Manatee County deserves better than the ill-equipped people who run it

As a Manatee resident with a long history of county service – including roles as Deputy Director of Planning, appointed member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, two-term At-Large Commissioner, and contributor to several local organizations non-profit – I am extremely concerned about our future.

As a planner with the American Institute of Certified Planners for over 30 years in Manatee County, I am intimately familiar with growth management policies and how they have been implemented.

Manatee County has been very supportive of growth the entire time I have worked here, and for years I have recognized the importance of growth as the primary economic driver of our local economy. I have also represented numerous developers who have submitted rezoning applications that meet the requirements of the comprehensive plan. However, current County Commissioners have taken this relationship with developers to a new level that is not visible to Manatee County residents.

Local government elections are largely funded by various vested interests, and the development community is one of them. As a commissioner who has accepted funds during my campaigns, I am well aware of the objectives of these developers. A leading promoter has made it clear that his goal is to eliminate at least half of all county positions to massively reduce local government. But if downsizing government is a worthy goal, it’s unclear what the results of that effort would be in Manatee County — or, more importantly, if that goal is even supported by the citizens of Manatee County. Manatee.

What is Clearly County Administrator Scott Hopes is enforcing this directive. And it’s also clear that Hopes is doing so with the full support of most commissioners, who are in complete agreement with the reality that Hopes doesn’t command much respect from county staffers.

An estimated 600 employees left under Hopes’ leadership, and virtually every department lost valuable employees, including those in leadership positions. It was Hopes’ poor management style that recently led to the departure of Jan Brewer, the former deputy administrator and chief financial officer who had been the most important person in drawing up the county’s budget. And when Brewer quit, Hopes decided to have her escorted out of the building in an over the top way.

Hopes has no experience managing an organization as large as the Manatee County government – ​​or with such a substantial budget. As a result, the county spent considerable funds trying to entice people to work for itself to the point of offering them immediate health benefits and other expensive perks. Yet too often, new hires end up bailing out and quitting when they realize how ill-equipped Hopes is as an administrator — and how toxic the culture and workplace have become under him.

When I decided to run for office, Manatee County was cited in a poll conducted by the Knight Foundation as one of the happiest places to live. The county was an organization governed by responsibility, civility and ethics. But current employees will confirm that this philosophy disappeared with this administration.

Now it’s all about politics – which is the product of an administration that spent an outrageous amount of money closing access to public records, getting rid of employees it suspects of “leaking” information and by remodeling the ninth floor of the building while making it less accessible to the public.

When the County Clerk and Comptroller attempted to point out these issues, she was politically attacked by a commissioner; meanwhile, the board as a whole has simply ignored the issues and recently awarded Hopes another raise, making him one of the highest-paid directors in Florida.

Unfortunately, this was not a rare occurrence: the current Board of Commissioners has been a wasteful spender. Commissioners tapped into reserves and borrowed money during the most inflationary period in modern history – and that’s on top of how some members embarrassed residents with high-profile antics that include a “reckless” conduct, ethics violations and constant infighting.

The time has come for the citizens of Manatee to take back their county from the developers, political consultants and hand-picked administrator who now poorly serve this community.

Betsy Benac is a former Manatee County Commissioner.

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