County administrator gets 10% raise after commissioners conduct annual evaluation

Board ‘cannot lose him,’ Maio stresses

Just as they did in 2021, the Sarasota County commissioners this year offered a plethora of plaudits in their evaluations of County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.

Additionally, mirroring their action last year, they unanimously awarded him a 10% raise. That will bring his salary to $257,816 a year, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester reported in response to a Sarasota News Leader query.

Following their evaluation of County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht the same day — again, with much praise — the commissioners unanimously approved a 5% merit raise for him. That brought his salary to $260,832, Winchester told the News Leader.

During their Oct. 26 regular meeting, the commissioners took turns in discussing Lewis’ attributes, even though four of them had filled out the official form for the evaluations. (As he has in the past, Chair Alan Maio did not submit a completed document to staff for inclusion in the agenda packet.)

Vice Chair Ron Cutsinger pointed out that he traditionally prefers to find some area he can cite for improvement when evaluating an employee, because “no one is perfect.”

In this case, Cutsinger continued, he found that to be impossible. For every category on the written form, he added, “It’s best in class” in regard to Lewis’ job performance.

“I think the Citizen Opinion Survey says it all,” Cutsinger pointed out, referring to the annual survey of county residents about a multitude of issues, including service the county provides to the public.

As a member of the survey team — Robert Allen Jr. of HCP Associates in Tampa — told the commissioners in early October, the results of the 2022 survey showed something he did not believe he ever had seen before in his years of handling such initiatives: Of the 132 Sarasota County respondents who said they had contacted county staff over the past year, 100% of them reported having been treated with respect.

“I don’t know how you could have a better response,” Cutsinger pointed out during the Oct. 26 discussion of Lewis’ evaluation.

During her turn to comment, Commissioner Nancy Detert told Lewis, “It’s easy to give you good marks, because you do your job and you do your job very well. … You do your job better than most people would ever know.”

She added, “Lots of people are competent and well meaning and good with staff and treat people respectfully. You do all of that and more.”

Further, Detert continued, “I like the people you hire … and you’re not afraid of smart people. … I just don’t see a chink in your armor.”

Building on her remarks, Commissioner Michael Moran told Lewis, “You hire sharp people [and] you make sure you keep ’em motivated.”

Then Commissioner Christian Ziegler noted that, in evaluating a county administrator, a board member needs to consider how that administrator delegates and “[empowers] people below them.”
County employees “love their jobs,” Ziegler continued.

“A lot of times you get leaders … that, frankly, are intimidated or terrified” of hiring highly competent assistants, “because [those leaders] look at [the assistants] as a threat, and you just don’t see that here.”

Ziegler then pointed out, “Jonathan has some really solid leaders that work under him,” and he makes certain that “there’s not a barrier between the [commission] and the staff.”

His only criticism, Ziegler said — a point he has made multiple times in past board discussions — is that he believes county staff could do a better job of sharing county accomplishments with the public. “I think we have a really good opportunity,” Ziegler said, to let the public learn what Sarasota County does.

“Overall, for me,” he added, Lewis’ evaluation grade was A++.

Chair Alan Maio noted, “I spend a good part of every day with Jonathan, especially in my role as chairman.” Maio added that in the nearly eight years he had been on the board, “I have yet to hear a complaint from staff about Jonathan.”

Moreover, Maio continued, “I think Jonathan has built an absolutely solid bench of [department] directors” and assistant administrators.

Lewis has a deputy administrator, Steve Botelho, who also is the county’s chief financial management officer, and two assistant administrators — Mark Cunningham and Brad Johnson.

Following their remarks, Maio proposed the 10% raise. “We cannot lose him,” he stressed of Lewis. “There is too much going on.”

None of Maio’s colleagues offered a comment on the proposed raise.

The marks on the evaluation forms

A News Leader review of the board members’ written evaluations of Lewis found almost across-the-board marks of “Excellent.”

Commissioner Ziegler did give him an “Above Average” for the statement on the form that said, “Has capacity for and encourages innovation,” while Commissioner Moran put down the same grade for several statements. Those were “Responds to requests for information or assistance by the Board,” “Informs the Board of administrative developments,” “Supports the actions of the Board after a decision has been reached,” “Reports are produced through own initiative rather than only when requested by the Board,” and “Encourages directors to make decisions within their jurisdictions without County Administrator approval, yet maintains control of administrative operations.”

Moran did mark the following as “Satisfactory”: “Recruits and retains competent personnel for County positions,” “Aware of staff weaknesses and works to improve their performance,” and “Evaluates personnel periodically, and points out management weaknesses and strengths.”

Cutsinger also marked “Above Average” for the statement “Reports are produced through own initiative rather than only when requested by the Board,” as well as “Reviews enforcement procedures periodically to improve effectiveness.”

Additionally, Cutsinger marked “Above Average” in regard to these statements: “Cooperates with neighboring communities,” “Cooperates with County, State and Federal governments,” and “Cooperates with other organizations within the County, such as the 4 municipalities, School District, Water Districts, local Chambers.”