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Manatee County's Director of Public Safety "Let Go

BRADENTON – This week, rumors swirled concerning Manatee County’s Director of Public Safety and the apparent termination of his tenured role within county leadership. So far, the county denies the information–claiming the director is still employed by the county–but an email sent by a deputy county administrator contradicted that assertion when it announced the director was "let go."

Jacob Saur–a 20-plus-year employee of the county–was appointed as the county’s public safety director in January 2020 by the county’s previous administrator, Cheri Coryea. Prior to the promotion, Saur had served as the county’s emergency communications chief. He was first hired by the county in 2001.

TBTbecame aware of Saur’s "separation" from the county on the evening of July 26. Initially, sources toldTBTthat Saur was fired, but our publication was unable to confirm the nature of Saur’s departure until July 27, when a copy of an internal email was published on Twitter by Peter Schorsch of online publication Florida Politics.

The email appeared to be authored by Deputy County Administrator Robert Reinshuttle at 6:14 p.m. the evening of July 26.

"This email is to let you know that Mr. Saur has been let go as Director of Public Safety," Reinshuttle wrote in the email. "We have two strong Deputies at the Department, and I will be working much more closely with both of them moving forward. If you have any questions Dr. Hopes or myself will be happy to speak with you individually. Thank you."The email provided no explanation for the action.

TBTreached Manatee County PIO Bill Logan by email on July 27 requesting comment on the apparent firing of Saur. In a reply to our email, Logan wrote, "As of 4 p.m. EDT, a check with Human Resources here at Manatee County Government indicates that Jacob Saur is still employed by Manatee County Government."

TBTforwarded a copy of Reinshuttle’s email taken from Twitter to Logan, requesting further clarification. Logan responded to the follow-up inquiry similarly, writing, "I don’t know where you got that e-mailÉ but I have been told that it was a miscommunication." Logan included by reiterating that "as of close of business on July 27, 2022" Saur was still employed by the county and then offered to updateTBTif that information changed. As of the publication of this reporting,TBThas received no additional updates from the county.

Additionally, multiple sources toldTBTthat longtime Manatee County Utilities Department Director Mike Gore had been fired on Thursday. Logan responded to an inquiry that same day, tellingTBTthat he had no information regarding Gore but would make inquiries with HR and let us know what he found out. We had not heard back as of the publication of this article. Gore had been rumored to be on the chopping block for months, for no other reason than having carried out the negotiations on the county's Lena Road land acquisition, which several commissioners in the current majority had used as a campaign talking point, alleging without evidence that the county had grossly overpaid for the property.

TBTlater obtained a forwarded copy of the email Reinshuttle sent on the evening of July 26 regarding Saur's departure. It showed that Reinshuttle had addressed the email to each of the seven commissioners and cc-ed Administrator Scott Hopes, Deputy Administrator Courtney DePol, as well as Deputy Administrator Charlie Bishop.

The Manatee County Commission held a regular meeting the same day that Reinshuttle announced Saur's firing in the email to commissioners. Before the BOCC meeting ended that evening, Administrator Hopes told commissioners, "You're all going to be getting a discussion from Deputy County Administrator Reinshuttle on EMS, tonight."

Hope’s statement was made within minutes of Reinshuttle sending the email announcing Saur’s firing. Several of the commissioners responded to Hopes' comment with surprise, and Commissioner Carol Whitmore could be heard asking Hopes, "Did you guys fire somebody?"

To replay this moment from the end of the BOCC July 26 meeting, click the video below.

When reached for comment, Mr. Saur declined to confirm any information toTBTabout his firing or to provide any comment on the matter.

Rumors that Saur’s position with the county could be under threat have been circulating since at least February of last year when Baugh publicly pointed at Saur insinuating that he may have been involved in "leaking" the now infamous "VIP" list to the press.

The VIP list–as it came to be referred–was a list Baugh emailed to Saur of five persons, including herself, that were to be scheduled for vaccination appointments at the Premier Sports Complex vaccine pop-up site in Lakewood Ranch. Baugh and the pop-up site became embroiled in a national scandal now commonly known as "Vaccinegate," after it was revealed that Baugh had single-handedly ordered the county’s random vaccine lottery pool culled to include residents from just two zip codes within her own district.

