Past two years of 10% raises for Lewis were to bring salary more in line with compensation for such a position, Cutsinger says
On unanimous votes this week, the Sarasota County commissioners approved 5% raises for County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and County Attorney Joshua Moye following evaluations of both men.
Chair Ron Cutsinger made the motions for the raises, noting that Lewis made it clear, when the board hired him as county administrator in early 2018, that he was not interested in a big boost in the amount he had been making as a deputy county administrator. His initial pay was $195,000 a year, which was less than the $207,625.60 that previous County Administrator Tom Harmer was earning when he left county employment in late 2017 to become town administrator for the Town of Longboat Key.
In 2021 and 2022, the commissioners approved 10% raises for Lewis to boost his salary to a level that, Cutsinger indicated this week, was more commensurate for a person serving as county administrator.
In 2020, Lewis received a 3% raise.
Lewis’ new salary is $270,712, county Media Relations Officer Sara Nealeigh told The Sarasota News Leader, in response to its request for that information from the county’s Human Resources Department.
Moye was just named county attorney on April 25, succeeding Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht, who had announced his retirement plans. On May 9, the board members agreed to pay Moye $180,024, which was the result of negotiations that Cutsinger had engaged in with Moye. Moye’s new salary, Nealeigh told the News Leader, after checking with Human Resources, is $250,432.
Neither Commissioner Joe Neunder nor Commissioner Neil Rainford filled out evaluation forms for Lewis and Moye, the News Leader confirmed through a public records request.
At the outset of the Oct. 24 discussion — noting that he was just approaching the end of his first year on the board (He was elected in the November 2022 General Election) — Neunder said, “I’m not really sure what we’re supposed to do here. I could offer perhaps just some personal thoughts” on interactions with Lewis over the previous months.
“Some brief comments and thoughts about our administrator?” Cutsinger asked.
Then Neunder told his colleagues, “I really appreciated the on-boarding process for me this year. I thought I knew a lot about my community,” he continued, but, as it turned out, “I didn’t know a whole heck of a lot.”
Neunder pointed out that part of Lewis’ responsibility as county administrator is “on-boarding us.”
“He’s been very professional,” Neunder said of Lewis. “Jonathan has always been ‘Johnny on the spot,’ ” Neunder continued, adding that Lewis had given him “copious amounts of information, above and beyond what I have requested.”
Taking his turn, Rainford said, “I echo a lot of what Commissioner Neunder mentioned. It’s been a whirlwind four-plus months,” he added, referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointing him to the commission in June, following Commissioner Nancy Detert’s passing in early April.
Then Rainford talked about the fact that new commissioners have “an immense tour schedule as we’re on-boarding. It’s a critical component of on-boarding.” He was referring to tours of the county department operations, as Commissioner Mark Smith noted later.
“Jonathan has been very receptive to my asks,” Rainford continued, pointing out that they talk almost every day.
Smith commended Lewis “on his management skills and his hiring skills.”
During the new commissioners’ tours of the departments, Smith continued, “What impressed me is the quality of the managers … and the trust Jonathan has in his managers, letting us engage with the managers when we have questions.”
“You’re doing a great job,” Smith told Lewis.
Commissioner Michael Moran pointed out that the county administrator and county attorney are the only two employees of the commissioners. The board members give policy direction to them on a variety of topics — legal, land-use, health and human services, and human resources issues, for examples — Moran continued, “and they’re incredibly complex [topics].”
“We have thousands and thousands of associates that have lots of staff that they need to deal with,” Moran said, and “our staff understands” that the commissioners are the ones who make the policy decisions. Addressing Lewis and Moye, Moran added, “You’re not a sixth commissioner.” Their responsibility, he noted, is to bring the board members accurate information in a timely fashion. “I think both of you do an excellent job of that.”
Chair Cutsinger agreed with the other board members’ remarks.
As a commissioner, Cutsinger continued, he looks at the quality of life rating that results from each annual Citizen Opinion Survey conducted on the board’s behalf. This year, 98% of the 1,250 respondents told the survey team members that they believe the quality of life in the county is “Excellent” or “Good.” Cutsinger said he attributes that “in large part” to Lewis, Moye and the other members of county staff.
“You’ve created a culture second to none in the state of Florida, here in this county,” he told Lewis and Moye.
Further, Cutsinger pointed to how well the county responded to the aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s strike on Southwest Florida in September 2022, which resulted in considerable damage in South County, including destruction of homes and businesses.
Plaudits for Moye, as well
Turning their attention to their first evaluation of County Attorney Moye, Commissioner Smith alluded to a couple of concerns that he had raised in his written comments, saying, “I’ve had some, perhaps, discussions … with our county attorney.”
One of those issues involved a board discussion about preserving the right to appeal the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) Final Order that went against the county in a Comprehensive Plan challenge filed by Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez. That case involved the elimination of the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes for most of the county. (See the related articles in this issue.)
Smith was opposed to appealing that Final Order. Later, when Moye explained to the board members that preserving the right to appeal was the same as filing an appeal, Smith said he felt he had been misled, as he noted in his written evaluation of Moye.
The other concern that Smith raised was related to the passage of a Medical Freedom Resolution and a Bill of Rights Sanctuary Resolution on Oct. 10. He believed, he pointed out on the evaluation, that the Office of the County Attorney “did not follow the direction of [the commission] in the process.”
Nonetheless, Smith said on Oct. 14, “Overall, I feel [Moye’s] office has done a great job.” He added that he would work on improving his communications with Moye.
Commissioner Neunder indicated that after Moye applied for the position of county attorney early this year, Moye talked with Neunder one-on-one about Moye’s desire to make the Office of the County Attorney “the best small-size law firm in our community: hustle, efficiency, attention to detail, building a culture of trust and transparency, not only [in that office] but with all of us here on this board.”
Addressing Moye, Neunder added, “I’m very excited for your future here in Sarasota County.”
Commissioner Rainford pointed out that Moye was the attorney who advised the Planning Commission, on which Rainford served for about three years before his appointment to the County Commission. “I just really respect some of the decisions you’ve made early on in your department to kind of give it a different culture,” Rainford told Moye.
Finally, Commissioner Cutsinger said, “Clearly, it was a great decision” to appoint Moye to be the county attorney. Moye is “doing a great job with the office,” Cutsinger continued. “It’s been a seamless transition,” with a “really positive” reorganization of that office.
“You make a great part of our team,” Cutsinger told Moye.