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Voting only way to reverse county's squabbling

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes has become the target of some county employees who don’t like the direction the county is going.

  • East County
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Most 8-year-olds could correctly figure out the reason for squabbling among those in Manatee County government.

It would take a Rhodes scholar, though, or at least a few extremely concerned citizens, to fix it.

Last February, I wrote a column warning that Manatee County commissioners couldn’t afford botching the search for a new administrator, especially after dumping Cheri Coryea from the position in a way that suggested it was a done deal after commissioners James Satcher, Kevin Van Ostenbridge and George Kruse were elected in November.

Along with District 5’s Vanessa Baugh, who earned a third term as commissioner in November 2020, it formed a block of conservative Republicans who shared many of the same values. Do the math. A seven-person commission and you have a block of four votes.

Considering Baugh had been pounding her head against the wall the previous eight years in attempts to get things done, it made sense the new commissioners and Baugh would form an alliance to take the county in the direction they felt was best for the citizens. The other commissioners, Carol Whitmore, Reggie Bellamy and Misty Servia, were left to pick up the table scraps.

Of course, that was the direction the Block of Four felt was best, and the voters, who overwhelmingly elected them, felt was best too. Arguably, this was exactly the scenario most voters wanted, so damn the Queensbury rules.

All was well and good with the plan except for the timetable. The timetable could best be described as “in your face.”

Coryea was dispatched without a chance to work with the new commissioners, angering many county employees. Coryea was well-liked.

Then, after a bit of jostling to find a new administrator who would do the bidding of the controlling group of commissioners, Hopes became the clear choice of the Block of Four.

Obviously, those commissioners didn’t see it was a problem to drop the job search they had promised the voters. They had their man, and it was time to get moving. And, shucks, nobody could be better than our pick. Right?

Maybe so, but even if they had gone through the motions and still picked Hopes, it would have given both the voters and county employees the perception that they were, at the very least, trying to show they were open to options.

Instead, it was in your face, and now they are paying the price, if you consider hours and hours of valuable commission time spent squabbling, infighting and considering motions nobody expects have any chance of passing.

Now let’s ask an 8-year-old on the street to explain it.

Hey, Tommy, these county employees over here are saying bad things about those county employees over there, and they can’t seem to settle their differences and get things done. Why is that, Tommy?

“Because they don’t like each other,” Tommy answers.


So it shouldn’t be of any big surprise that those who liked Coryea, a longtime civil servant, are mad at those responsible for getting rid of her. Is it a surprise that Deputy County Administrator and CFO Jan Brewer resigned right before a commission meeting to extend Hopes’ contract? Is it a surprise Clerk of Court Angel Colonneso sent a scathing letter outlining the administrator’s faults a few days before that same meeting?

They’re mad at the bulldozer way the Block of Four and their appointed leaders are governing, but that’s what happens when you take the wagon train in a new direction.

So now it comes to the second part, about the Rhodes scholars, or the extremely concerned citizens, in an effort to fix it.

If there is an intelligent answer to all this, I would love to hear it. I have attended government meetings much of my life, and this is at a much greater level of being dysfunctional. I simply don’t see where the zoo is going to close up shop.

Now, when I talk about dysfunctional, I am talking about interacting and not making a public spectacle of the proceedings.

It appears hopeless to think this commission can concentrate on getting our roads built, our parks constructed, our open lands protected, without wasting huge amounts of time bickering.

The only way out of this is by voting, and that brings us to the extremely concerned citizens. We need compelling candidates.

Three commission races are being held this year, but I doubt if it is likely the contenders can match the incumbents. Carol Whitmore has raised $107,683 in campaign funds to Jason Bearden’s $70,682. Misty Servia has raised $124,562 to Mike Rahn’s $48,405. Reggie Bellamy has raised $66,670, more than five times that of any opponent.

It is up to you, the voter, to steer your government in the direction you desire.

But I doubt the direction will be any different for years to come.

If you need support in watching years worth of these meetings, just bring your 8-year-old.


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