During a BOCC work session meeting on February 18, 2021, Baugh admitted to having created the "VIP" list, but warned, "I sent it to our public safety director, and what happened to it after that I have no idea... But, I will find out!"

Despite Baugh’s apparent belief that the VIP list had been inappropriately released, the creation of such an email is a public record and must be released when requested by any party who requests it for any reason. Public record laws in Florida are expansive and emails written and received by elected officials and county staff are subject to disclosure laws.

Some of the actions taken by Baugh in organizing the vaccination pop-up site resulted in immense public outcry, a criminal complaint and investigation, 18 ethics complaints filed against her, a Florida Commission on Ethics determination of probable cause that ethics laws were violated, and an upcoming evidentiary trial (ethics hearing) currentlyscheduled for Novemberof this year.

By June of 2021, whispers of the likelihood that Saur would eventually be pushed out of the organization picked up again after the Manatee County Sheriff, having completed its investigation into Baugh’s actions, released its finalizedinvestigative report on Vaccinegate. Saur and the county’s former administrator, Coryea, appeared as two key witnesses in MCS’s investigation.

Saur in particular seemed to be a significant witness in the MCSO report for the fact that Baugh relied heavily on personally instructing Saur to carry out some of her most damning directives during Vaccinegate. Although the MCS investigation was unable to identify any crime committed, the investigative report was forwarded to the Florida Commission on Ethics for its review. The report was heavily referenced by the ethics commission during itsprobable cause hearing, and witness statements were relied upon by the commission in its finding of cause and order of a hearing.

Based on the MCS investigative report and the Ethics Commission’s probable cause hearing, it seems plausible that Saur will be a key witness in Baugh’s upcoming ethics hearing.

TBTreached out to the Attorney General Advocate’s office asking whether Saur may be called as a witness in the case but was told its office was unable to "confirm or deny" such information at this time.

Just months after his appointment as Director of Public Safety, Saur was tasked with leading the county’s public safety response to COVID-19. By all accounts, Saur rose to the task. Following Governor Ron DeSantis’s issuance of Executive Order 20-52, which declared a State of Emergency for COVID-19, Saur’s position responsibilities were elevated to the oversight of the local response to the pandemic.

Saur became a known and valuable resource to area residents seeking local COVID-19 information, many of whom came to rely on the detailed COVID-19 reports he presented weekly during BOCC meetings. Not only did Saur update on important local data (community spread, resource availability, hospital capacities, etc.), but he also updated on the ongoing mutual work with the Manatee County Health Department and the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

Saur’s responsibilities during the pandemic included overseeing medical response protocols for local first responders, overseeing 911 response, and tracking inventory of medical supplies including necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local nursing homes, hospitals, and first responders. As the pandemic progressed Saur led the county’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and organization of county-run testing sites.

Manatee County’s Public Safety Department was praised for its vaccination efforts by Governor DeSantis after he visited the Bennet drive-through site in January of 2021.

By March of 2021, under Saur’s leadership, the team at the Department of Safety had successfully worked with leadership teams at the local Health Department to reach a milestone of 50,000 vaccine doses administered in Manatee County. Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse took an opportunity to directly commend Saur and the work of the Public Safety staff after having received his second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at one of the county's drive-through sites.

Saur’s departure comes on the heels of numerous other longtime employees also separating from the county since Hopes was appointed as county administrator. The county has seen turnover and loss of nearly 650 employees since May of 2021. Some commissioners have publicly acknowledged a concerning culture that has grown under the leadership of Hopes, and some employees have cited a "hostile and volatile" work environment in resignation letters. Employees revealed to TBTin May an existingfear of retaliation among staff as well as increasing control over communication from the top down within the organization.

Hopes has spearheaded a reorganization of the county government since his appointment. Among many changes to staff and division assignments, Hopes eliminated the Department of Redevelopment and Economic Opportunity (REO), which reduced the county's total departments from 12 to 11. Saur's department of public safety was one department that saw significant changes in its divisions throughout thereorganizationprocess.

The firing of Jacob Saur as Director of Public Safety makes for the seventh turnover among department director positions since Hopes was hired. Another high-profile resignation came in May of this year when the former Director of Financial Management and CFO Jan Brewer departed after Clerk of Court and County Comptroller Angel Colonneso warned commissioners of concerning findings by her office related to Hopes. The administration's decision to terminate the Director of Human Resources last August resulted in the organization being left without an HR director for nearly a year.

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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