Log in Subscribe

County's HR Outsourcing Reeks of Improprieties


In the latest dispatch of things that don't pass the smell test in Manatee County, I'd like to draw your attention to your county commissioners’ efforts to outsource HR to one of their buddies. Along the way, your county administration failed miserably in terms of following procurement standards and procedures.

As soon as former Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa "Vaccinegate" Baugh started rambling about outsourcing the county's Human Resources work to a friend, the idea sounded at least bent, if not fully crooked. This was just after the county commission chose to cut bait in its disastrous experiment in determining whether someone with absolutely no relative qualifications could serve as county administrator (part 2 of that experiment is currently underway). As such, the county government was in enough disarray that there was reason to fear commissioners would behave like adolescents left alone while the parents were out of town.

Once it was revealed that they had their pal Dennis Cooley in mind, the smell of rotten fish began wafting in the air (to be fair, that could have been all of the Lyngbia fouling our waterways). That said, given the way that these off-brand muppets have doled out patronage to cronies and gutted the county’s wetland protection policies, it is a smell whose provenance will likely remain difficult to discern for some time to come.

In another excellent piece of investigative reporting by TBT's Dawn Kitterman, we learned that the county skirted its procurement procedures (ignored might be more accurate) and moved to engage Cooley rather than put the work out for bid. That was after they were warned by the county attorney that the board had to consider the county’s purchasing ordinance and should go through its procurement department. One of the county’s procurement officials reached out to Gallagher Benefit Services, an insurance, risk management and consulting service with clients in more than 130 countries, and with whom the county already had an existing and positive relationship in terms of HR consultation.

Representatives from Gallagher gave a presentation to commissioners who afterward claimed that they were worried about the idea that the firm might not be ideologically aligned with the board—because ideology is obviously more important than qualifications in Manatee County politics. Amanda Ballard, who I understand to be an attorney when she is not busy worrying about what books are in our libraries, seemed to think that because the international firm offered services that included things like diversity training, they might be too woke for this board’s taste.

Someone mentioned the fact that there are various state and federal laws that require some organizations to participate in such training, but Ballard and her buddies were unmoved. Enter Cooley, for whom there were no concerns as to what HR services he included because Cooley doesn’t work in HR in the sense that Gallagher does. Cooley is in the employee leasing game, the HR functions of which are apples and oranges compared to that of a firm like Gallagher, and not even in the same galaxy as the scope of our county government. There would also be no doubt as to his ideological allegiance, given that he’d supported many of the commissioners who would be casting a vote.

The process reeked of graft right from Jump Street. The only question was where the line between corruption and incompetence fell—always tough to discern when your government is choc full of unqualified hacks with no foibles when it comes to doling out the public’s resources to those who fill the campaign coffers. The first proposal from Cooley laughably proposed $150,000 for a two-month “assessment” that didn’t include a scope of work and, as the procurement official pointed out, was not in any way tied to specific deliverables.

Kitterman’s reporting shows that it was Deputy County Administrator Courtney De Pol and then-Deputy County Administrator Charlie Bishop who did the heavy lifting on getting Cooley’s company across the finish line, ultimately revising the proposal so that the scope of the initial “assessment” was recalibrated and the payment reduced to an amount that would no longer require the county to advertise its intent to award a contract that was single-sourced rather than put out for bids.

The county’s own rules on single-sourcing a purchase do, however, require things like a written justification to support the single-source designation, a description of all efforts made to obtain pricing that is competitive within the applicable marketplace, a description of previous solicitations and market research, and details of efforts made to obtain the best price/value for the county. The memorandum, signed off on by De Pol, who was at that point acting county administrator, did not have any of those things because they did not exist. Cooley was who the commissioners wanted, and the process was reverse-engineered from there.

What’s more, it wasn’t until after the negotiations that Cooley’s firm, which had been focused almost exclusively on payroll for small businesses, announced that it would be launching a new service, "Secure HR Pro: Elevating HR Services for Large Complex Organizations." Kitterman’s reporting also demonstrated that there were several additional red flags regarding required documents associated with insurance and discrepancies between various LLCs that had been formed. Some of the documentation TBT requested came back dated right after we requested it!

All of these things might be understandable for a small firm that was about to embark on a venture with its very first client in an area it was very new to. But that’s exactly why the county is not able to just single source a major contract to any Tom, Dick, or Harry who has been an ally of its elected officials—officials who have clearly migrated from their statutory roles as legislators to the prohibited role of administrators via a puppet administration that understands special interests are the ones pulling the strings.

