County Commission Renews Hopes' Contract With Raise

Dawn Kitterman
BRADENTON — In a controversial 4-3 vote on Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission approved the extension of County Administrator Scott Hopes’ contract. The approved contract included an agreement for the administrator to receive a salary increase, as well as additional adjustments compared to his previous contract.  

The original decision by the board to appoint Hopes as county administrator was not without controversy, starting with the way the vacancy for the position was created, to the selection of Hopes as interim to the position. Several commissioners expressed concerns about a failure of the board to follow the agreed-upon process for finding and reviewing candidates for the role, as well as debating whether Hopes was reasonably qualified. Numerous members of the public—who had familiarity with Hopes during his time as a school board member—spoke strongly in opposition to his being selected for the position. 

However, the controversy around Hopes became amplified when the Manatee County Comptroller and Clerk Angel Colonneso sent an email to commissioners and Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, outlining "grave” concerns identified by the clerk. The controversy increased when it was revealed early into the proceedings that Deputy County Administrator and CFO Jan Brewer had resigned in the hours before the meeting was called to order. Brewer was the last long-time employee of deputy level. Her resignation email referenced matters pertaining to Hopes’ management and restriction of information from her and her department as the cause for her resignation. 

During commissioner discussions on the matter, the board appeared split as to how significant—or not—the points of concern raised by the county clerk in her letter to the commissioners were. 

Commissioner Misty Servia made a motion for the commission to extend Hopes' contract temporarily and to place Hopes and Deputy County Administrator Robert Reinshuttle—who was mentioned in the clerk’s letter relative to an identified concern—on administrative paid leave. 

Servia argued that the county had previously taken such an action when it became known the inspector general was investigating allegations of wrongdoing within the Division of Code Enforcement. In that instance, several code enforcement employees were placed on paid leave for the course of the investigation while awaiting the IG’s findings. Servia stated it was her opinion that the board should take similar action to allow time for both the county to conduct its own investigation into the concerns raised by Colonneso, and for the county’s Inspector General to review the matters referred to their office by the clerk. 

Servia amended her motion on the advice of the county attorney, after being advised that it would be problematic to include Deputy Reinshuttle—a county employee whose position is overseen by the administrator, not the board—from her motion. Servia’s amended motion included only Hopes being placed on administrative leave, but failed to gain majority support, with only Commissioners Carol Whitmore and Reggie Bellamy voting for approval. 

In his comments, Bellamy suggested that it would be better for both the board and Hopes that the county and Hopes part ways. With the obvious lack of appetite for such a proposal, Bellamy made no formal motion of his own.  

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher, George Kruse, and Kevin Van Ostenbridge largely agreed that the administrator’s contract should be extended and that the concerns raised by Colonneso did not warrant any action besides a contract extension. Aside from the four commissioners being in agreement that Colonneso’s concerns were mainly related to policy-based questions or issues with Hopes’ management style—rather than ethical questions or serious financial concerns worthy of investigation—the four also appeared to agree that it would cause too much disruption to the organization to take any other action other than extending the administrator’s contract. 

Kruse cited the fact that the county’s budget process had already begun as one valid reason to not place the administrator on leave, while also stating that doing so would be "shooting from the hip” and voting to "burn the place down” without any evidence to back up Colonneso’s allegations. 

In his remarks, Satcher seemed to insinuate that any discussion on potentially taking actions against Hopes based on Colonneso’s letter was "petty" in comparison to the things he wants to see accomplished in his district. 

Baugh called the whole meeting "ridiculous" and admonished Colonneso for not phoning her personally rather than sending the email outlining her concerns to the board. While Baugh stated her awareness of concerns with Hopes and his "ego," she suggested a more valid investigation might be for the county to look into who is "leaking" information to the press. 

Many members of the public appeared in person to give public comments on the matter, as well as called in with comments for the board. Nearly all spoke in favor of not renewing the administrator's contract without the initiation of an investigation into the concerns detailed by Colonneso. 

Colonneso also appeared before the board during public comment Tuesday, explaining that, while some of the identified concerns have been referred to the Inspector General for review, at the current time, there is not an active investigation. Colonneso described the current point in the process as an "audit" which uncovered the issues she identified in her letter. She told the commissioners that the issues she included in her letter were serious enough, that besides referring to them the IG’s Office, she felt it was her responsibility as county clerk to inform the board on the matters before they took up consideration to extend the administrator’s contract. 

