New deputy administrator named; three interim county leaders get formal appointments

John McCarthy retiring this week

John McCarthy. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County Government this week gained a new deputy administrator and saw the removal of “interim” from the titles of three department leaders.

Staff also has been preparing for the departure of a 31-year employee with expertise in a number of areas.

County Administrator Randall Reid announced Monday, July 16, that Thomas Harmer had been named deputy Sarasota County administrator.

The three county officials whom Reid formally appointed as department chiefs are Joanie Whitley, Human Resources director; Mike Tobias, Emergency Services director; and Steve Botelho, chief financial planning officer.

The announcements came during the County Commission’s joint meeting this week with the North Port City Commission.

“I appreciate the public service of these outstanding individuals and others during the transition in county administrators,” Reid wrote the commissioners in a July 15 email.

Regarding a fourth interim director, Reid announced to the commissioners in a July 11 email that John McCarthy, who has been interim executive director of community services, would be retiring July 20.

In an email exchange with The Sarasota News Leader, Reid wrote of McCarthy, “His internal legacy is a great qualified staff left behind to run our great park, library and extension service activities …”

Any of those staff members might be able to fill in for McCarthy in the short term, Reid added, until he appoints someone to the position. “I will be addressing this with his staff as soon as John departs,” Reid added.

Last fall, then-Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis and Deputy County Administrator asked McCarthy to take the position, which Little previously had held.

McCarthy has been a county employee since 1979.

Thomas Harmer

Harmer has 26 years of experience in local government, including almost eight years as city manager of Titusville, where he also was executive director of the Community Development Agency. Additionally, he has served as fire chief and emergency manager in Titusville.

Prior to that, he was deputy fire chief in Tallahassee, the news release says.

Harmer most recently has been senior vice president of the Pizzuti Companies in Orlando, “a high-quality company developing industrial and commercial projects in the Southeast,” the news release says.

Harmer will earn $150,000 in salary and benefits. His expected start date is Aug. 20.

Steve Botelho

“Harmer assisted and facilitated projects and public-private partnerships to promote economic development, including new industrial facilities and infrastructure adjacent to Kennedy Space Center,” the news release adds.

In his July 15 email to the commissioners, Reid wrote, “I have both personal and professional knowledge of Mr. Harmer since I hired him in Titusville as my Fire Chief in the [mid-1990s]. He has maintained his zeal for public service, even while employed in the private sector, and I have watched his career develop as a professional manager.

Reid added that he was pleased Harmer was willing to return to public service in Sarasota County, “where he will learn the nuances of county government as a member of … our team.”

Harmer received a 25-year service award from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and is an ICMA “Credentialed Manager.”

Mike Tobias

He earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as the chairman of the Public Administration Advisory Board and as an adjunct instructor, teaching classes in local government and emergency management.

Additionally, Harmer holds a bachelor’s degree in fire safety and engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

Little plans to stay on as deputy county administrator until February 2013, Curt Preisser, a county spokesman, told the News Leader.

Botelho, who joined Sarasota County in 2005, has been a budget management analyst, fiscal planning manager and general manager, a county news release says. He has Bachelor of Arts in finance from the University of South Florida.

Joanie Whitley

Tobias, who has been a county employee for 33-and-a-half years, has served as a captain, battalion chief, assistant fire chief and fire chief, the county news release says.

He also is the county’s emergency services director.

Tobias holds a Bachelor of Science in management from International College in Naples.

Whitley, who has been a county employee for more than 13-and-a-half years, has 30 years of experience in human resources and has served as manager and general manager of the county’s Human Resources Department, the county news release says.

She is a member of the Society of Human Resources Management and has a Senior Professional Human Resources Certification.

Whitley earned a Bachelor of Science from Louisiana State University.

Long career in county service

In an interview with the News Leader on July 17, McCarthy said he had decided it was time to follow different avenues in life, pursuits “I haven’t had the time to enjoy for three decades.”

Among those will be traveling with his wife, he said, adding that he has “a real strong desire to see other places in this great country that I’ve heard about …”

McCarthy also plans to take back up artist’s tools he first used in high school, he said: “I have a strong desire to get back into doing wood sculpture and creating art from things I find on the side of the road.”

Additionally, McCarthy said, “I will look for ways I can continue to serve the county,” perhaps through work with nonprofit organizations.

He wants to use the talents he has developed through public service, he said. “I think I’ll have some opportunities to do that.”

A native of Fort Myers, McCarthy began working for the county after he graduated from high school. His first position, through a federally funded job-training program, was at what then was known as Historical Archives; it is now the History Center.

In subsequent years, he served in the Natural Resource Department, then in Parks and Recreation. McCarthy became general manager of the latter department on Nov. 13, 2000.

He told this reporter in an interview in December 2011 that one of his greatest sources of pride was seeing community residents collaborate with county staff to create successes, including the development of Urfer Family Park on Bee Ridge Road and Lime Lake Park in Newtown.

More recently, McCarthy has been focused on the future of Warm Mineral Springs, which Sarasota County owns with the City of North Port. (See the related story this week by Associate Editor Cooper Levey-Baker.)

Reid told the News Leader that McCarthy “has walked [the county’s] entire length of beachfront, and has more knowledge of its history and environment than anyone I know on our staff.”

More than anyone else, McCarthy “is responsible for Sarasota County’s premier park system,” Reid added. “Despite tremendous reductions to our Parks and Recreation Department staffing over recent years,” Reid wrote, “[staff members] have continued to develop quality parks and sporting venues.”

Reid also pointed out that McCarthy has a statewide reputation for making the sustainable connection among local history, recreation and environmental preservation. A good example, Reid said, is Urfer Family Park, which reinterprets for people “a sense of old agricultural Sarasota in the midst of an urban environment” and does so while enabling family members to have fun together.

Reid added, “I don’t really expect John McCarthy can be replaced … But for now, until we came name a park for him” or offer “some other suitable tribute, I just want to [thank him] for dedicating [his] life to preserving a slice of our landscape and heritage for our citizens.”

“The county’s in good hands,” McCarthy told the News Leader. “A lot of projects that I was involved with are either completed or moving forward.”

Still, he said, “I will very much miss the people in this organization.”