Former county administrator appointed to financial advisory board

Jim Ley wins unanimous approval for unexpired term

Jim Ley. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Jim Ley. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It took the Sarasota County Commission about 90 seconds last week to appoint a former county administrator to an unexpired term — plus an additional three-year term — on one of its advisory boards.

That former administrator was Jim Ley, who resigned on May 25, 2011 after 14 years in the job. His departure came in the wake of a Procurement Department scandal that ultimately led to the rewriting of the county’s Procurement Manual and its Procurement Code.

The board on which Ley will serve is the Health Facilities Authority & Industrial Development Revenue Bond Citizens Advisory Committee. The county’s website says it was established to “Provide recommendations to the County Commission with regard to the financing of health facilities, health care facilities and other eligible projects with industrial development revenue bonds …”

The committee does not have regular meetings, the webpage notes. Sessions are held “At the call of the chair based on need to review financing applications,” the page says.

The last meeting, conducted on Feb. 1, concluded with a 3-0 vote supporting a recommendation to the County Commission to issue educational facilities revenue bonds not exceeding $8,554,000 with the money to be loaned to Sarasota Military Academy “to finance the acquisition of approximately 10.5 acres located at 3101 Bethel Lane” in Sarasota — along with existing buildings on the site — and to pay for the construction of a classroom building for the academy’s middle school.

The board members at that meeting also acknowledged the resignation of Phillip Hibnick, with his replacement to be addressed by the County Commission on Feb. 17.

During the Feb. 17 commission meeting, Mike Murphy, a fiscal consultant in the county’s Office of Financial Management — who serves as the liaison to the Health Facilities Committee — said the county had received two applications for Hibnick’s unexpired term. One was submitted on Jan. 11 by Michael Bernard; the other, from Ley, was dated Dec. 28, 2015.

Michael Bernard. Image from LinkedIn
Michael Bernard. Image from LinkedIn

Bernard is a four-year resident of the county with “an extensive background in the management of healthcare organizations,” Murphy explained.

Ley has been a county resident for 18 years, Murphy continued, and he “has an extensive background in municipal urban government …”

Commissioner Christine Robinson nominated Ley. No other names were put forth. When Chair Al Maio called for the vote, Ley won unanimous support.

In his application, Ley wrote that he is president of Integrity One Inc. in Tampa, a computer support and services firm. He added that he had learned of the advisory board vacancy through the county’s website. Ley also noted that he is a member of the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club and the Sarasota Woman’s Republican Club. In response to a question asking why he wanted to serve on that committee, he wrote, “I have relevant skills and experience.”

In his application, Bernard wrote that he is a healthcare consultant and a partner/chief financial officer in NashCare, which has offices in Nashville, TN, and Atlanta. That firm “specializes in interim CFO [chief financial officer] positions for hospitals and healthcare companies,” according to LinkedIn. He is a CPA, he adds in his application, and he has 25 years of experience as a CFO and CEO in nonprofit, county-owned and for-profit hospital systems.

Bernard noted that he learned of the advisory board vacancy through a newspaper advertisement, but he did not respond to the question about why he wished to serve on that particular committee.

Ley’s departure from county government

The Sarasota County Commission sits in session in January. Rachel Hackney photo
The Sarasota County Commission sits in session in January. Rachel Hackney photo

Because of Procurement Department problems prior to Ley’s departure from county employment in May 2011, the County Commission sought a review of that department’s practices by the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing Inc. (NIGP). A team conducted interviews with 80 county employees and 29 suppliers, while another 140 suppliers responded to surveys. As a result of the NIGP team’s work, the firm recommended 151 changes for improvement.

NIGP’s report, dated June 7, 2011, said its examination of the county’s Procurement Code “indicates that it falls short of providing all necessary safeguards and leaves many questions unanswered about what should be done to ensure fair and equitable treatment of vendors and how to maximize the value of public funds.”

Five days prior to the release of that report, reporter Stan Zimmerman wrote an analysis in the Pelican Press about Ley’s resignation. Zimmerman pointed to unethical actions by a former Palm Beach County employee who was hired by Sarasota County, plus misuse of county credit cards by two of the county’s Utilities Department workers. Together, those incidents had been seen in the community as a scandal. The three employees, along with the supervisors of the workers in the Utilities Department, had been fired, Zimmerman added.

“One apparently judiciously accused employee and two [credit card] violators became a culture of corruption, a perception so strong that it claimed the career and reputation of a county administrator,” he wrote.