Former Interim Director Rob Lewis to focus on governmental affairs responsibilities, county administrator decides
On Feb. 5, long-time Sarasota County employee Jane Grogg stepped to the podium during the County Commission meeting in downtown Sarasota and identified herself as the interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT).
It was her first appearance before the board in that capacity.
At the conclusion of the consultant’s presentation she introduced that morning, Commissioners Alan Maio and Chair Michael Moran noted her new position and congratulated her.
Numerous times over the previous year, Commissioner Nancy Detert praised the previous interim SCAT director, Rob Lewis, for his handling of that department. However, she also commented more than once that it seemed Lewis had too much to do. Along with overseeing SCAT’s operations, he served as director of the county’s Governmental Affairs Department. That meant he had to stay on top of both Congress and the Florida Legislature as the county’s advocate — and work with the lobbyists it had hired.
Following Grogg’s appearance at the Feb. 5 County Commission meeting, The Sarasota News Leader inquired about her new position. As it turns out, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis appointed her interim SCAT director on Dec. 9, 2019. Lewis made the announcement in a memo to the commission, the News Leader learned.
“Rob Lewis has been serving in the capacity of Interim Director of Sarasota County Area Transit since August 2017,” Lewis wrote. Not only had Rob Lewis led the day-to-day operations of that department, but he also had been working on the redesign of the county’s bus system “for efficiency and expanded service levels,” Jonathan Lewis pointed out.
(Former SCAT Director Rocky Burke resigned voluntarily on Oct. 4, 2017, county Media Relations Director Drew Winchester told the News Leaderwhen asked about Rob Lewis’ first appearance as interim director. Burke began working for the county in late December 2014 after a 15-year-long mass transit career in Kentucky.)
“To date,” Lewis continued in his December 2019 memo, “we have not found a replacement candidate that I feel fits our transit future in Sarasota County.”
In early March 2019, during a discussion about the potential privatization of the county’s bus system, Commissioner Detert jokingly told County Administrator Lewis, “What’s odd here today is that you have all these [SCAT employees] worried about losing their jobs, when the only one in this room that we actually want to fire is Mr. Lewis.”
Detert was the first to suggest that day that County Administrator Lewis go ahead and hire a new person to lead SCAT.
“That certainly falls within my prerogative,” Jonathan Lewis responded. However, he continued, “It does not seem to me to make sense … while [the future of SCAT] is up in the air.”
“I see the exact opposite,” Detert told him.
Commissioner Charles Hines said he also had brought up the issue with Jonathan Lewis. Hines added that he would like for Jonathan Lewis, at some point, to talk with the commissioners about the potential hiring of a new SCAT director, perhaps a person from a larger community with experience in transit innovation.
In the Dec. 9, 2019 memo, Jonathan Lewis continued, “The County has benefited from Rob’s steady hand and service [as interim SCAT director]. However, I need for him to be freed up to focus more directly on our Governmental Affairs Department. This will allow the department to key in on legislative and economic development activities moving into the coming year.”
Therefore, Lewis wrote, he was naming Grogg the new interim SCAT director. He noted that she had been serving as manager of the Neighborhood Services and Long-Range Planning Division of the Planning and Development Services Department.
One of her most visible roles over the past couple of years in that capacity was working with a community group that advocated for the County Commission to refrain from selling for development the county’s “Quads” property adjacent to the Celery Fields. The group, called the Fresh Start Initiative, finally won board approval in early November 2019 for a conservation easement to be placed over three of the Quads. Thus, the parcels will remain in a natural state consistent with the wetlands environment of the Celery Fields, which has become an internationally known bird-watching area.
Lewis added in his memo that another member of Planning and Development Services would take over Grogg’s role in that department while she works with SCAT.
“Jane has been with the County for 19 years in progressively responsible positions,” Lewis pointed out. “She has built strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders and understands our organizational culture and the Board’s strategic priorities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University.”
Ball State is located in Muncie, Ind.
Over the next several weeks, Lewis added, Grogg and Lewis would “work on a smooth transition, so there is no delay in the progress we are making in transit.”
He noted that she officially would become interim director of SCAT on Jan. 4.