Jonathan Lewis wins quick confirmation this week as the new Sarasota County administrator

Commission chair calls contract ‘a good deal’ for both sides

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It took less than 3 minutes on Jan. 16 for the Sarasota County Commission to give unanimous approval to a contract with Jonathan Lewis, making him the official successor to Tom Harmer as county administrator.

The contract went into effect at midnight on Jan. 16.

Having begun work as an assistant county administrator in April 2017, Lewis was named interim county administrator on Aug. 21, 2017 — effective as of Dec. 8, 2017 — in conjunction with Harmer’s departure for a new job as manager of the Town of Longboat Key. Then on Dec. 12, 2017, the board members voted unanimously to authorize the contract negotiations with Lewis. They expressed hope at that time that the process could be completed prior to the end of January.

The transition for Lewis from assistant to interim followed a faster timeline than Harmer’s own move from hiring as deputy county administrator in late August 2012 to being named interim administrator in October 2013. Harmer was approved as county administrator on Jan. 28, 2014.

Lewis himself expressed surprise to The Sarasota News Leader that the board acted so quickly to authorize the contract negotiations.

Commissioner Michael Moran had seemed prepared to provide that direction to staff in November 2017, but during that meeting, now-Chair Nancy Detert expressed the desire to spend more time learning Lewis’ management style.

Board members joked with Lewis at their Dec. 8, 2017 retreat about the fact that, even though he was leading that session, he would not officially become interim administrator until 5 p.m. that day. Just four days later, during a regular commission meeting, Detert swiftly followed Moran and Commission Alan Maio in expressing approbation for Lewis.

Detert brought up the contract as part of her report during the board’s Jan. 16 meeting, noting that the negotiations concluded quickly. (Lewis signed the employment agreement on Jan. 10, the document shows.) “There were certainly no bumps in the road,” Detert told her colleagues.

Although Lewis’ initial salary of $195,000 per year is less than what Harmer was making when he left the position, she added, “You have to have some room to move up.”

Harmer’s salary was $207,625.60 at the time he chose to take the Longboat Key position, county Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone told The Sarasota News Leader.

Chair Nancy Detert. File photo

Detert worked with County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh on Lewis’ contract, she noted. “We compared the [managers’ agreements] in the surrounding counties … to see where we fit in the ballpark,” she said, “and I think we’ve come up with a very good contract. … A real good deal is if you’d be on either side of that bargain. What I think we’re proposing today is a good deal. I hope you will approve it.”

Commissioner Michael Moran quickly made the motion to approve the contract and to authorize Detert to execute it on the board’s behalf.

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo seconded the motion.

After she announced the unanimous vote, Detert told Lewis, “We’re thrilled to have this all sorted out so that you know that you’re secure in your spot, and we look forward to your leadership.”

In a news release the county issued after the vote, Lewis said, “It’s an honor to have the board entrust me with this responsibility.” He added, “Maintaining Sarasota County’s reputation for excellent customer service, responding to citizens in a timely manner and managing the day-to-day business of this organization are some of the most important aspects of this position. I look forward to continuing the tradition of making Sarasota County the premier community in which to live, work and play.”

A career in public service

Prior to his relocation to Sarasota County, Lewis served as North Port city manager, starting in May 2011. He was deputy city manager of Palm Bay from August 2004 until he took the North Port job, a county news release noted. He also previously served as the assistant town manager and assistant to the town manager for the Town of Belleair.

Lewis is a graduate of the University of South Florida, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science, the county news release pointed out. Additionally, he earned a Master of Public Administration from the College of Arts and Science at the University of South Florida, the release noted.

Jonathan Lewis participates in discussions at the Dec. 8 , 2017 County Commission retreat. File photo

Lewis also completed the Senior Executive in State and Local Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“A married father of two, Lewis is a credentialed manager and full member in good standing with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), where he previously served as president of the Florida chapter,” the release said. Additionally, he has served as president of the Space Coast Public Management Association and the Suncoast Chapter of the American Society of Public Administration. Lewis is the chair of the ICMA Governmental Affairs and Policy Committee, the release continued.

Among the terms of Lewis’ contract are the following:

  • The county will reimburse him $500 per month for use of a personal vehicle for official business.
  • It will reimburse him up to $2,400 a year for expenses “of a non-personal but job-related nature.”
  • The county will pay the premium for term life insurance in the amount of three times’ Lewis’ base salary.

• Lewis will be entitled to 24 hours of personal leave a year, but the county will not pay him for time he does not take for that purpose.