With Servia’s motion having failed, the motion before the board was an amendment and extension to Hopes’ contract. The contract Hopes proposed that the board consider included a salary increase from the administrator’s current salary of just under $207,000 to $230,000. 

Whitmore proposed a "hostile” motion to amend the motion to approve the contract as proposed, to remove the salary increase. While it appeared for a moment that Whitmore’s suggested amendment might garnish enough support to pass, Satcher proposed a motion of his own. 

Satcher’s motion was a "middle-ground" negotiation to the terms, allowing for a salary increase to $215,000. This motion overruled the previous one made by Whitmore, and was supported by Kruse, Bellamy, and Servia. Kruse, having found Satcher’s proposed motion agreeable, sided with the increase. 

In the end, the board voted in favor of extending Hopes’ contract and increasing his pay to $215,000, with Kruse, Van Ostenbridge, Satcher, and Baugh voting in favor, and Whitmore, Servia, and Bellamy voting in opposition. 

The contract will run through September 30, 2023, at which time the board will take up a motion on whether to again extend his contract, and under what terms. 

You can replay the portion of the meeting related to Hopes' contract renewal, the board discussion, and comments submitted by the public on the topic by clicking the video below. 

Reader Comments
Cat L
MAY 25, 2022  •  Disheartening... disturbing... not ethical. They lost nearly 30% of their staff, and still kept him? This is not going to play out well over time... short-sighted and daft.
Ruth Lawler
MAY 25, 2022  •  As I sat in the Commission Chambers yesterday watching the meeting fiasco unfolding before me...I asked myself "What more can we do?" Many of us are horrified by the incompetence and clear developer control of the majority of Commissioners. I also realized that the numerous emails that I write to Commissioners are largely not responded to. Yet, I realized that I DID make a minor I sat up front and LOOKED the Commissioners in the eye. As cocky Van Ostenbridge was in quiet conversation with Hopes sitting next to him throughout the entire proceeding...I watched intently. As KVO caught my stare a couple of times...he looked away! He knew! Body language is a very powerful communicator. I used it for eye contact, shaking my head, crossing my arms...etc. with Commissioners in both positive and negative non verbal communication that I sent. They saw it. I encourage an outpouring of citizen IN PERSON attendance, even if you don't get up and comment. Body language is 55% of communication!
Carol Darby
MAY 25, 2022  •  I am ashamed to be a Manatee County citizen after watching the "charade" they called a Board meeting. I thought the behavior of some Board members back in 2021 when voting for a mask mandate was unacceptable. The behavior of our representatives yesterday was beyond deplorable. It was clear the only Commissioners that cared about the people were Bellamy, Servia and Whitmore. It seems Kevin Van Ostenbridge thinks he's King of the Road. He wouldn't let Servia or Whitmore get in a word edgewise. The annoying banter going on in the background while both Whitmore and Servia were trying to speak was despicable -- they all acted like they were five years old. Isn't it a shame that we had four homes-schooled children in the audience as this fodder unfolded. They should have driven Hopes home in the overpriced SUV one last time just for his carelessness with taxpayers' money and poor management which led to a mass exodus from the County. Hopes can say he isn't responsible, but what led to employees departure if not his poor management? Double dipping and giving himself a raise is unforgiveable. The four Commissioners who pushed to keep him on board as well as giving him a raise and deferred compensation should all be ashamed. This is fiscally irresponsible. Then, the debacle over what to name the new 4th District park. They should have listened to the homeschoolers and named it after someone local to Manatee County rather than pandering to our Governor. Each Representative should look themselves in the mirror and ask "What have I turned into while claiming to represent the constituents of Manatee County?" I refuse to watch any more of this dog and pony show ... what a joke!
Barbara A. Angelucci
MAY 25, 2022  •  Commissioner Kruse had just stated that he was not in favor of giving Hopes a raise until the audit/investigation was completed. Two or three minutes later he voted for the raise. He is not a man of his word.
Alene Gauthier
MAY 25, 2022  •  Charlene is right. While it isn't Hazzard County, it is surely the Manatee County Circus. What a joke these meetings are.
MAY 25, 2022  •  The corruption in this town is stunning. This is like a caricature, except that this isn't Hazzard County.