has been all over the country, he said, but since the start of the year, he has seen a net loss of 400 employees and a net gain of more than 650 employees.
Hopes said the restructuring will improve the speed of completion for the nearly 600 major infrastructure projects on the county's Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2023-2027.
Call for more communication
Not all county officials have been satisfied with how changes are proceeding.
At-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore said current actions were not being sufficiently communicated to commissioners and she contradicted claims by Hopes of a positive atmosphere among staff members. Whitmore said she detects “a sense of anxiety.”
Whitmore said time will tell whether the staffing changes benefit the county but that no matter what, more transparency is needed to understand what is taking place.
On May 24, four commissioners had voted to renew Hopes’ contract, amid concerns over allegations about Hopes’ performance from Clerk of Court Angel Colonneso, who raised concerns about his transparency and communication. Hopes said such claims were unfounded.
Commissioners George Kruse, Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher and Kevin Van Ostenbridge voted against placing Hopes on paid leave to investigate Colonneso's claims while Commissioners Whitmore, Reggie Bellamy and Misty Servia voted in favor of a paid leave.
“In all my years, there probably has been a little bit better communication than there is now,” said Whitmore, who has served since 2006.
She said commissioners cannot hire or fire staff members and only have the ability to provide confirmation of the administrator’s choice of directors.
She said administrators typically sit down and brief commissioners on such changes.
“Communication is everything, and that's all we ask as commissioners,” she said.
Hopes said it appears the need for Saur’s role has been lessened with the shifting of department responsibilities and the overall position might be eliminated in the future. Saur's responsibilities might be absorbed by a pair of deputy director positions that were created and had been filled since April.
Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer is now deputy director of public safety and oversees beach patrol, emergency operations, emergency management and animal welfare.
Former Emergency Medical Services Chief James Crutchfield is now also a deputy director of public safety. Litschauer said Crutchfield is responsible primarily for EMS and the 911 call center but also oversees health services — meaning the county’s paramedics — as well as homeless outreach.
Robert Reinshuttle, who is currently deputy county administrator over public safety, environment, natural resources and human resources, will take on a principal role as the acting director of public safety.
Hopes said this will ensure that “everything gets settled into a rhythm.”
Litschauer called the transition “almost seamless” and said his role is mainly different in that he now reports directly to Reinshuttle, rather than reporting to Saur. He said the two meet twice a week, or more often when pressing issues arise.
He said changes, such as the move of Code Enforcement to Public Safety that was detailed to commissioners in April, have been extremely helpful.
Code Enforcement had previously been located in what was known at the time as Building and Development Services, but Litschauer said it is, in fact, a branch of public safety. He said its responsibilities extend beyond issues with development.
Meanwhile, a division called Code Enhancement was also created in the recently designated Development Services Department, which deals with the building aspect of Code Enforcement.
Litschauer said this change has the ability to be instructive for divisions such as Code Enforcement as well. He said within the last month, the county hosted a joint training session which involved the Code Enforcement and Code Enhancement divisions of Manatee County, as well as Code Enforcement teams from the city of Bradenton, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key, and finally his emergency management team.
The session, he said, concerned a universal platform for use by the different teams for performing damage assessments of various incidents.
“If we had an event or an incident where we needed to assess damage, all those groups are talking together, learning together, working together to make it a better Manatee County,” he said.
Litschauer said he needs to gain an understanding of new divisions he is overseeing.
“It's getting adjusted, a little more knowledge of what my additional duties are and the areas I'm over, getting to know staff and what they actually do, and how we as a team, both in public safety and in Manatee County, can better serve the county,” he said of the role.
Hopes said with major engineering projects upcoming, a different form of leadership is required, such as a business executive or engineer in utilities.
“It’s taken a far more technical turn,” said Hopes, who noted a likely need to design and build a new dam at Lake Manatee, as well as lead the microfilter project in progress at the adjacent water treatment plant.
Gore's role is now being filled by Deputy Director Jeffrey Goodwin.
“Mike did a good job in helping prepare Jeff to be a strong number two,” Hopes said.
He noted Deputy Director of Utilities Kevin Morris has a master’s degree in engineering and also was able to contribute to the operations of the department.
Courtney DePol, who has an engineering background, was also appointed as a deputy county administrator on June 7, assuming responsibility for the utilities department as deputy director. These responsibilities were in addition to the role of development services director she had occupied since January 2020.
Logan said it remains to be decided whether the position formerly occupied by Goodwin will be filled.
Hopes said sometimes changes led directors to be reappointed to positions they had been in previously, and that was the case with the shift of Charlie Hunsicker to the role of natural resources director.
"Some of these directors were put into positions that were not in alignment with their education experience, and what's more important, wasn't in alignment with their passion,” Hopes said.
He said Hunsicker, an environmentalist, was given responsibility over parks following the 2008 financial crisis.
“He was looking very much forward to going back to his roots and his passion,” Hopes said.
Hopes said Deputy County Administrator Charlie Bishop retains a previous role as director of property management, but now also supervises parks and public works.
He said, however, the county will be searching for leadership to occupy the role overseeing parks which Hunsicker departed.
“One of the areas that was really lacking, in my opinion, was a focus on recreation activities, both for adults and youth,” Hopes said.
Whitmore questioned the decision to alter Hunsicker's role, saying new directors are typically trained by older ones and that she had received no explanation as to why a new director was not hired first.
She also said the change in role had been communicated to her but that she had received no communication about which individual to contact regarding parks in the case that citizen's inquiries needed to be relayed.
She said although Bishop now serves in the administrative role, administrators are typically too busy to respond to citizen inquiries.
Hopes said there are no concerns about gaps in services from this change, though the services the county provides will increase once the role is filled.
He said that in fact, governmental restructuring has been increasing the services provided, and one way it has done this is by increasing its focus on moving projects forward.
Managing the transition
Hopes said with these changes have come an increased need to make sure staff understand what is taking place. He meets with all department directors every Wednesday morning to talk through the latest changes with staff and holds quarterly meetings with all county leadership, which is 200-250 individuals including supervisors, managers, directors and deputies.
He said these staff members can then offer reassurance to staff members that rank below them and whose positions are secure.
Hopes said he has observed a positive change in attitude in the department. “The attitude, the atmosphere has significantly improved,” he said. “It’s a combination of communication, of employees now seeing the work that they do that matters happening.”
He said the county is preparing a climate survey for employees through the firm Zencity.
He also said he is noticing department directors becoming increasingly enthusiastic about goals being met. One of his first actions as administrator was to create a tool using Microsoft Analytics to track the progress of projects based on the spend of their budgeted amount. Some directors, Hopes said, were surprised to see how many graphs showed a lack of progress on projects. “Now they’re seeing these projects move at a higher rate of momentum, and they’re excited."
He also said the community can observe the results of his efforts.
“The community sees the road work being done, and streetlights and sidewalks being put in, and the Lakewood Ranch Library well out of the ground now.”