What Led to Manatee Leaders Considering Firing Coryea?

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY NOV 23, 2020

Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge last week asked for officials to explore the rights of Manatee County government’s legal rights in the event of a federal shutdown. But he ended up at the same meeting calling for the firing of the county administrator.

The action, days after Van Ostenbridge and Commissioners George Kruse and James Satcher were sworn in for their first terms on the board, capped a period of controversial activity for the board. Ultimately, the threee new commissioners joined with reelected Commissioner Vanessa Baugh in setting a Jan. 6 hearing to discuss County Administrator Cheri Coryea’s termination. That accounts for a contractually required 15-day notice to Coryea before she could be fires without cause, and it puts any personnel changes off until after the holidays.

The move upset officials who long worked with Coryea. The administrator succeeded Ed Hunzeker as administrator, and Hunzeker lost a primary for county commissioner to Kruse earlier this year.

County Commission chair Carol Whitmore has been supportibve of Coryea and expressed anger at raising the subject of letting the administrator go. “You have been in office for 50 freaking hours,” Whitmore told Van Ostenbridge. She voted against the action and said she was greatly disappointed in her new colleague.

As for Van Ostenbridge, he pointed to another controversial decision by the board before his arrival. "I was voted in as a candidate for change and we have all seen how the decorum of these meetings can deteriorate,” he said. “Look at the Lena Roads deal. We are wasting millions there."

Commissioners in October voted 5-2 to spend $32.5 million on 161 acres near the Lena Road landfill to build a Central County Complex. All three new commissioners before they were officially elected on Nov. 3 spoke out against the deal. Satcher wrote in a Facebook post at the time: “32 million of your dollars for vacant land next to the landfill to build a government palace in the middle of economic uncertainty is BAD for Manatee County.”

Notably, by that time, the winners of the November elections were almost a foregone conclusion after the August primaries. Kruse faced a write-in candidate, as did Baugh. Van Ostenbridge faced an independent and Satcher a Democrat in two heavily Republican districts.

Satcher in the Republican primary had defeated Commissioner Priscilla Trice before she voted in favor of the land deal. He argues before voting in favor with scheduling Coryea’s termination that it should be no surprise a maj0ority of incoming commissioners opposed the deal.

But County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy suggested he considered the deal may be an “excuse.” “It’s clear you are going at the county administrator because of what board had done prior to the swearing in,” he said. Bellamy, the only Democrat on the commission, said it would send the wrong message to fire Coryea immediately before the holidays, and as punishment for policy direction set by elected officials and executed by the administrator. He pushed successfully for the matter to be delayed until January.

Kruse, for his part, said he would not have supported firing Coryea immediately. “I don’t do anything rashly or lightly,” he said. He said in the weeks before the January meeting he plans to speak in detail with Coryea and with other managers within the county. “I will make myself available at any time, and I will make a rational and educated decision.”

 

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