Bradenton Herald | by Ryan Callihan | May 25, 2021
Scott Hopes will be required to resign from the school board by next week after the Manatee County Commission voted 5-2 to hire him as their permanent county administrator.
Commissioners discussed the possibility earlier this month and finalized their decision at Tuesday’s public meeting after hearing from several residents who criticized the search process and Hopes’ job performance over the past two months as he worked as an interim administrator after the departure of Cheri Coryea.
But the board said they had been thoroughly impressed with Hopes, who first signed a 12-month interim contract on April 1, over the past two months.
Hopes began the job just a few hours before a disastrous leak at Piney Point took a turn for the worst. His skills and relationships with state officials were instrumental in preventing a full-blown crisis, commissioners said.
“The whole reason we wanted to move forward with this contract is to remove the word ‘acting,’” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “Dr. Hopes has been anything but an acting administrator since he took the role. He went in running.”
Since taking over the position, Hopes has taken an approach unlike that of his predecessors. An educator at heart, he gave his seven bosses a reading assignment at a recent work session, urging them to do their homework and come prepared to participate in a “hands-on” strategic planning workshop.
The county administrator is tasked with overseeing the county’s 1,900-employee workforce and implementing policy decisions set by the Manatee Board of County Commissioners. Board members said Hopes’ steady hand has already proven that he’s the right man for the job.
“When the board is hiring a county administrator, it’s not the same as someone else. When the iron is hot, you strike. When you see an opportunity in front of you, you take it,” said Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, who first submitted Hopes’ name into the running for the position. “We have the right person here, and I don’t want to waste taxpayer time or money on a search.”
Commissioners James Satcher, Misty Servia, Carol Whitmore, Van Ostenbridge, and Baugh voted in favor of the contract, while Commissioners Reggie Bellamy and George Kruse voted against it.
Dissenting commissioners spoke out against the hiring process and a contract that doesn’t make major changes to Hopes’ employment. They took issue with moving so quickly to make Hopes a permanent county administrator ahead of the 90-day period that other county employees would face.
“The message we’re sending is that we can bring somebody in and prior to their 90 days, we’re going to make them permanent. We’re going to remove the interim tag and make this person permanent,” said Bellamy. “If you’re going to do something, do it the right way.”
“I feel like we’re just bored up here. I read this thing and I feel like we’re just poking a bear because it’s not a permanent contract in any way, shape or form,” Kruse added. “It’s literally the same contract as before with some minor changes.”
According to the contract approved by commissioners, Hopes needs to resign from the school board by June 2. While the contract removes the interim label from Hopes’ position, commissioners still have the option to move forward to replace him later this year.
In November, the board will complete an employee evaluation for Hopes, and by Dec. 1, the board will need to decide whether they will keep him or begin a search. During that time frame, the board could give Hopes 30-day notice to part ways.
“This contract is a baby step toward a different contract, but it does make Dr. Hopes a permanent administrator,” Servia said.
The contract approved by commissioners addresses Hopes’ split commitment between the school board and county government. Since 2018, Hopes has represented District 4 on the school board, which has been a cause of concern for commissioners and residents.
In recent weeks, Hopes has left school board meetings early or arrived late due to his demanding job with the county. Hopes participated in those meetings virtually, but residents called out his absence.
“I’ve said before that this is not a full-time job — it’s a double-time job,” Servia said. “I do think it’s important that he resign from the school board as soon as possible.”
The contract originally gave Hopes more than a month to resign from the school board by requiring him to submit a resignation letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis by June 30, but the board voted to modify that date and ordered an earlier resignation. Once Hopes leaves the board, DeSantis will need to appoint someone to serve out the 17 months remaining in his term.
Commissioners argued that Hopes’ resignation should come sooner than what was detailed in the contract, pointing to his earlier promise to resign as soon as he has the assurance that his position with the county is a long-term commitment.
The timing isn’t quite right for him to leave, said Hopes, who predicted a number of split votes during his absence from the five-member school board.
“If there is an extended vacancy, there’s going to be a problem,” Hopes noted. “It won’t be my problem, but it could be a problem for the community,”
Hopes explained that he would prefer to leave the board in early June, after participating in the county’s high school graduations and submitting Superintendent Cynthia Saunders’ evaluation during a public meeting on June 8.
By securing the position, Hopes will see a salary increase from his role as an interim leader. His previous contract paid $187,000 a year, but the base salary of Tuesday’s contract is $199,000. Baugh, who negotiated the contract with Hopes, said the pay increase was made in order to make him the highest-paid employee in the county.
“I think we’re going to make an impact on making a great community even greater. I will commit to expediting the vacating of my elected seat on the school board,” Hopes said.