Only two commissioners — Hines and Moran — give him any marks below Above Average
After piling on the plaudits — just as they did a year ago — the Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously this week to give County Administrator Jonathan Lewis a 3% raise, based on his performance over the past 12 months.
During their regular meeting on Oct. 21, the board members cited not only Lewis’ leadership but also his efforts to build a team with members who, they noted, have proven equally capable in carrying out their responsibilities.
Based on a Sarasota News Leader review of the evaluation sheets commissioners completed, the lowest marks Lewis received from any of his bosses came from Commissioner Charles Hines and Chair Michael Moran. Yet, those were at the Satisfactory level, just a step below Excellent and Above Average.
Hines checked Satisfactory for two items under the Staffing category on the form. One of those said, “Recruits and retains competent personnel for County positions”; the other, “Aware of staff weaknesses and works to improve their performance.”
In 2019, Hines marked Below Average for the second of those statements.
This year, Moran checked Satisfactory, as well, in regard to Lewis’ awareness of staff weaknesses. Additionally, Moran marked Satisfactory for the statement, “Evaluates personnel periodically, and points out management weaknesses and strengths.” Conversely, Hines marked that Excellent.
Commissioner Alan Maio was the only board member who did not complete a form. The News Leader confirmed that through a public records request prior to the Oct. 21 meeting. Maio did not provide a written document in 2019, either.
Commendations aplenty in person
During the Oct. 21 discussion, Maio talked of his delight in working with Lewis and joked that he would not apologize for calling Lewis six times a day and meeting with Lewis four times a week.
Maio added to Lewis, “I don’t know how you get it all done,” noting, “You could not be doing as well without an absolutely excellent staff.” However, Maio continued, any organization, even with the best staff, “would soon fall on its face without a leader.”
Maio also told Lewis, “You are very good at this job. We made a very good selection two-and-a-half years ago.” He was referring to the commission’s decision in 2017 to name Lewis interim administrator after then-County Administrator Tom Harmer announced that he planned to accept an offer to be the town manager for the Town of Longboat Key.
Lewis officially won appointment as the county administrator on Jan. 16, 2018.
On Oct. 21, Hines talked of the need for each county commission in the state to find the administrator or manager who will be the best fit for that local government. Some administrators push policies, Hines continued, while others are “very passive,” letting their boards do whatever the commissioners choose, even if the action is not appropriate.
“You’ve found that balance,” Hines told Lewis. “You keep us moving forward in a positive direction.”
Using a football analogy as he referred to the assistant county administrators and department directors, Hines told Lewis, “Make sure that your assistants are holding the other folks accountable, and coach them up. If they’re failing, it’s time to find another player.”
Keeping on that track, Hines added, “Have good directors that treat people well, and you’re going to get the good players …”
Chair Moran commended Lewis for maintaining what Moran called “a firewall” between the policies the commissioners set and Lewis’ role in executing those policies. “I think you do an excellent job of keeping your personal opinion out of that,” Moran added to Lewis.
Commissioner Nancy Detert concurred with Moran on that latter point. She also noted — as Maio had earlier — that Lewis ensures each commissioner has the same information and materials on topics. Some administrators, she noted, seek only to keep a majority of their boards happy. Lewis treats each commissioner the same, she indicated.
The compliments she gave him in her evaluation, she said, were “well deserved.”
Detert wrote in the evaluation, “Jonathan is one of the best administrators I have ever worked with.” She gave him all Excellent or Above Average marks.
One of her friends, Detert added during the Oct. 21 discussion, always talks about the fact that, to be successful, a person has to care. “She told Lewis, “I think you care, and you have an intellectual curiosity about issues.” Lewis’ desire to delve into topics, she continued, enables him to “come up with new ideas.”
Further, Detert said, in working with other staff members, especially Lewis’ “leadership team,” it is clear that they readily offer the board members information, “which tells me they’re not afraid of you.”
“The longer I’m on this board and the more I engage with other municipalities,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler added to Lewis, “the more I appreciate the role and your style and your leadership at this county.”
Ziegler also pointed out, “It’s a very difficult thing to do, to find highly competent, responsive individuals that are also passionate about their jobs.” The fact that Lewis has such a team, Ziegler said, “prevents a lot of headaches for us up here on this board.”
On his evaluation, Ziegler gave Lewis straight Excellent marks, except for one statement: “Maintains effective communication with local, regional, state, and federal government agencies.” Ziegler noted that he had not observed such interactions, so he could not rank that item.
Following the remarks, Commissioner Hines made a motion to approve the 3% salary bump for Lewis, as no automatic increase is provided for in Lewis’ contract.
Commissioner Maio seconded the motion, which quickly won unanimous approval.
County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told the News Leader that, following Lewis’ 2019 evaluation, Lewis’ salary was $206,876. Thus, the 3% addition will put the total at $213,082.