County Commissioner Detert voices irritation about not having opportunity to meet Johnson beforehand
The Sarasota County commissioners this week confirmed the hiring of Brad Johnson, deputy city manager of Lakeland, as a new assistant county administrator.
First, however, Chair Nancy Detert expressed dismay that the board members had not had an opportunity to meet Johnson before being asked to approve his addition to the staff.
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis brought up the matter during his report to the commission during its regular meeting on June 12, held in Venice. Lewis referenced Section 2.6F(6)(a) of the Sarasota County Charter, which requires that the commission confirm such an appointment.
“I have completed the recruitment process,” he told the board members. (Commissioner Michael Moran was absent because of a death in the family, Detert announced.)
Noting that Johnson previously was employed with the Cities of Palm Bay and Holly Hill, Lewis added, “I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Johnson during his time in Brevard County …”
Lewis added that he had provided Johnson’s resume to the commissioners in advance of the June 12 meeting.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo made a motion to confirm the hiring, and Commissioner Charles Hines seconded it. The vote was 4-0.
“Did I miss my opportunity to meet this gentleman because I was sick?” Detert asked. (She missed two meetings in May because of illness.)
“Nope,” Lewis replied.
“Don’t we usually get to meet them in advance?” she then asked, referring to people proposed for hiring as administrative staff members.
“Nope,” Lewis said again.
“OK,” Detert told him. “So congratulations to whoever this is.”
Lewis said he hoped Johnson would begin work in Sarasota County on July 9, “and he’ll certainly be sitting with each of you to learn a little bit more about you.”
“For that level of administrator,” Detert responded, “I’m used to [Florida] Senate confirmations. Someone is nominated for a high position. … They usually meet us. … I would suggest that format, if we have to hire at the higher levels.”
Detert served two terms in the Florida Senate before winning her seat on the County Commission in the November 2016 election.
“I’m glad you’ve hired someone,” Hines told Lewis. “I’m glad that you’ve worked with him before, so that we’re not bringing someone in here that you don’t have experience with. This position needed to be filled,” Hines continued. “We are very, very busy. We have departments that need help.”
The assistant administrator’s position had been vacant since the commissioners asked Lewis to serve as interim county administrator following the Dec. 8, 2017 departure of former Administrator Tom Harmer to the Town of Longboat Key, where Harmer serves as manager.
“From the emails that we get and complaints, [it is clear] you can’t do it all by yourself,” Hines told Lewis. “We’re a demanding commission, and our community’s demanding. So we just want to make sure that we get good folks with good experience who can deal with things.”
A number of particularly important projects will be taking place over the next six months to two years, Hines pointed out.
It appeared from Johnson’s resume, Hines added, that Johnson would be able to handle initiatives for which he will be responsible.
Hines specifically mentioned a portion of Johnson’s resume, under “Achievements,” which listed those that occurred while Johnson was deputy or assistant city manager of Lakeland. That section said Johnson negotiated a “5-year home court contract with the Lakeland Magic, the Orlando Magic’s Development League team, to play 24 game seasons.”
The deal with the Magic, the resume noted, “has led to numerous sponsorships, naming right relationships for the RP Funding Center, and millions in economic impact to the City.”
Furthermore, Hines pointed to Johnson’s experience with the Detroit Tigers, as that Major League Baseball team conducts Spring Training in Lakeland.
The Baltimore Orioles hold Spring Training at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, and the Atlanta Braves are building a new Spring Training complex in the West Villages outside North Port. Sarasota County has financial commitments to both the Braves and the Orioles.
Referring to Johnson’s work with the professional sports teams, Hines added, “That’s pivotal, with the things that we’re doing here.”