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BOCC Approves Satcher's Request for More Funding


BRADENTON — On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission approved Supervisor of Elections James Satcher’s request for an FY24 budget increase in a 4-1 vote. Though few details were provided showing the accounting utilized to calculate the requested increase figure of $841,340, two commissioners spoke strongly in support of the measure. 

The increase represents a more than 26% increase in the SOE’s current fiscal year budget, which has just four months remaining.

Manatee County CFO Shelia McLean introduced the budget amendment item on Tuesday, telling commissioners that Satcher would address them concerning the budget increase request on behalf of the SOE’s Chief of Staff David Ballard.

The item was number 43 on the agenda, and as the prior item, number 42, was closing out, the dais was half empty as commissioners had quietly stepped away during the tail-end of item 42's presentation.

When item 42 was ready for a vote, not enough commissioners were present on the dais to make a quorum and a vote could not immediately be cast, but by the time Satcher approached the chamber podium to speak to his budget increase request (agenda item 43), Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Jason Bearden and Amanda Ballard had returned to their seats.

Satcher opened his comments by reading directly from a May 13 letter he had addressed to County Administrator Charlie Bishop. The letter, which had previously been attached to the meeting agenda, was missing from the item’s supporting documents on Tuesday.

As late as this weekend, Tuesday’s agenda item for the SOE’s budget request included a 12-page attachment packet. Among the documents was Satcher’s letter, an itemized list of expenditures that were the basis of the increase request, a budget revision request form, a funding transfer slip, and a copy of the budget amendment resolution.

However, sometime between the weekend and Tuesday morning, the attachment packet, which was attached to the publicly posted agenda, was revised to include just a single document: the budget resolution.

Click here to view the agenda item packet as it appeared before Tuesday’s meeting, click here to view it as it appeared after revision, during the meeting.

Satcher told commissioners that while Manatee County has conducted its elections while maintaining the lowest Supervisor of Elections budget statewide, he had identified opportunities with software and technology upgrades that the requested increase would be used to purchase.

“All neighboring counties are using this audit software,” said Satcher. “So this should be a big improvement.”

The first commissioner to respond to Satcher’s presentation was Commissioner George Kruse who began by acknowledging how recently Satcher was appointed to the position of elections supervisor.

Kruse expressed concern that Satcher’s requested budget increase was coming so close to the end of the current fiscal year and the start of the next fiscal year, as well as to the upcoming elections.

“You get to a point where it is great to be improving things,” Kruse prefaced his question, “but at some point, you have to focus on performing. We’re at a point where you really need to start making sure the ballots are going out, making sure the machines are calibrated, making sure the poll workers (inaudible), is this the best use of time?”

Addressing the intention to spend a portion of the requested budget increase on software and technology upgrades, Kruse referred to documents previously attached to the meeting’s agenda item.

“We’ve not been given a whole lot of information,” said Kruse as he addressed Satcher. “I just tried to pull up the information you had sent, but apparently, one of the updates to the agenda was removing all of the information.”

Referencing from memory the information that was previously available through the posted agenda, Kruse questioned how much of the increased budget request would be allocated to software and technology. Despite not having the itemized list available to him at the time, Kruse correctly recalled that roughly $40,000 of the requested $841,340 would be allocated to software and technology while approximately $277,000 was listed as intended for personnel salaries.

Interrupting Kruse, Satcher said, “Sorry, I don’t have those documents in front of me, but that is not correct.”

“That $277,000, that probably is the audit number that you are thinking of,” added Satcher.

Responding to Kruse’s concerns about the timing and whether the office had acquired all the necessary information to execute the changes as detailed in the budget request, Satcher told Kruse that while he had “talks beyond preliminary talks” concerning additional polling locations and satellite offices, there are “some steps” that he hadn’t “yet taken.”

Satcher said that his office had identified additional polling and office locations but had not finalized any of the details.

Regarding the software and equipment portion of the request, Satcher said he had met with the vendor last week and had gotten “familiar” with the new equipment they would purchase.

“It should be an easy process for my employees,” Satcher told Kruse. “I think that it’s important enough that we should be moving forward with these things, obviously, or I wouldn’t have brought it forward.”  

Satcher stressed with his remarks that the budget request and changes he proposed were intended to “make sure the election was secure” and that “voter integrity was maintained.”

Kruse again pointed out that Satcher had only just become the elections supervisor in recent months and asked Satcher to detail the known and identified defects from previous local elections.

Satcher declined to do so, saying, “It’s not my style to see a problem behind the scenes—that I know and grasp right away when I see it—and then come here in front of everyone and air those things.”

Satcher elaborated that “most of what” he was referencing was related to security matters and would be inappropriate to detail regardless. He also spoke of changes he has made that included “removing” plexiglass dividers in the office he said were leftover from the pandemic.

Kruse remained hesitant to approve the budget increase request, reminding the board—and Satcher—of its decision last budget season when a different constitutional officer requested a budget increase. 

