Board approves 3% raise for Lewis
After winning an abundance of accolades from his five bosses, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis also won a 3% raise on Oct. 8.
As part of Lewis’ contract when the County Commission formally hired him in January 2018, Lewis must undergo an annual evaluation. However, as Chair Charles Hines pointed out, the contract does not include an automatic raise if Lewis receives sufficient high marks.
As a result, Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to award Lewis a 3% bump in salary, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.
Lewis’ starting salary was $195,000. He also received a 3% raise last year, based on the evaluations. Therefore, The Sarasota News Leader calculated that his total salary with the new raise is $206,875.50.
After Maio’s Oct. 8 motion passed unanimously, Hines laughed and said he finally would give Lewis an opportunity to respond to the board members remarks, which supplemented the evaluation forms all of them except Maio, apparently, had filled out in advance of the meeting. (A Sarasota News Leaderpublic records request for a form from Maio produced the response that no such document could be found.)
“I thank the board for the confidence,” Lewis said. Yet, he was quick to add that a county administrator gets nothing done by himself, adding his praise for the 2,300 employees he supervises.
In the written evaluations included in the board packet for the Oct. 8 meeting, held in Venice, only Hines offered an overall rating that was less than “Excellent.”
“My evaluation ranged from ‘Excellent’ to some things that were mediocre,” Hines explained during the meeting. (Hines’ overall rating of Lewis was “Above Average.”)
A News Leader review of the form showed Hines gave Lewis a mark of “Below Average” for the line item, “Aware of staff weaknesses and works to improve their performance.”
Additionally, Hines marked “Satisfactory” for five items, including two listed in the “Supervision” section. The latter were “Instills confidence and initiative in subordinates and emphasizes support rather than restrictive controls for their programs”; and “Evaluates personnel periodically, and points out management weaknesses and strengths.”
“You have my full, absolute support in what you’re doing and the way you’re leading,” Hines told Lewis during the Oct. 8 meeting.
“You’re now in a situation, though, [where] this is now your administration, and whatever happened in the past is in the past. … I look to you to set the culture of your staff. … We’re looking for ideas from your staff, honesty, information — pro or con — from your staff,” and then the board sets policy, Hines added.
This summer, Hines was among the most vocal of the commissioners as they decried the reluctance of past senior staff members to alert them to significant problems with the county’s wastewater treatment systems.
On Oct. 8, Hines pointed out that Justin Bloom, leader of the Suncoast Waterkeeper nonprofit, “was very complimentary of how quickly this board reacted” after it learned of illegal discharges from county water reclamation facilities that had been taking place for years. In late September, the County Commission agreed to a settlement with the Suncoast Waterkeeper and two other nonprofits that had brought suit against the county in federal court over those discharges.
“We shouldn’t have had to go through that lawsuit,” Hines stressed. “We should have had that information [two or three years ago].”
Staff members need to feel they can come to the board with concerns and offer ideas about how best to respond, Hines pointed out. Moreover, if staff members are not satisfied with a board decision, Hines told Lewis, and they “slow-walk” in carrying out the board’s direction, “It will fall on you.”
The other board members make their feelings known
Commissioner Christian Ziegler also commented on his frustration with ongoing sewage spills, about which the board members receive formal notifications. He said he wanted more details about county plans to prevent future problems.
Still, Ziegler offered his appreciation for all Lewis has done to educate Ziegler about issues, as Ziegler is the newest member of the commission, having been elected in November 2018.
Further, Ziegler said of Lewis, “He’s obviously very passionate about his role” in local government.
Commissioner Michael Moran told Lewis, “I think you do a great job. … I’m not delusional about my personality. I know it can be intense at times. … Our former administrator was a hostage negotiator, and he’s no longer here,” Moran joked, referring to Tom Harmer, who left county employment to take the position of town administrator for Longboat Key.
Moran commended Lewis for not trying to “be a sixth commissioner” and letting the commissioners make decisions “in the taxpayers’ interest.”
Commissioner Nancy Detert added, “I think he’s done remarkably well in the short amount of time that he’s been here.”
“I’ve served on a lot of boards and dealt with a lot of different staffs,” she continued. Some administrators, Detert said, work on the assumption that they just need to get along with the majority of the commissioners, “ ’cause it only takes three votes.” Addressing Lewis, she added, “That’s not your philosophy, thank God.”
She also pointed out, “What I like about your style is [that you are] not afraid to be creative, not afraid to make a mistake … and the best thing that you do is that you don’t hide bad news from us. … We can live with a few hiccups as long as we can see that you’re on the right road.”
Maio talked about having multiple daily conversations with Lewis, and Lewis returns every call, Maio added. “He massages my thinking when perhaps I am too intense. … I’m 100% behind County Administrator Lewis. … I think he has had much more thrown at him in the short time that he’s been here with us, and he has just never shied away from the very difficult problems …”