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County Admin, Deputy, and Volunteer Policy on Tuesday's BOCC Agenda


BRADENTON — The posted agenda for the Sept. 12 BOCC regular meeting features multiple priority items for Manatee County Commissioners and the government organization. Commissioners will receive an update on the finalists for county administrator, will confirm a new deputy county administrator, and will be asked to approve the implementation of a formal volunteer program, “Volunteers in Action.”

County Volunteer Program

Item number 58 on the Sept. 12 regular agenda, “Approval of a formal Volunteers in Action Program,” includes a presentation slideshow and a request for commissioners to approve the adoption of the updated volunteer handbook, a volunteer agreement form, and program policies.

According to the agenda item’s coversheet, the county’s HR department is seeking to implement a formal volunteer program to address several areas of concern in the county’s current volunteer policy. These identified areas include the lack of centralized record-keeping and tracking of volunteer hours, the lack of a unified process for vetting volunteer applicants, the lack of a uniform or structured training program, and a need for updated procedures for Workers’ Compensation insurance reporting.

During  FY22, the county worked with more than 800 volunteers for an estimated combined 44,000 hours of service. According to information attached to the agenda item, the county’s volunteer program has saved the county government and its taxpayers more than $18 million dollars through the utilization of citizen volunteers.

Citizens volunteer their time to several different government branches and departments including, animal services, the library, parks and natural resources, development services, the county’s Clerk of Court, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Supervisor of Elections, among other volunteer opportunities. 

The suggested approval and implementation of a formal volunteer program comes on the heels of recent reports that nearly a dozen volunteers were “fired” from their roles in the county’s animal services department.

The volunteers reported that they were informed of their terminations through an emailed letter that thanked them for their service while informing them their services were no longer needed. The emails were signed by the Director of Public Safety Jodie Fiske and were delivered over the July 4 holiday weekend.

Officials with the county’s Department of Public Safety and Information Outreach have declined to comment on the matter or provide any explanation for the action which some volunteers called “unexpected” and without notice. The terminations received significant public backlash as the cause remained a mystery to the public and allegedly to the volunteers themselves.

Several of the terminated volunteers cried foul, pointing to the county’s own volunteer handbook which they claimed provided a process and procedure that included informing volunteers of cause should they be released from the volunteer program.

“No volunteer will be terminated until the volunteer has had an opportunity to discuss the reasons for possible dismissal with supervisory staff," the county’s current volunteer handbook includes. However, the current handbook also states, "Volunteers may be dismissed without warning for just cause.”

Notably, the updated handbook as attached to Tuesday’s meeting agenda appears to streamline the conflicting language about terminations, clarifying the termination policy of volunteers to state in part, “A volunteer may be terminated at any time by Manatee County Government with or without cause. There is no appeal from the termination of a volunteer appointment… Every volunteer has the status of volunteer-at-will, meaning that no one has a contractual right, express or implied, to remain a volunteer for Manatee County Government.”

"Manatee County Government may terminate a volunteer's placement.... without cause, and with or without notice, at any time for any reason," the updated handbook specifies. 

The handbook also includes updated policies to address confidentiality, dress code, interactions with the media and public, social media policy, and volunteer roles and responsibilities.

On its cover page, the revised volunteer handbook states its intended purpose: “The purpose of this handbook is to provide guidance, structure and direction to Manatee County Government staff and volunteers. The handbook will provide policies, procedures, volunteer job descriptions and guidelines to promote a healthy relationship between volunteers who share their time, talents, and skills, and Manatee County Government staff. Manatee County Government’s policies and expectations are outlined to ensure a good volunteer experience for everyone.”

Under the conditions and requirements of the proposed Volunteers in Action Program, volunteer applicants may be subject to successfully completing a background check, drug screening, and reference verification. Volunteers will also be required to sign a “Volunteer Service Agreement Form.”

In addition, approved volunteers will participate in an in-person orientation hosted by the county’s Department of Human Resources, may receive additional service training with appropriate county staff, will be required to log volunteer hours through volunteer-designated timekeeping software, and will be minimally required to log hours at least once per year to maintain their volunteer status.

Through the new program, volunteers can also earn recognition for their service, including pins, medals, medallions, and/or signed letters from the President of the United States.

Implementation of the Volunteers in Action Program is projected to cost the county $8,780 annually. The projected budget expense includes the cost of an annual banquet for volunteer recognition and the volunteer-specific timekeeping software.

A full presentation on the proposed program, its goals, and cost will be heard by commissioners on Tuesday prior to a vote for, or against, the program’s adoption.

County Administrator Search

In February, the county’s most recent permanent county administrator separated from his role under unclear circumstances. At the time, the official statement of county officials was that Scott Hopes was “voluntarily” resigning from his role as county administrator and had agreed to negotiate terms of a “separation agreement” which included severance compensation.

Hopes tenure as county administrator was not without scrutiny, as Clerk of Court and Comptroller Angel Colonneso was compelled in her duties to warn county commissioners in May 2022 prior to the board’s vote on whether to renew the former administrator’s contract. Despite the clerk’s warnings, commissioners voted to renew his contract.

Shortly after Hopes’ departure earlier this year, the Manatee County Sherrif’s Office confirmed that an investigation had been launched into the former administrator after he reportedly “wiped” his county-issued electronic devices upon his release. TBT confirmed this week that the investigation opened following a complaint filed with MCSO into the allegations remains active and ongoing.

