Commission unanimously approves terms and $223,000 salary
With a unanimous vote on Feb. 26, the Sarasota County Commission formally approved a contract making Deputy Sarasota County Attorney Frederick J. “Rick” Elbrecht the new county attorney, effective as of “12 a.m. on April 1, 2019,” as the contract says.
As Chair Charles Hines had pointed out in a Feb. 21 email to his colleagues, he wanted to allow them an opportunity to ask any questions about the terms, even though they voted 5-0 on Jan. 29 to direct Hines to negotiate with Elbrecht for the latter to serve as the successor to County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh.
In his email, Hines especially referenced the $223,000 base salary Elbrecht had requested. “He has provided good information in regards to comparing his salary request to those of other comparable counties,” Hines wrote. “Please review this information … as I did not feel it was within my authority to commit to him a number for his salary without the full Board’s approval. With that said, I’m comfortable with his requested salary, but believe that should be open for Board discussion should that be necessary.”
“The number’s not out of the blue,” Hines told his colleagues during their regular meeting on Feb. 26. It is comparable to the salaries of other county attorneys with backgrounds and experience similar to Elbrecht’s, Hines added.
“I did have questions [about it],” Commissioner Nancy Detert responded. However, she said the information Hines had provided the board made “all the difference.”
Prior to the commission’s approval of a 3% raise for DeMarsh last year, based on DeMarsh’s October 2018 evaluation, DeMarsh’s salary was $237,681.60, county Media Relations Officer Ashley Lusby told The Sarasota News Leader.
Hines also explained on Feb. 26 that in the process of drawing up the contract, he and Elbrecht had worked to clean up language that no longer seemed necessary.
“It’s very straightforward. It’s really an at-will contract,” Hines added. If the majority of the commissioners decided at some point they no longer wanted Elbrecht to serve as county attorney, they could terminate the contract with a 3-2 vote, “with cause.”
The contract says the board may terminate the county attorney with or without cause if four of the members approve the decision on a vote. Otherwise, a majority of three would be necessary in two separate votes conducted during official meetings three weeks apart.
Elbrecht would receive severance pay if he were fired “for any reason other than cause,” the contract points out. That would consist of “a lump sum equivalent to his salary, deferred compensation, and health care insurance for twenty (20) weeks at the rate in effect on the effective date of termination …”
“I think we have a very fair agreement between our county attorney and the Board of County Commissioners for today and for the future,” Hines pointed out.
Elbrecht signed the agreement on Feb. 20, the document shows.
“It’s fair to us; we have control,” Detert responded, referring to the language regarding a termination vote.
In recent county history, she continued, she was aware of one situation when the commission fired a county attorney. That, she noted, “is why we brought on the valuable Stephen DeMarsh.”
“I think this is a fair deal,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler added. The process, he continued, has “been very transparent, to not just the board … but, more importantly, to the public.”
The contract, he said, focuses on the necessary accountability to the public. “We all work — all of us … at the pleasure of the public.”
“I look forward to working alongside you,” Ziegler told Elbrecht, who was in the audience in the Commission Chambers at the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.
After making the motion to approve the contract, Commissioner Alan Maio called the process through which Hines had worked on the board’s behalf another example “of how we take care of big important things like this.”
In seconding the motion, Commissioner Michael Moran noted that Hines’ efforts had made the approval of the new county attorney’s contract an easy decision for the rest of the board members.
Detert also said that “it’s very important to have a 5-0 vote when we hire the person …” The unanimous approval of the agreement, she added, “shows … that we’re starting out optimistic, expecting the best …”
After the vote, Hines asked Elbrecht if he would like to offer any remarks.
Stepping to the podium, Elbrecht thanked the commissioners for the opportunity to serve as county attorney. “It’s an honor,” he said.
During DeMarsh’s 15 years in the position — which will end on March 31 — DeMarsh “has put together a staff of talented attorneys and legal assistants,” Elbrecht continued. Thanks to those efforts, Elbrecht added, he feels the Office of the County Attorney will continue to provide the commissioners “the high quality of legal service that [they have] grown accustomed to.”
“I’m very excited about this job,” Elbrecht said.
A distinguished biography
Elbrecht’s biography on the county website says he joined the Office of the County Attorney in June 2005. It notes that he graduated with honors from the University of South Florida in 1977, and he earned his law degree in 1980 from the University of Florida.
Elbrecht has been board-certified in civil trial law since 1993, the website says.
Additionally, he “has achieved the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale Hubbell,” the website points out.
The Martindale-Hubbell website explains that that peer review distinction is awarded “to only those lawyers with the highest ethical standards and professional ability.”
“An elite group of approximately 10 percent of all attorneys holds an AV Preeminent Rating, a designation trusted worldwide by buyers and referrers of legal services,” the website says.
“He practices in the areas of civil rights, commercial litigation, and general government law,” the county website adds.