County administrator and county attorney both get high marks from County Commission during evaluations

Jonathan Lewis gets 10% raise, while ‘Rick’ Elbrecht awarded 5% more salary

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis makes a point during a 2020 budget workshop. File image

After offering an abundance of accolades for Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, on the occasion of his 2021 job evaluation, the county commissioners this week provided a more tangible sign of their approval of his work.

On a unanimous vote, the board members agreed to give Lewis a 10% raise.

The only indication of hesitation from any of the board members on that point came from Commissioner Christian Ziegler. “It does seem like a lot,” Ziegler said of Chair Alan Maio’s motion. “In general, I wouldn’t be in support of it.”

However, Ziegler continued, after he was elected to the commission in November 2018, he heard from several people that Lewis lowered the original salary proposal that was included in his contract to serve as county administrator. Lewis had told the commissioners seated at the time that he wanted to prove himself, Ziegler added. “I think we’ve seen the results of this,” Ziegler said, “so I will be supporting this [raise] as well. … We could be in a world of hurt if we had someone else in [his] role …”

Lewis’ contract does not include language regarding an automatic increase. When the board initially approved his contract as county administrator — on Jan. 16, 2018 — his initial salary was $195,000. His predecessor, Tom Harmer, was making $207,625.60 at the time Harmer left county employment to become the manager of the Town of Longboat Key.

Again this year, Chair Maio was the only board member who did not fill out the official form that was developed a number of years ago for the evaluations of the county administrator and the county attorney.

Nonetheless, Maio explained during the board’s Oct. 26 meeting that he spent hours with Lewis, providing a verbal evaluation. Maio said he did the same with County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht, whose job review also was on the commission agenda that day.

(Elbrecht, too, won praise from the board members. However, Maio made a motion to approve a lower raise for Elbrecht — 5%. The standard county employee merit raise built into the 2021 fiscal year budget, which went into effect on Oct. 1, was 3%.)

After Lewis received a 3% raise at the board’s direction in October 2020, his annual salary rose to $213,075. The latest increase will bump Lewis’ salary to $234,374, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader.

Ziegler and Commissioner Michael Moran were the only board members to give Lewis any marks other than “Excellent” and “Above Average.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler. File image

In Ziegler’s case, he checked the “Satisfactory” grade for the line item “Has capacity for and encourages innovation.”

Ziegler advocates routinely for more expansive use of technology for a wide variety of county undertakings. During the Oct. 26 meeting, he referred to that mark on the written evaluation. “Jonathan and I had a great conversation about that before this meeting,” Ziegler said. Lewis has begun revamping a number of county initiatives to put a greater focus on innovation, Ziegler indicated.

Moran gave Lewis a “Satisfactory” for the innovation line item, too. In addition, Moran marked “Satisfactory” for the following statements:

  • “Informs the Board of administrative developments.”
  • “Reports are produced through own initiative rather than only when requested by the Board.”

Nonetheless, Moran offered plenty of plaudits to Lewis in person on Oct. 26.

Lewis has to attract and retain talented, capable employees, Moran said — just as the County Commission does, Moran added. (The board hires only the county administrator and county attorney.)

Keeping high-quality workers in place “is a factor in Sarasota County being one of the nicest places in the country to live,” Moran pointed out.

This is the top of the first page of the evaluation for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis that was filled out by Commissioner Michael Moran. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the Oct. 26 discussion, Moran was the first board member to cite the high ratings the county received from residents surveyed for the 2021 Citizen Opinion Survey, whose results were presented during the Sept. 28 commission meeting.

“I wrote a remarkably favorable evaluation of the county administrator,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out when Maio asked for her comments. “It’s so unlike me; it was just over the top, practically.”

Nonetheless, she continued, “I’ve served with a lot of different staff, and I’ve seen a lot of different maneuvers.” Lewis is “one of the best administrators I’ve ever had to work with,” she added. “He anticipates problems. He gets in front of them, and he hides nothing. … That’s very, very important to me.”

His staff is open with the commissioners, too, Detert noted.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger pointed out that the following week would mark the end of his first year on the board, as he won election to the District 5 seat during the November 2020 General Election.

As a financial adviser, Cutsinger continued, he has learned to look at “corporate culture,” which is determined primarily by the actions at the top level of a company. Over the past year, he said, he toured just about every department in the county and observed “an incredible county culture that comes down from the top. That’s due in large part from our county administrator” and the quality of staff members Lewis has attracted to county government roles and whom Lewis oversees, Cutsinger added.

He did not give Lewis “100% high marks,” Cutsinger pointed out, joking that he had told Lewis that Lewis would not be human if he earned the top marks throughout the evaluation.

This is a section of the evaluation for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis that was filled out by Commissioner Ron Cutsinger. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We just have [a] stellar, stellar complement” of county staff members, including the deputy and assistant administrators, Chair Maio said.

After making the motion for the 10% raise for Lewis, Maio explained that Lewis had not asked for such an increase. His reasoning behind his motion, Maio continued, is that “we need to protect our staff and protect the great job that’s being done.”

Plaudits for the county attorney

In comments ahead of his evaluation this week, County Attorney Elbrecht told the commissioners, “We did have a lot of success this year with our office. …That is directly attributable to the quality of attorneys we have in our office,” along with the other staff members, such as the paralegals.

He had provided the board members a 13-page memo laying out details of cases he and his staff had handled.

Commissioner Cutsinger talked about the fact that the Office of the County Attorney provides the board members a document every couple of weeks that details the status of all lawsuits that the staff is handling.

“I think we have a tremendous team in our office,” Cutsinger added.

Among other commissioners’ comments, Detert pointed out, “Rick has a very quiet, ‘steady Eddie’ personality, and Jonathan, too.”

This is part of the memo that County Attorney ‘Rick’ Elbrecht provided the commissioners as part of his annual evaluation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During Lewis’ evaluation, she continued, “We did not mention stress … in both of your jobs, and stress management is very important.”

Detert also noted, I think that Rick has had … smart hires, good management. Everything … just moves along steadily.”

Commissioner Moran noted the wide variety of cases the Office of the County Attorney handles — from land-use issues to federal court litigation to county contracts involving nonprofit organizations.

The commissioners also praised Elbrecht for his responsiveness to their questions, especially how quickly he gets back to them with answers.

Prior to his Oct. 26 evaluation, Elbrecht was making $236,579 per year, Media Relations Officer Winchester told the News Leader. With the salary adjustment the board approved this week, the figure will be $248,414, Winchester added.