Upon Hopes’ separation from the county, commissioners appointed Lee Washington as acting county administrator. Commissioners also gave direction to hire a consulting firm to conduct a national search to fill the role of county administrator. During public discussions on the board’s intentions and desires, multiple commissioners expressed their belief that it would be prudent to find a permanent replacement from outside the organization and potentially from outside of Manatee County.

At the time of his appointment, Washington served as the Director of the Department of Community and Veterans Services and appeared willing to lead the organization in a temporary role with the intention of eventually returning to his role as department director.

However, after a failed attempt by Commissioner Mike Rahn to oust Washington and fill the acting administrator role with the President of the BIA (Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association) Jon Mast, Washington’s forward presence in the organization grew lesser. Following the conclusion of the board’s recess in July, county officials publicly announced that Washington too, was voluntarily separating from the county.

Commissioners then appointed Deputy County Administrator Charlie Bishop to the role as the process for finding a permanent replacement moved forward.

Days after Bishop's appointment to the role, commissioners narrowed down the list of applicants for county administrator to five candidates. By Aug. 22, this list was narrowed to two, but one of those would be a candidate who had not applied for the position and who had not been a part of the agreed-upon process.

Commissioners Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Amanda Ballard, Jason Bearden, and Ray Turner each nominated Charlie Bishop to be one of the two administrator finalists in consideration.

Commissioners agreed following the August meeting that the item would return for a decision at the next earliest available regular meeting, Sept. 12. Although Tuesday’s meeting agenda was initially published without the item, an agenda update midweek showed the county attorney had added the item.

The cover sheet for the item shows there is no requested action by commissioners and only specifies that a discussion will be held on the administrator finalists who, at the last update, included Andrew Butterfield and Bishop.

Deputy County Administrator

Though the position of permanent county administrator remains unfilled, the county advertised and interviewed applicants for a deputy county administrator position. One candidate was selected and commissioners will vote Tuesday to confirm Bryan Parnell to the position.

Currently, the county has at least one—but possibly two—deputy county administrators. Courtney DePol was appointed to a deputy position under former administrator Hopes in June 2022, and Bishop was also appointed as deputy by Hopes the year prior, in 2021. However, if Bishop were appointed by the board as the county’s next permanent county administrator, the administration would be left with only one deputy administrator.

With a new permanent county administrator appointment seemingly near fruition, it is unclear why the county would seek to confirm its next deputy without first filling the administrator role and allowing that candidate to choose their cabinet.

Bryan Parnell’s resume is attached to Tuesday’s agenda item number 54, under Administrator Agenda items.

Click here to view the BOCC Sept. 12 meeting agenda in full, or visit: www.mymanatee.org/government/board_of_county_commissioners/bcc_meetings_and_agendas


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  • N_Alice_Newlon

    I know the list is long, but Dawn, how could you miss this agenda item:

    As if that were not enough. Item 10 on the agenda is the misleadingly named, Resolution R-23-145, "Prohibiting County funds to be used for Planned Parenthood or any abortion provider or to provide any abortion services" is scheduled to be heard and voted on by Manatee County Commissioners next Tuesday, September 12th at the 9am meeting.

    If passed, this could start a witch hunt with the local nonprofits that could cut off county funding for much needed social services.

    WHAT IT ACTUALLY DOES, is it restricts any nonprofit who receives even $1 of Manatee County funds from collaborating with or utilizing the services of Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider including comprehensive *** education, contraception and more. Planned Parenthood provides a wide range of women's health services but this government putting the entire nonprofit community that are providing services the county would otherwise need to do at risk.

    Sunday, September 10, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    The shelter volunteers were fired without cause because they spoke out about the terrible conditions of the shelters. The county did not follow its own handbook for the termination of the volunteers. Who would want to volunteer for the county after this? Item 10- allows the commissioners to continue the hate by holding funding from the citizens who need it most. Item 55- moves Historical resources to sports and leisure? Item 60- Bearden is trying to blow up the Tunnels to Towers Veterans Housing project although it is under the guise of “Discussion on Alternative Veterans Housing” to keep the Veterans and the public from turning out at the meeting. That's almost like calling it a "homeless shelter" and having a town hall. The utility property is wanted by a developer and to hell with those pesky veterans. Many of these are last minute additions and the public comment window is closed. A lot of public comment submitted is not being posted in the appropriate place or anywhere on the agenda- and it doesn’t matter how early you send it. Stupidity at its finest, with the exception of Kruse.

    Sunday, September 10, 2023 Report this

  • san.gander

    Dawn your column is very informative... and it is important... do not leave anything out; reveal the hidden agendas and consequences of the Commission's actions, the whole picture! Keep up the good work of " informing us about the "some good", mostly bad, and the "really ugly" of our current crop of feckless and very likely corrupt County Commissioners.

    Sunday, September 10, 2023 Report this

  • David Daniels

    It still blows my mind how cruel and uncaring Jody Fiske and Sarah Brown are to have "fired" so many passionate, hard working people who's only crime was no longer being able to ignore suffering. And then they insult all of the rest of us by refusing transparency. I posted an email where Sarah Brown deliberately asks a shelter auditor to only report by phone. In the email, Brown admits the purpose is to avoid making a public record. And what happened to the $2500/month to help clear the shelter? Brown can't even produce a simple anti-tethering public campaign that she promised. A new shelter won't fix incompetence. MCAW needs new leadership.

    Sunday, September 10, 2023 Report this

  • micedw

    Right on, N_Alice_Newlon

    Tuesday, September 12, 2023 Report this