County administrator earns ‘Excellent’ evaluations and 3% pay increase

Commissioners praise Jonathan Lewis’ work during first year in the position

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. Image courtesy Sarasota County

All five of his bosses rated Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis’ performance “Excellent” as they evaluated his first year on the job.

As a result, the county commissioners this week also unanimously approved a 3% pay raise for Lewis, whom they formally hired on Jan. 16 to take the place of County Administrator Tom Harmer.

Lewis’ starting salary was $195,000.

“I think what speaks volumes is our customer service surveys,” Commissioner Michael Moran said during the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 24, when the members discussed their evaluations.

Moran pointed out that during the 2018 Citizen Opinion Survey the county commissioned, 97% of the respondents rated their quality of life “Good” or “Excellent.”

What made him even prouder on Lewis’ behalf, Moran continued, was the fact that 93% of the people surveyed said they had been treated them with respect in their interactions with county staff.

People generally do not contact the county or the board, Moran added, except when they are dealing with stressful issues.

Commissioner Charles Hines talked of what an “incredible benefit” it was to the board that Lewis had worked as an assistant administrator for several months last year before Harmer announced that he was leaving to become manager of the Town of Longboat Key.

“There was no down time,” Hines continued, as the commissioners asked Lewis to step into the role of interim administrator and then removed the “interim” part of the title early this year. “There was no learning curve for you to catch up,” Hines told Lewis.

“We made a very good choice in selecting him,” Commissioner Alan Maio said.

“For me,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo began, “the fundamental issue is trust. I don’t have any problems at all with that” in regard to Lewis.

In her years as a member of the Florida House and Senate, before her 2016 election to the County Commission, Chair Nancy Detert said, she dealt with many legislative aides. In some cases, aides became known as the “41stsenator or the 121stHouse member,” she continued, “because they would overstep.” She told Lewis, “You don’t do any of that.”

Referencing Caragiulo’s remarks, Detert added, “Trust is probably No. 1.” The board members trust that Lewis gives them “accurate information and all the information,” she said.

Commission Chair Nancy Detert confers with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis before the start of the afternoon board session on Aug. 29. Rachel Hackney photo

“You’re not only responsive to us,” she added to Lewis, “you’re responsive and very caring and polite to the general public in their concerns. … You take care of our upset constituents.”

“I’m not going to hold your youth against you,” Detert joked.

Hines did offer a bit of advice to Lewis. Over the past two months, especially, Hines said, “our community and this board [have been] very, very busy. We want things immediately.”

It is up to Lewis, Hines continued, to communicate with the commissioners about the demands put on county employees. “We don’t want staff leaving because they’re overstressed or becoming frustrated if they don’t know what to prioritize,” Hines added.

Lewis should make certain the board members state their priorities before problems can arise with staff, Hines said.

This is a comment from the evaluation completed by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Following the comments, County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh pointed out that Lewis’ contract calls for the commissioners to decide whether Lewis should have a salary adjustment at the conclusion of the annual evaluation.

Maio immediately said the board should approve one.

When Caragiulo asked for a reminder about the percentage of merit pay increase built into the budget for staff members this fiscal year, Detert said she believed it was 3%.

Then that was the amount of raise the commission should give Lewis, Caragiulo replied.

Moran made the motion for the 3% increase in Lewis’ salary, and Maio seconded it.

After the unanimous vote in favor of that, Detert told Lewis, “Congratulations, and thanks for staying.”

This is a comment in the evaluation completed by Commissioner Michael Moran. Image courtesy Sarasota County

She joked later that day, during a joint meeting with the commissioners of the Town of Longboat Key, about county government employees who had left for jobs with the town. The most recent was Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Carolyn Brown. (See the related story in this issue.)

When Hines asked after the pay raise vote whether Lewis had any comments, Lewis replied, “It’s been my honor to serve the commission over the past year.”

Lewis added, “I think the county staff has made significant progress on the board priorities that have been established. … Thank you for the first year and thank you for the feedback.”