Jonathan Lewis a step closer to becoming Sarasota County administrator following Tom Harmer’s departure

County Commission votes to boost his pay when he assumes interim post on Dec. 8

Assistant County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

For a moment on Nov. 14, it appeared members of the Sarasota County Commission might be prepared to take another step toward making Assistant County Administrator Jonathan Lewis more than interim administrator, following County Administrator Tom Harmer’s departure on Dec. 8.

Commissioners Michael Moran and Alan Maio praised Lewis, whom the board unanimously approved on Aug. 21 to step into the interim post after Harmer leaves to become manager of the Town of Longboat Key. The full board also voted to increase Lewis’ salary as of Dec. 8, boosting his pay from $163,010 to $185,000.

Moran then suggested that perhaps contract negotiations with Lewis could ensue shortly, saying, “I don’t want any surprises in December.” If things did not go as expected during that process, Moran indicated, it would be problematic at that point for the board to change direction on Harmer’s successor.

Yet, no one offered another motion.

Harmer kicked off the conversation, reminding the board members that they had asked him to provide them an opportunity before Dec. 8 to reflect on how Lewis had been handling additional the county responsibilities they asked Harmer to give him. Their request followed their Aug. 21 vote to select Lewis for the interim post.

Harmer pointed out that Lewis has been leading the board’s budget review process, as well as the disaster recovery/storm debris collection initiative. Lewis also has taken Harmer’s seat on the dais during regular meetings from time to time.

“I don’t have any questions,” Maio said after Harmer concluded his remarks. “I do want to recap a bit,” he continued, referring to what has taken place since the August vote.

“I knew Jonathan before he got here,” Maio said. “I’ve known him for six years.” Since late August, Maio added, “I have probably sent that poor man 150 emails … [and] met with him at least once a day and worked on issues that were of concern to me. And, quite frankly, I have yet to be disappointed.”

“Apparently, I haven’t been ‘pesty’ enough,” Commissioner Nancy Detert told her colleagues. “That would be the first time I’ve ever been accused of that,” she added, eliciting some chuckles. “[Lewis] flew under the radar so well that I missed him.”

Detert added that she would like to “spend a little bit more time with him” before Dec. 8, so she can learn more about his management style and how he communicates with others. “That’s all.”

Commissioner Michael Moran. File photo

“Jonathan is doing a fantastic job,” Moran said and then raised the issue of contract negotiations.

Harmer responded that appointing someone to an interim county administrator position does not entail contract negotiations. However, “If you want to consider the move permanent,” Harmer told the commissioners, he would be happy to help facilitate those negotiations while he was still employed by the board. Otherwise, Harmer added, County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh would be happy to assist with the process.

“I guess I’ll float it out here then,” Moran replied. “I’d like those conversations to start now …”

Harmer again pointed out that the commissioners first would have to vote to approve Lewis as county administrator — not interim county administrator — effective as of Dec. 8.

Chair Paul Caragiulo asked whether anyone, including Maio, had any other comment. No one did, so the board moved on to the next order of business.

Harmer named Lewis assistant county administrator on Feb. 21. Lewis had served as city manager of North Port since 2011. A graduate of the University of South Florida, he previously held management positions with the municipalities of Palm Bay and Belleair.

Lewis’ adjustment will be in line with what the commission paid him, Harmer said, when he was named interim administrator in October 2013.

In a Nov. 6 memo he sent to the board, Harmer noted that when the commissioners asked him to take over county administration on an interim basis, they approved a $20,000 increase in his salary. Bumping Lewis’ pay to $185,000, Harmer continued in the memo, would “provide for some room for an additional increase if the Board at some point offers a full appointment [to Lewis] and a contract is negotiated with [him].”