I’m sure that my fellow GOT fans know the rest of that line. For those of you who did not read or watch, it concludes, "you win or you die. There is no middle ground." No one dies in politics, not usually anyway, but when you turn government into a Machiavellian, zero-sum competition, it is only a matter of time before your own number gets called.
This week, former Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes, who had seen so many of his subordinates unceremoniously walked out of the building with a box of personal effects in tow during his brief time at the helm, found himself in the very same position, to the delight of hundreds if not thousands of rank and file county employees.
To say that Hopes was unpopular would be the understatement of the year, even if it were not only early February. In a recent poll of our readers in which more than 700 responded, his approval rating was a paltry 4 percent. Given the amount of negative feedback we have heard from county employees, it certainly seems safe to say that his popularity was not much higher among those who not only lived under his governance as residents but had to work under his leadership as well. A narcissistic egomaniac who incessantly name-drops and overstates everything from his wealth to his resume, Hopes is someone who is not difficult to dislike.
I try very hard not to delight in the despair of others, but when I was treated to a peek at some photos of "Doctor" Hopes, a man of uniquely diminutive stature being escorted off the property to an oversized white pickup truck (complete with a "DR BIZ" vanity license plate) that he literally had to climb up and into, I’ll admit it sparked a warm chuckle. And all I've had to endure was chronicling his many missteps and watching as he further hampered Manatee County’s future. For all of the other employees who have either suffered the same fate only without just cause, or made it through the staff bloodbath only to come to work to walk on eggshells each day, I can only imagine that the sight seemed even sweeter.
Nearly a week later, the county commission still has not said a word as to why it very suddenly eighty-sixed its top employee. According to the official "separation agreement," much of which seems to have been copied and pasted from that of Hopes' predecessor Cheri Coryea (true story), it was a mutual separation and both parties promise not to say anything unkind about the other. In other words, we won’t make you explain to prospective future employers why you got canned, so long as you don’t run your mouth about how completely corrupt and incompetent we as board members happen to be.
For being a good sport about the whole thing, Hopes gets four months’ pay dished out in one lump sum (which is more than the average Manatee County resident earns in a year), along with all accrued vacation and sick leave, plus the amount he would have received in deferred compensation, and his current health insurance coverage for the next year. In other words, he gets to pop just the sort of golden parachute that the board once bragged they would not have to pay out when they gave him the most lucrative contract in the position’s history, despite him being the least experienced and most unqualified administrator Manatee County had ever hired. You gotta love the way this conservative board looks after your tax dollars, eh?
The last thing Hopes did before getting axed was to fire his top deputy, Robert Reinshuttle, a similarly under-qualified former business partner to whom Hopes seemed to owe some favors. Reinshuttle not only scored a sweet six-figure job at a time when he seemed to really need the money, but text messages from a public records dump revealed that Hopes promised to and followed through on getting his pal’s girlfriend a comfy gig at the Manatee School District, whose hiring practices seem to be every bit as much subject to the who you know way of doing business as the county's.
However, according to sources within county government, Reinshuttle had recently revealed that his boss was planning to conduct an investigation that would "exonerate"Hopes’ pal and incoming fourth deputy administrator Mitchell Teitelbaum, who had been accused of sexual harassment, which led to Hopes showing him the door. Ironically, this seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, as Reinshuttle had reportedly earned the favor of County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who was already incensed with Hopes for his treatment of her friend and county employee Debbie Scaccianoce. Hopes seemed to take retaliatory action against Scaccianoce after she reportedly assisted one of her employees in finding the proper form for filing the sexual harassment claim when she reported having been inappropriately touched by Teitelbaum and the county’s useless HR department just could not seem to locate it.
Sources at the county told TBT that Baugh flipped her lid when she heard about Reinshuttle and proffered some hard ultimatums to board chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, the commissioner who had championed Hopes in the first place. Given that Baugh had just been publicly reprimanded, censured, and fined by the state for unethical behavior as a public official and Van Ostenbridge can barely seem to tolerate her in the first place, this wouldn’t normally seem to be enough to sway the chair. However, after getting put on criminal probation for stealing property from one of his constituents, word has it that the local Republican power structure has had just about enough of the former GT Bray Rec Center employee who has long been rumored to have a closet full of skeletons that can always come back to haunt him at any moment.
Given that George Kruse is currently in the midst of a very long and public trial for driving his own big white pickup truck into a tree while appearing to be three sheets to the wind on police bodycam footage, that now makes strip club evangelist James Satcher the ranking elder statesman of the board. And, I have to admit, Satcher has been sounding like one of the more reasonable voices as of late, even if that may be primarily owed to the fact that he often buzzes in to speak right after newcomer Jason "something, something, defend the constitution" Bearden whose marble-mouthed rants sound like that crazy uncle on Thanksgiving after one too many glasses of elderberry wine.
On the admin side, this whole mess now falls to Lee Washington, the veterans' services coordinator who was just getting his feet wet as Manatee County’s Neighborhood Services Director when the board quickly and inexplicably moved to jump him past three deputy county administrators to fill the role of interim administrator in Hopes’ absence. Whether Baugh’s favor will see Reinshuttle keep his post or she will be told to count herself content for having successfully ordered Hopes’ head remains to be seen, as does that of remaining deputies Charlie Bishop and Courtney DePol–although the latter’s connection to the board’s real boss, developer Carlos Beruff, probably means that her job is safe.
One person who did seem to have more color in his cheeks and spring in his step at Tuesday’s work session was Parks & Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker, who had been all but neutered under Hopes’ top-down micromanagement style. Now, like many other employees, Hunsicker might be able to get back to doing good work without the dark cloud that Hopes had cast over the administration building, that is, until the board delivers the next installment of this low-budget soap opera that we have come to call life here in Manatee County.
Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County governmentsince 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University, where he earned a degree in Government. He later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Clickherefor his bio. Dennis' latest novel, Sacred Hearts, is availablehere.