County Commission accepts Ley's resignation
Under a cloud of a procurement scandal, the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to accept County Administrator Jim Ley's resignation offer and offered the interim administrator position to Maj. Kurt Hoffman of the Sarasota County Sherif
In an anti-climatic moment, following weeks of speculation and 24 hours of discussion and reflection, Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley left the dais after the county commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to accept the terms of his resignation contract.
Deputy Chief Administrator Dave Bullock took Ley’s seat at the dais, but the Sarasota County Board of Commissioners balked at appointing him as interim administrator until they conduct a national search for Ley’s replacement.
Instead the commissioners voted unanimously, after a reconsidering of a 3-2 vote, to offer the interim administrator position to Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Kurt Hoffman.
Before Ley’s dramatic departure, he read a statement thanking several people and institutions for their support in his nearly 14 years with the county, including the commissioners, the citizens and county staff.
Under the pall of a procurement office scandal, Ley offered his resignation at the beginning of the Tuesday morning commission meeting, saying he has become a barrier to the county moving forward.
But the commissioners could not come to a decision on the terms of the resignation contract and decided to take the matter up at Wednesday’s meeting after thinking about it overnight.
Commissioner Christine Robinson, who made to motion to accept the offer as presented, said the extra time gave her “clarity” on the issue.
“Mr. Ley has done great things for the community,” Robinson said. “I appreciate the legacy he has created, and my children and grandchildren will appreciate it.”
But she added that the county was at the point where it had to move on.
Commissioner Carolyn Mason, who seconded Robinson’s motion, agreed and said the offer was acceptable to her.
“The offer is based upon what is in the contract,” Mason said. “I believe it is an acceptable offer and we need to get back to work.”
But Commissioner Joseph Barbetta, whose opposition to the offer on Tuesday was one of the reasons for delaying a decision until Wednesday, said he supported the amount of the severance, $265,000 plus benefits, but had a problem with not including a “claw back” clause, where Ley would return the severance if the procurement scandal led to conditions necessitating the payback.
Barbetta said other county employees’ contract have to include a clause stating they have not violated any laws and did not see any reason why Ley’s resignation contract could not have one.
For Commissioner Jon Thaxton the decision to accept any options was similar to a “Sophie’s Choice,” referring to the story of a woman having to choose which child lives before she was sent to a concentration camp during World War II.
“I don’t what to make any, but I have to,” Thaxton said. “We have to allow the community to rebuild.
“We have to have a change at the top of the administration,” he said.
He said he did not support including the “claw back” clause because it was not in Ley’s original contract when he was hired.
Chairwoman Nora Patterson agreed, saying she did not believe “it would be productive to add something to the contract that wasn’t there in the beginning.”
If the clause were included in the resignation contract, Ley would not have to accept it and could remain administrator until the commission terminated his employment contract.
If the county unilaterally terminated the contract it would be obligated to pay more than $384,000 and give him a 90 days notice to leave, which created the dilemma the commission debated Wednesday.
Patterson said the commissioners had to “remember the years of excellent service of Mr. Ley.”
Regardless of the other commissioners’ arguments, Barbetta voted against accepting the resignation contract.
After the vote, Barbetta suggested the county commission pick someone from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, possibly Sheriff Tom Knight or his top administrator, Hoffman, but County Attorney Steve DeMarsh said he would have to check Florida statues to see if the sheriff could fill that role.
The commissioners postponed deciding in the morning whether to appoint Bullock as interim administrator or follow Barbetta’s suggestion until after lunch at the request of Robinson, who had a working relationship with Hoffman in the Sarasota County State Attorney’s Office.
When the commission reconvened, Thaxton made a motion to offer Hoffman the top county position “pending resolution of the delegation of his duties and compensation.” Barbetta second that motion.
Although the initial vote with 3-2, with Patterson and Mason voting in the minority, they both reconsidered, saying they wanted Hoffman to have a unanimous vote of confidence.
Patterson said the decision on Hoffman should be taken up by the next commission meeting in two weeks.
Hoffman released a statement through the Sheriff's Office:
"I am honored to be nominated for the interim position of Sarasota County Administrator. Obviously the terms of this transition are still developing and details need to be worked out between the County and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
"My staff is currently working to revise the internal structure to assume the General Counsel duties and Division Command responsibilities. Once this is successfully in place, my goal will be to stabilize the role of County Administrator and restore public confidence in Sarasota County government. There are many dedicated Sarasota County employees who deserve improved morale, communication and direction.
"With the guidance of Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock and the Board of Sarasota County Commission we will move forward and find efficient ways to get the work of the people done."