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SOE Appointment Continues to Draw Public Scrutiny


MANATEE COUNTY — It’s been two weeks since former county commissioner James Satcher was announced as Manatee County Supervisor of Elections. It seems that the dust still hasn’t settled following the controversial gubernatorial appointment.

An appointment was necessary when Mike Bennett announced an early retirement after serving as the county’s Supervisor of Elections for 11 years. Bennett’s retirement became effective on March 1, leaving roughly nine months of his four-year term vacant.

Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Satcher to fill the vacancy on Friday, April 12. On the same day Satcher’s appointment was announced, Scott Farrington—Bennett's Chief of Staff, who had also applied with the governor’s office seeking the appointment—resigned.

By that Monday, Satcher had already hired a new Chief of Staff: David Ballard, husband of Amanda Ballard, one of Satcher’s colleagues from his time on the Manatee County Commission. 

Satcher addressed his former colleagues during a special Manatee County Commission meeting on the Tuesday following his appointment. Standing at the public podium, Satcher told commissioners that he had gotten to work quickly to identify “what’s wrong” with the office he had inherited.

“I’m new on the job; this is week one,” Satcher told commissioners during the April 16 BOCC meeting. “But when you need to get underneath the hood and find out what’s wrong, that’s what we’re doing.”

After providing a summary of state election measures, Satcher went on to share that “on day one,” he had already identified technology shortcomings within his new office.

Satcher added, “One person left on Friday of his own accord and took all the passwords with him and refused to give them to our technology department when we called and asked for the passwords.”

Satcher's comments about "one person who left on Friday" seemed to be about Scott Farrington. 

Speaking to the AMI SUN newspaper last week, Farrington and Bennett both disputed Satcher’s allegations that Farrington left his post with all the passwords, refusing to hand them over.

“I did not take any passwords,” Farrington told the AMI SUN. “And I did not refuse to give any passwords back. That’s not true.”

The SUN also reported that in speaking to Bennett, he alleged Farrington would not have possessed “all of the passwords” because those were held by a different member of SOE staff.

Bennett added, “Nobody ever contacted Scott or me about getting any passwords.”

Since Satcher’s remarks during the April 16 special meeting, additional information regarding Satcher’s first days in office has come to light.

Two circumstances that are raising questions among some members of the public were brought to the attention of TBT. In one circumstance, sources—who have requested to remain anonymous—alleged to have knowledge of the burglar alarm at the SOE office having been tripped on the day following Satcher’s appointment.

According to sources, staff with the county’s property management department set off the alarm while trying to gain access to the building on the off-business day. TBT was unable to confirm the circumstances of the alleged incident but was able to locate an incident number on the MCSO dispatched call log associated with 600 301 Boulevard West.

The dispatched call record was assigned incident number S2404130415, which was dispatched to MCSO on Saturday, April 13, at 12:54 p.m. The only details provided on the sheriff’s online call log were, “burglar alarm - commercial - 600 block 301 BLVD W - MSO Operations Center.” The Supervisor of Elections Office inhabits office space within a strip mall occupied by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

In an email to Satcher on Friday, TBT inquired whether there had been any incident at the SOE that Saturday that tripped the burglar alarm. Satcher did not respond to our question.

TBT submitted a record request to the MCSO for the production of the incident report associated with the dispatched call but did not receive a copy of the public record before our publication deadline.

Multiple sources have also alleged to TBT that Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge met with Satcher and David Ballard at the SOE office on the Monday before the BOCC special meeting, at which Satcher spoke on April 16.

Sources who spoke to TBT about the alleged “meeting” expressed concern about the nature of Van Ostenbridge’s visit to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Van Ostenbridge—who is actively seeking reelection to the District 3 seat of the Manatee Commission—is not the current chairman of the BOCC.

When asked about the alleged meeting, Van Ostenbridge disagreed with categorizing his visit as a “meeting.” He admitted he was at the Supervisor of Elections Office on Monday following Satcher’s appointment but said it was a “spontaneous” visit to check in on a friend.

“There was no meeting,” Van Ostenbridge told TBT by phone. “I just decided impromptu to pop over and see how he (Satcher) was enjoying his new job.”

Van Ostenbridge said he was at the SOE only briefly, “not longer than 15-20 minutes.”

About an hour after our call with Van Ostenbridge, Satcher responded to TBT’s emailed request for comment about the alleged meeting, corroborating Van Ostenbridge’s account.