This is not normal, folks—not outside of Manatee County, anyway. Foremost, while the elections of representatives are inherently partisan, public administration is not. And in terms of ideological compatibility, what are we talking about? This board, which has grown government while simultaneously ceding small government powers to the state, and generally squandered cash like drunken sailors on a short leave before a long deployment, cannot claim to be conservative by any stretch of the term.

Sure, they throw some red meat on hot-buttoned issues that have no teeth like the 2nd Amendment Sanctuary or Bill of Rights Sanctuary nonsense. Still, their real ideology is graft and cronyism, and they have stacked the administration with well-paid rubber-stamping lackeys who have no qualms about doing whatever they are told regardless of the ethical implications.

We are just over one year away from the next election, at which time a majority of the seven seats will be up for grabs. Hopefully, enough residents are paying attention to vote these bozos out of office, regardless of how much money their developer sugar daddies throw at the races. That said, we should all be very worried about how much additional damage they can inflict on the community in the meantime.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


11 comments on this item

Only paid subscribers can comment
Please log in to comment by clicking here.

  • Dianna

    This board is a wrecking ball that will leave citizens picking up the tab on the stupidity for years. They have no ethics and ignore all the rules. DePol and Bishop, along with our county attorney clearly do not work for the taxpayers of Manatee County. Time to vote out the crooks starting in 2024 with- Satcher, Van Ostenbridge, Turner- along with that mysterious 8th commissioner Arana.

    Saturday, October 14, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    The results of their efforts will be experienced for decades, and they wasted decades of other people's work. All for a short list of selfish developers.

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • writerlynn9717

    Thanks again for your detailed expose` of the notorious Manatee BOCC. The difficult job of informing the public about their deception must be tiring, because it's profuse and never-ending. We depend upon TBT to continue making us aware of the obvious, as well as more obscure, improper decisions that they make. Also, love your writing,as it's like reading a good novel too, keeping me engaged while more knowledgeable and sometimes on the edge of my seat. I hope people share this and help the hard work of getting them out of office.

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • Cwright

    Another excellent exposé on our despicable Board of Corrupt Commissioners. Dawn & Mitch, thank you for keeping us informed! Cronies Courtney De Pol and Charlie Bishop are every bit as culpable, if not more so, for the degradation of our county. Honestly, how do these crooks sleep at night??

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • David Daniels

    On Monday, Oct 9, the day after Ms Kitterman's excellent reporting, I sent a link to her story and the following note to each Commissioner and Depol:

    "What a bunch of corrupt hypocrites. Unbelievable.

    I feel sorry for your parents, who surely must be ashamed for raising the kind of people that sneak around and

    lie. You break rules, award public funds to your donors, engage in cover ups. You have zero integrity."

    The election can't come soon enough. These years since 2021 will be remembered as the worst governing in

    Manatee's history."

    I just hope that people are waking up. We all need to comment on everything we see on social media. We need to refute the propaganda like the recent "homeless shelter" text messages - which will surely increase. We need to share the truth. We need to post and reply - just like so many informed citizens have commented to this article. Thank gosh for Joe, Mitch and Dawn. We need to help inform voters. It is up to us to rid ourselves of the disease of corruption.

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • rjckeuka4

    I seem to recall a slogan three years ago "Drain the Swamp!" Well three years later the Swamp has only gotten deeper. Time to really drain it this time!!

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • san.gander

    Corruption is rife in the Manatee County Board of Commissioners, and goes unchecked in Florida, by a state government that echos and condones the same corruptions in it's legislative acts. There is great need of a Reform movement of truly moral,and honest leadership in Florida. Obviously, don't look to the current crop of Republican leaders for moral, or honest leadership; and the Democrats do not appear to have many either! Greed and authoritarianism tops ethics in this state.

    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • Debann


    Sunday, October 15, 2023 Report this

  • joni.corcoran

    Thank you for giving us the truth about what is happening in Manatee County. Election Day can’t come soon enough!

    Monday, October 16, 2023 Report this

  • nellmcphillips

    I am really starting to tire of the corruption of our local politicians. So sad that locally we have sunk to this level. Let’s bring in some honest people who have the best interests of our county in mind. We need to work on infrastructure in the oldest parts of our county and quit catering to development interests that are taking our land to the east like toilet paper during COVID. Hang in there Manatee County there are some good people running against these inbreds. Keep informed and support this paper!

    Tuesday, October 17, 2023 Report this

  • Removetheplantburglar






    Thursday, October 26, 2023 Report this