Last budget season, when Satcher was still a county commissioner, he and the other board members expressed significant apprehensions about approving the budget presented by the County Clerk and Circuit Court Comptroller during annual budget presentations. In that office’s case, it sought an annual budget increase—not a budget amendment—to fund four new positions.

From the dais Tuesday, Kruse repeated comments that his colleagues said during a July 27, 2023, meeting regarding the Clerk’s previous fiscal year’s budget request. Included in those comments were the words of then-commissioner Satcher, who refused the clerk’s budget request, saying that she “had to make do with what she had.”

“We made the clerk come across the street and detail her request for over an hour,” Kruse recalled. “Going through every last job description… before this board was okay giving her two people, totaling less than $200,000.”

“We’ve run people through the wringer over these things,” Kruse added. “And here, I don’t even have the document showing your itemized summary because it’s been removed from the agenda.” 

After the back-and-forth between Satcher and Kruse, Bearden provided a lengthy, impassioned dialogue supporting Satcher’s request. Bearden said the previous elections supervisor, Mike Bennett, was “very heavy on” mail-in ballots, which Bearden said “we know are not secure.”

“James Satcher has more integrity than anybody I know or that I have met in the last ten years,” Beaden proclaimed.

Bearden appeared to be reading from notes on the desk in front of him as he shared his recollection of the previous elections supervisor, having stated that “he would allow illegal aliens to vote.”

With his voice growing louder, Bearden said, “We have a neighboring county budget that is operating on three times more of a budget than Manatee County; we need to wake up. We need to wake up and see what’s really going on here because obviously there were some major issues in the Supervisors of Elections Office with Supervisor James Satcher came in and evaluated everything.”

Bearden said that he supported the request because he knows that the budget increase is “needed to run effective elections here in this county.”

Then, shouting into his microphone while looking toward Kruse, Bearden added, “And I’d hate to be the one, to be up here and vote against this, knowing the fact that elections are one of the most important things in today’s environment that we need to really take this as a serious, serious, agenda item that we need to increase this budget. Cause I know personally, that you need this budget increased to effectively run elections in this county the most effective way.”

Though Commissioner Bearden declared that mail-in voting was “unsafe” or lacking in security, the Republican Party of Florida is currently pushing its members to register for mail-in ballots. The county’s own Republican Executive Committee shared a post on its Facebook page a day before Bearden’s comments during Tuesday’s meeting, encouraging county Republicans to request mail-in ballots.

The emailed version of the information shared by the local REC was sourced from an email that was sent out by the Republican Party of Florida Chairman Evan Power. The palm cards that local RECs were encouraged to share with members were labeled “Paid for by The Republican Party of Florida.”

Following Bearden’s comments, Commissioner Van Ostenbridge took a turn addressing Satcher’s request for a budget increase. Van Ostenbridge began his comments by asking Satcher to confirm his understanding that upon assuming the office of SOE, the office was “operating in the red”—meaning its budget was in the negative.

“Is that accurate?” Van Ostenbridge asked Satcher. “You needed two hundred and some-odd thousands of dollars just to cover this year without any changes because you were operating in the red.”

Satcher confirmed the information revealed by Van Ostenbridge with a “Yes.”

No documentation was provided during the public hearing to substantiate the allegation. The county’s CFO never took to the podium to explain the alleged budgetary deficiency or how a constitutional office was allegedly able to run so far “in the red” without intervention.

According to public records, on  March 31, 2024, the SOE  had 55.3% of its received FY24 budget left to spend for the fiscal year, with $1.78 million of its approved funding unspent.  Records show the currently approved and amended budget for the SOE is $3.2 million for FY24. 

As of May 28, the SOE's remaining budget funds were $1,269,247, which equals 39.3% of its budget funds unspent with 33% of the fiscal budget year remaining. 

In addition to raising questions about an alleged budget deficit, Van Ostenbridge also drew comparisons between the SOE budget in Manatee County and Sarasota County. Responding to Van Ostenbridge’s prompt, Satcher shared that Sarasota County’s FY24 SOE budget was approved at $9 million and raised another one million through a budget amendment.

“You’re at three (million),” said Van Ostenbridge, “and with an $800,000 increase, that would bring you close to $4 million.”

“Yes, Sir,” confirmed Satcher.

Van Ostenbridge told Satcher he understood the need for the requested budget increase and pointed out that Gov. Ron DeSantis selected Satcher to be SOE over Scott Farrington—the former Chief of Staff under the previous elections supervisor.

“After evaluating the office,” Van Ostenbridge opined, “the governor decided to go in a different direction and decided not to continue with the status quo.”

Van Ostenbridge asserted that the increase in funds that was requested by Satcher was to “implement changes that the secretary of state and the governor are in line with.” Satcher again confirmed Van Ostenbridge’s statements as accurate.

After hearing from his colleagues on the matter, Kruse followed up on some of his previous concerns while also responding to some points raised during the item discussion. As Satcher began to speak in response to Kruse’s final comments, Van Ostenbridge interrupted Satcher and called the item “to question,” effectively shutting down any further discussion and moving the item to a vote.

