Hunzeker's Legacy Lays in Service, Teamwork

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY DEC 20, 2018

When Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker considers his legacy in the county organization he’d led for a dozen years, his thoughts turn not toward any roadway or regional park, but his staff.

“I’m quite proud of the fact we have 1,700 people working as a team serving the citizens,” he says.

Hunzeker on Tuesday announced to Manatee County Commissioners he would retire in the spring, staying long enough to ensure a smooth transition for a new interim administrator. Hunzeker won’t share publicly the name of any particular person he’d like succeed him, but he plans to speak with County Commission Chairman Stephen Jonsson about a group of five or six current employees who all could capably lead the organization.

While the administrator announced his retirement weeks after an election, he says he’s got no doubt he could maintain a positive relationship with the board. He has a contract that would allow him to stick around into 2020. The conversation of his retirement has come up multiple times over the past several years. His wife retired earlier this year. He's got five grandchildren. While he plans to stay in Manatee County, now seems finally the time to leave the administrator's desk behind.

“This time it’s for certain,” he says. “At some point in time you just really say you’ve got to change. I’ve been doing this for 51 years. It’s time to turn the reins to someone younger and faster.”

Hunzeker, 71, began his career in government in 1968 as an accountant for St. Louis County in Missouri. There, he helped set up a vaccination registration program. While in that region, he would work in a variety of public fields from transportation to auditing to running the elevators in the Gateway Arch. He later came to Florida, where he spent 15 years working in Hillsborough County and a few years in Osceola County before coming to Manatee.

In that time, he says the greatest changes in government work have to do with outside agencies. The state and federal government “are not the partners in taking care of the community that they used to be.” “Take the red tide business,” he says. “That’s not something to tackle on the county level. But we’re not seeing them stepping up much.”

His greatest pride is instilling an overarching philosophy in government of accountability, civility and ethics. The 'philosophy has been drilled in with his staff, and when the county occasionally deals with an employee that doesn’t see merit in playing by the rules, matters get quickly addressed.

But Hunzeker has trouble spotlighting any specific achievement that represents his legacy in Manatee. It's not how he thinks. “I’m not one to talk about successes,” he says. “I’m more focused on what faces us in the future—growing populations, shifting populations, infrastructure requirements, service delivery. Most of what we’re focused on is what will happen in the next 20 to 50 years.”

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