Commission vote on County Administrator Tom Harmer’s request approved 4-1
In October 2013, the Sarasota County commissioners asked Tom Harmer to step up from his job as deputy county administrator to the position of interim administrator, after they fired Randall Reid. In February 2014, Harmer accepted the board’s offer to remove “interim” from his title. Until this week, though, he had worked without a replacement in his original position.
At Harmer’s request on Nov. 9, the County Commission voted 4-1 to give Assistant County Administrator Steve Botelho Harmer’s first title. As Harmer noted, it was not a matter of adding a new employee to the staff.
While other commissioners applauded the request — and all praised Botelho — Commissioner Carolyn Mason told her colleagues she could not support the naming of the new deputy administrator.
She pointed out that she has “the utmost respect and admiration” for Botelho, and acknowledged that, under the aegis of the Sarasota County Charter, the decision about whom to appoint to that position was Harmer’s to make. Yet, reading from prepared notes —she prefers that, she said, “when I feel strongly about something” — Mason added that she opposed the process.
Then Mason referenced comments she had made just moments earlier, as the board members conducted Harmer’s annual evaluation and approved a 3% raise for him. Her greatest concern, she explained, is diversity in the workplace. “You do a great job of getting them to the door,” she told Harmer, referring to minority applicants. “But you’ve got to figure out a way of getting them through the door.”
In her formal notes on Harmer’s evaluation, Mason wrote that “we fall way short of the mark of actually hiring … minorities. We need to do better. We can do better.”
During the discussion about Botelho’s appointment, she told her colleagues that as she prepared to leave the board this month as a result of term limits, “I feel it pertinent to share my disappointment in this matter, and it has nothing to do with Steve.”
She continued, “As we all look forward and move into the future, we’ve got to keep ever in front of us the fact that the decisions we make today will have a lasting impact on all that we do and the people with whom we do it. Leadership from the top down, in my experience, is the most effective.”
Diversity in the county workplace
As part of the commission’s March 30 budget workshop, the county’s Human Resources Department provided a report on workforce diversity. The study staff had undertaken showed that 5.2% of the county’s employees as of Dec. 31, 2015 were African American, up from 4.7% a year earlier. However, only 3.6% of the county’s firefighters were African American at the end of 2015, while the national figure was 7.2% from 2008 to 2012.
Firefighters of Hispanic origin in Sarasota County comprised 5.1% of the overall number of employees, compared to a 9.4% national level, the report showed.
As of Dec. 31, 2015, then-county Human Resources Director Joanie Whitley told the board during that workshop, about 4.1% of the available county labor market was African American. People of Hispanic origin represented 8.5% of the total labor force for Sarasota County jobs, but Hispanics comprised only 5.4% of county employees.
In making the Nov. 9 motion to confirm Botelho’s appointment, Commissioner Christine Robinson pointed out, “Steve’s worked his way up through county government, which is pretty cool.”
According to his biography on the county website, Botelho joined Sarasota County Government in 2005 as a financial analyst and later was named budget director. In 2012, he was appointed the county’s chief financial management officer, a position he continued to hold after Harmer named him an assistant county administrator in March 2014.
Addressing Botelho, who was in the audience, Robinson said, “You’ve exhibited patience; you’ve exhibited grace under fire. I think you’ve earned this.”
Noting that she also would be leaving the board because of term limits, Robinson added, “I’m so glad that you’re here with the county.”
Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo told Botelho, “I really like … how you work, your style,” adding that Botelho is quick to respond with information the board members request.
Commissioner Charles Hines talked of the need for institutional knowledge among county employees, especially with Mason and Robinson stepping down from the board. “You help with that,” Hines said to Botelho. Moreover, Hines continued, Botelho’s personality “is a caring one.”
Chair Al Maio added that, as an accountant, he has enjoyed long conversations with Botelho regarding financial matters. He joked that people passing his office when the two of them have been deep in discussion about numbers probably have found that strange.
“I couldn’t think of a better choice in our organization,” Maio said of Harmer’s request for the appointment.
Maio also acknowledged that county government employment does not pay as well as the private sector. Nonetheless, he told students of the Students Taking Active Roles (STAR) program of the Community Youth Development organization in the county, who were attending the session, “Work hard, and you, too, can rise to anything in this organization.”
In a Nov. 8 memo to the commissioners, Harmer wrote that he had held off on appointing someone as deputy administrator partly as a reflection of the settling-in period during his transition from that position to county administrator and partly because other organizational changes needed to be made.
Earlier this year — after the hiring of Assistant Administrator Jonathan Evans in August — Harmer redistributed the areas of oversight for each of his assistants. Then, last month, Harmer noted in his memo, he tasked Botelho with the additional responsibilities of supervising the General Services and Communications departments; already, Botelho was in charge of the Human Resources, Enterprise Information Technology and Commission Services departments, along with the Office of Financial Management. Harmer wrote, “Steve now oversees all of the internal support departments for the County Administrator.”
Evans, who is African American, is responsible for community development and infrastructure departments: Planning and Development Services, Public Utilities, Public Works, Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) and Economic Development. Assistant Administrator Mark Cunningham — who also is African American — supervises the Emergency Services; Health and Human Services; Libraries and Historical Resources; and Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources departments, as well as the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension for Sarasota County.