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Manatee BOCC Passes New Contract for Administrator 5-2


BRADENTON – At Tuesday's meeting, the board voted 5-2 to enter a new 5-year contract with the county administrator that would add more than $60,000 annually to Mr. Hunzeker's compensation package, while adding other significant costs to Manatee Country taxpayers. Commissioners DiSabatino and Gallen said they could not support such lavish increases considering that most county workers have gone five years without pay raises.

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker was contracted with the county until November of 2014. However, Hunzeker is enrolled in the DROP program, scheduled to retire at the end of August of that year. At the first meeting of the year, commissioners voted 7-0 to authorize commission chair Larry Bustle to enter negotiations with Hunzeker to see if there might be a way that the county and its top manager could come to terms in extending his service beyond the 20-month period he was then scheduled to complete. While all of the commissioners agreed that Hunzeker did a stellar job of managing the county through challenging budget cuts, there was concern over how far the board should go in terms of cost, in order to secure Hunzeker's services.


Prior to board discussion, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and former county commissioners Pat Glass and Ron Getman gave public comment supporting Hunzeker's contract. Getman said that the contract seemed to be on par with Hunzeker's predecessor, Ernie Padgett and summed up his feelings by saying, "you get what you pay for." Other members of the business community and various community organizations gave similar comments in support of Hunzeker,  while several local citizens, including former County Commission Candidate Corie Holmes, urged the board to be more fiscally responsible and vote against the pay raise. Mary Shepard said that she was disappointed in what she described as deteriorating environmental standards which she says occurred as a result of Hunzeker's cost cuts and said that as a taxpayer, she was opposed to his retention.


Commissioner Bustle gave a brief summary of the proposed contract, saying the salary increase ($34,424.00) was "only around $30,000," but failing to disclose other costs such as the increase in deferred compensation (formerly 5 percent of Hunzeker's salary, but will now be up to 23 percent), the increase in leave time that can be cashed in annually and at the time of his future retirement, the cost to pay the Florida Retirement System for back contributions during Hunzeker's DROP period with compounded interest, and extending three years of the county's health insurance for Mr. Hunzeker (plus one), beyond the time which he ultimately retires. Bustle said that no effort was made to make up the $337,411 DROP payout Hunzeker would be eligible for at the end of August 2014 were he to stay in the program.


Commissioner Gallen was to first to comment and said that while he agreed that Hunzeker had performed well, he had serious reservations about setting such lucrative precedents. Gallen explained that on the surface alone, the additional costs added up to roughly $340,000 which he noted to be the equivalent of the DROP payout, plus that there were too many unknown costs, like the fact that the contract would also give Hunzeker raises any time they were voted on for the county employees at-large. Gallen said that he simply couldn't support moving forward so quickly, especially after the county has had to tell so many other employees that there is no money for raises.


Commissioner Gallen also noted that there was roughly a year and a half left until Hunzeker's DROP date and that the board had not even "tested the market" for a replacement. He also answered the comparison to Padgett's contract by pointing out that the former administrator had served during a historic boom in revenues during which his compensation consistently trended upward, as did other employees, but said that these times were clearly different for the county, its taxpayers and its workforce.


Commissioner DiSabatino echoed Gallen's concerns, as well as his praises of Hunzeker's work, but ultimately could not support the increase for similar reasons. "The purpose of DROP was to encourage seasoned officials to move on, said DiSabatino, "to pass on their institutional knowledge, pass off the baton so to speak." DiSabatino said that she saw plenty of talented people in Mr. Hunzeker's wings and that giving him such unprecedented benefits, which would then likely be sought by future administrators the board hires, including port directors and county attorneys, was not something that should be taken lightly.


To Bustle's claims that Hunzeker was underpaid, DiSabatino noted that "law enforcement officers, the people who protect us, don't make as much as surrounding counties," and that "to compare that is very difficult. We have another year and a half, which is an opportune time to groom someone else into the role. I can't support this contract."


Commissioner Betsy Benac sang Hunzeker's praises. “You do not get rid of your leader when your business is doing well,” said the newly-elected commissioner. “Good leadership is hard to find and there are not a lot of people around with his experience. Amazing changes have happened here that have made this a customer friendly organization.” 


Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that in terms of county employees being sore about Hunzeker getting a raise while they remain flat, "I haven't had one employee come up to me and say that they were against this, but during this time, I've had about a hundred come up to me and say that we need to do this, so I'm getting a very different impression out there."


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