Before the vote, three citizens who had attended the meeting in person provided public comments speaking against approval. The residents encouraged the commission to defer any decisions related to the SOE budget until more detailed information about the request was available.

One citizen referenced her 20-year participation in local elections as well as her years of volunteering as a poll worker throughout the county and told commissioners that in “all her years” of service, she had “never seen any issues” in local elections or with casting her own ballot.

In the end, the majority carried the budget amendment approval. Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Mike Rahn, Ray Turner, and Jason Bearden voted in support, and George Kruse voted against approval. Commissioner Amanda Ballard abstained from the vote because her husband was recently hired by Satcher as Chief of Staff at the Supervisor of Elections office.

Click the video below to replay the SOE's presentation before commissioners, board discussion, and citizen comments from Tuesday's BOCC meeting. 


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  • Debann


    Tuesday, May 28 Report this

  • sandy

    I watched the entire debacle and luckily I had downloaded the documents before they were removed from the agenda on-line. Satcher sounded like a bumbling idiot, stating he didn't have the numbers in front of him. How can you argue for an increase of this magnitude without having the documents? Beardon went off on a rant, raising his voice as if this made it more accurate. Satcher, KVO and Beardon both kept referencing Sarasota's budget (who cares). Kruse did his research and cited the fact that Manatee County over 7 election cycles (2020-Jan. 2024) based on a state study only had 12 complaints over this time, the state average was 20. Satcher never stated what the actual problem with the office was that had to be corrected immediately at this time. KVO and Beardon both denigrated the previous administration of the SOE. The appointment of Satcher was solely political, not based on experience or qualifications. Vote for Scott Farrington.

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • kmskepton

    To recap:

    Satcher: Please give us an extra (almost) $1M for our dept. BTW - I have zero experience. My Chief of Staff has zero experience. Oh yeah, we removed the supporting documents from the agenda, and I don't have the figures in front of me.

    Majority of "fiscally-minded" commissioners: Approved.

    Welcome to Manatee County.

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • klmsinc

    Hey Bradenton Times

    I would love to hear what Mike Bennett has to say!?!?

    Not to promote strife but he did the job well and now we are hearing said he didn't ? Not in words but by meer action of a vote for approval of this budget addendum with an election up an coming?

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • sandy


    Above is the link to an article in the Bradenton Herald with Mike Bennett's comments.

    Copy and paste in your browser.

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • WTF

    So unqualified in so many ways. Stumbling and bumbling the entire presentation. Stacked with disinformation to the BOCC and the public he is such a disgrace to our community

    This soon will be over, and James will be sent packing. The puppet board with George as the exception …again voted to waste taxpayers’ funds for personal gains. Send them all down the road on election day, Satcher, KVO, Turner and put the others on notice their bad behavior will be tolerated no more.

    One and Done cannot come soon enough.

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • David Daniels

    As usual, Kruse is prepared with facts that expose the hypocrisy that can't be ignored. Satcher says "trust me - I removed the covid plexiglass..." Huh? Rahn asks how old is the technology, Satcher stirs up a word salad about vendors, then settles on the machines being 9 years old - but are not being replaced with the $800K. Kruse knows more off the top of his head than Satcher does about the details of Satcher's own request. Newsflash for Bearden: Integrity includes competence, and neither Satcher or Bearden have either. Bearden is a caricature of the loud, boastful, fool. Hollywood could not cast and script a more convincing idiot.

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • jimandlope

    What government body, whether it be local, state or

    federal votes on any budget item without the budget item in front of them? Especially a budget request from a department official who has yet to learn the department he or she is heading up? The fact that Gov. DeSantis appointed him has nothing to do with common sense or does it? Jim Tierney

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • hawkharbor

    What a sad day for Manatee County. An $850,000 budget request asked for by the Supervisor of Elections who did not have a single straight answer to any question asked by the only commissioner who actually knew what questions to ask, but it was voted on and passed by commissioners who did not care or know what the request was about or the questions to ask.

    When Satcher said they office was running $300,000 in the red, where was the "show us " They didn't ask the head of finance sitting there was that true.

    They were worried about Sarasota's budget, and did not ask, "why is there's larger".,, Well they have three major cities to deal with, Manatee has one.,Sarasota has about 20% more voters, and two remote offices due to the three cities bigger than Bradenton they have to deal with.

    Our commissioners have shown serious lack of ability to serve Manatee County. Bearden is a lier and incompetent, and KVO has a bad case of small man mentality. Kvo blamed the current budget issue due to incompetent's previous leadership, Well if we were so incompetent why would he have voted for our budget year after year without the first question. Please vote them all out except Kruse, he is the only one who studies the issues. Vote for Scott Farrington, lets get him back in there before this idiot destroys the voting record of Manatee County completely

    Michael Bennett

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this

  • cbara85

    Bennett should sue KVO, Satcher and Bearden for defamation.

    Thursday, May 30 Report this