Satcher’s email to TBT read, “Commissioner Van Ostenbridge stopped by to congratulate me on my ‘battlefield promotion’ from Commissioner to Supervisor of Elections.”

James Satcher is sworn into the office of Manatee County Supervisor of Election by Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. on April 16, 2024. Satcher's wife, Monica Satcher, holds the bible.
James Satcher is sworn into the office of Manatee County Supervisor of Election by Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. on April 16, 2024. Satcher's wife, …

Public Scrutiny

Public concerns were already heightened by the governor's decision to appoint Satcher over Farrington. Rumors had been swirling in the weeks before the appointment that political operatives were working hard to land Satcher the appointment and that their efforts were likely to be successful.

Farrington had worked at the office of the SOE for twelve years, eleven of those alongside Bennett as his chief of staff. Prior to his time at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, Farrington served ten years with the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections. Due to his credentials and expertise, Bennett recommended Farrington to fill his seat until the next election in his resignation letter.

When speaking to the AMI SUN on April 18, Bennett noted DeSantis has often expressed his desire for election integrity, yet appointed a supervisor of elections with no previous experience and strong partisan political beliefs.

David Ballard, the husband of District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard, also has no prior experience conducting elections. Ballard served as an aide to former Florida House Representative Tommy Gregory before becoming a staff member at the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association (BIA), a position he held until Ballard was arrested for two DUIs within 30 days.

While working for the BIA, Ballard took part in meetings between administrative staff of the Manatee County Government’s Department of Development Services and BIA President Jon Mast. It was later revealed that during the meeting, Mast and Ballard discussed a “white paper” that contained proposed revisions to the county’s land development code.

Ballard is currently serving consecutive sentences related to his two DUI convictions. The first arrest was recorded on Feb. 1, 2023. In that incident, the Florida Highway Patrol charged Ballard with leaving the scene of the accident with property damage, which was alleged to have occurred while he was driving under the influence.

The second arrest came on March 6, 2023, when the Bradenton Police Department arrested Ballard on his second suspicion of driving while intoxicated while his license was suspended due to the previous incident. In that case, Ballard was also charged with refusal to submit to alcohol testing.

Both cases were heard in a combined sentencing hearing where three sentencing documents were issued. Each of the documents was dated August 24, 2023.

In the February 2023 incident, Ballard was convicted of one count of DUI and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to 12 months of probation for the DUI offense and six months of probation (concurrent) for leaving the scene.

In the second incident the following March, Ballard received a second DUI conviction and was sentenced to another 12 months of probation, consecutive to the sentences he received for the Feb. incident.

Along with probation, Ballard received 125 hours of community service for all convictions across both incidents. He was also saddled with hundreds of dollars in fines, had his vehicle ordered impounded for 40 days, and was ordered to participate in a victim impact panel and complete DUI/driving courses.

For his first DUI conviction, Ballard’s license was suspended for 6 months without early termination. Sentencing for his second DUI conviction included a driver’s license suspension for five years (consecutive to his first suspension) from August 24, 2023, with a possible early termination after 18 months.

Ballard was also sentenced to 30 days in jail for the second DUI offense and the refusal to test. Both were granted time served after Ballard completed a 60-day in-house treatment program.

Despite Ballard's current criminal probation and other sentencing terms, Satcher told Your Observer last week that his decision to hire Ballard as his chief of staff was partially influenced by his faith.

“Obviously, I preach of God and second chances,” Satcher told Your Observer. “I like to apply that to my life whenever I can. (Ballard) has the capability and mindset that we need to get the job done.”

Regarding Ballard’s qualifications, Satcher told Your Observer that Ballard holds an undergraduate degree related to finance and has prior financial and legal experience, making him a good fit for the chief of staff position. According to the Florida Bar, Ballard is a licensed Florida attorney and a "member in good standing." 

While speaking to the AMI SUN, Manatee County’s former Supervisor of Election Bennett said he was extremely disappointed to learn of Satcher’s appointment to his former position. Bennett added that he was also disappointed with former Florida Senator Bill Galvano for “taking the lead on getting the governor” to make the appointment.

“To take somebody who has no knowledge of elections and never volunteered to sit on the canvassing board? He knows nothing about it,” AMI SUN quoted Bennett as saying. “And then he hires a guy who’s on probation and can’t even drive the supervisor’s car to check on a polling place or an early voting spot. The new chief of staff knows nothing about elections and has never served on a canvassing board or been to a canvassing board meeting.”

Farrington has filed to run for the Supervisor of Elections position in the 2024 election. Farrington will face Satcher in the Republican primary for the supervisor’s seat in August.

Satcher, who had previously filed for reelection to his District 1 county commission seat, has since withdrawn that filing and re-filed to the Supervisor of Elections race. He had raised $70,500 for his District 1 campaign that he told Your Observer he intends to transfer to the SOE race.

In the meantime, Satcher’s comments to commissioners during the April 16 special meeting suggest that he intends to return to the commission during the upcoming budget session this summer to request additional funding support for technology upgrades.

“You know, and I know,” Satcher told commissioners during the April 16 meeting, “that we need to go to a new level at the Supervisor of Elections Office.”

He continued, “So we’re working on that, and obviously, I am hoping and looking forward to, and am confident, that you’ll be a partner in that as the body that approves our budget at the Supervisor of Elections Office.”


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  • Debann


    Saturday, April 27 Report this

  • bbenac

    Wait a minute!! He wasn’t sworn in until April 16? Then he WASN’T THE SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS WHEN HE BROKE INTO THE OFFICE ON APRIL 13!!! When I was elected Commissioner on Nov 4, 2016- I didn’t actually take my seat until AFTER I WAS SWORN IN AT THE NEXT BOCC MEETING. He had NO authority to hire anyone-let alone his colleague’s husband for RELIGIOUS REASONS. Are you kidding me?? ALSO-HOW DOES HIS CAMPAIGN ACCOUNT FOR THE SOE POSITION SHOW THAT HE HAS OVER $70,000 IN IT?? HE WASN’T EVEN A CANDIDATE FOR THE POSITION DURING THE MOST RECENT FILING PERIOD!! MY GOD, HE IS ALREADY VIOLATING NUMEROUS CAMPAIGN LAWS IN HIS FIRST WEEK AS THE SOE!!

    Saturday, April 27 Report this

  • sandy

    Found on website:

    Is its possible to run for a different office after I become a candidate?

    Yes, under 106.021(1)(a), Florida Statutes, you may change your mind and run for a different office after becoming a candidate, providing that you do the following:

    File a new Appointment of Campaign Treasurer and Designation of Campaign Depository, designating the new office;

    Within 15 days of the new appointment, notify, in writing, all contributors and offer to return their contributions in full or pro rata. The Request for Return of Contributions (Form DS-DE 86) may be used for such purpose;

    If, after 30 days from this notice, the contributor has not requested his contribution to be returned, you may use the funds in the campaign for your newly designated office.

    Has Satcher done this or as interim SOE is he ignoring this? Did he notify all contributors? Under Sunshine this information should be available.

    Saturday, April 27 Report this

  • WTF

    Frick and Frack running the SOE office is laughable. KVO is way out of bounds, after Nov elections they will all be looking for jobs. Instead of a car allowance will there be an Uber allowance David Ballard? Stacher should be charged with breaking and entering a government building. The **** Show continues

    Saturday, April 27 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Manatee County is a swamp bigger than the Everglades. God would never give this bunch of grifters a 2nd chance to destroy our County's future - and voters won't either.

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • writerlynn9717

    Everything quoted by Satcher is very, very scary for our citizens. Does he try to scare everyone on purpose, or is he just stupid?

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • rayfusco68

    The corruption shows no shame. Our politicians think we are all a bunch of sheep that will not hold them accountable. I am extremely disappointed in Bill Galvano for supporting this idiotic request by lobbying for it to the Governor. If you check the early articles you will see that even Desantis hesitated before finally appointing a totally unqualified political hack to the run the SOE.

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • Debann

    Interesting...AN ALARM goes off....The newly appointed soe being visited by his buddy Commissioner..LAUGHABLE...A DRUNK AND HIS SIDEKICK...Probably trying to figure out how to rig and manipulate the votes in favor of a certain Commissioner who wants to be reelected...PATHETIC ..SIGN THE PETITION FOR SCOTT FARRINGTON...DESATON GOT THIS ONE WRONG

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • jimandlope

    Mr. Bennett ran an efficient and accessible office. Obviously Mr. Farrington contributed to this office’s efficiency. It’s bad enough that he was bypassed for the job vacated by Mr. Bennett but to place a person with no experience or knowledge of the job in his place is bordering on criminal. Then, Satcher places his buddy in the second in command slot, which should be someone who knows what they are doing, is even more criminal. I pity the hard working staff of this vital office. Jim Tierney

    Sunday, April 28 Report this