• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

More drama on display at Manatee County Commission meeting | Eastern County

ByChad J. Johnson

May 23, 2022

Manatee County residents who enjoy the endless drama generated at commission meetings can tune in to what promises to be a much-loved reality show Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Manatee County Administration Building, Honorable Patricia M Glass Chambers, First Floor, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Those unable to attend the meeting can follow it live at MyManatee.org/mga and on Manatee Government Access Spectrum Channel 644, Verizon Channel 30 or Comcast Channel 20.

Last Friday, Manatee County Clerk Angel Colonneso emailed Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge with copies to the other six commissioners about Administrator Scott Hopes’ upcoming contract for an extension. The item is not certain in the agenda and is listed towards the second half of the meeting items, so anyone hoping to see fireworks should be prepared for a long meeting.

The article is listed as “Employment contract amendment for County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes”.

Colonneso wrote that she thought there were some issues the commissioners should be aware of before considering a contract extension for Hopes.

Letter from Colonneso

Here is the email (letter):

Dear Commissioner Van Ostenbridge, I am writing to you today regarding repeated disturbing events that continue to occur involving your County Administrator of which you may not be aware. It has become such a concern that it is necessary and my duty as Registrar and Comptroller to document these issues and bring them to your attention. It became so common that it became necessary for me to monitor the situation.

When I recently received the agenda for your board meeting next week, I expedited this notice so that you are fully informed. It would be inadmissible for me not to inform you of these matters in light of your upcoming agenda. I have serious concerns about the efficient operation and transparency of government to our citizens. Based on my observations, these issues and those yet to be discovered could create a significant cost to taxpayers that is not currently quantifiable. Here is a list of events that have taken place over the past few months. I have also referred some of these questions to my Inspector General.

Lack of communication: Strong communication between a county administrator and a clerk is common throughout the state and necessary given our inextricably linked duties and responsibilities. However, with your current administrator, communication has been very limited. My office interacts with the county on a daily basis and on many levels of technology and shared projects. Over the past year, we have experienced a significant disconnect in communication and a delay in learning about new county-initiated projects until some of those projects are nearing completion. It is common good practice to include all stakeholders in the discovery phase of a project in order to successfully implement change. There has been minimal coordination with my county office on several projects initiated under the direction of the administrator. Some examples are: Kronos timing system, Onbase data migration project, Onbase upgrades, E Travel project, E-Agenda/E-minutes. I have independent constitutional authority over certain aspects of county operations, with finance being a crucial element. This lack of communication has resulted in many delays and inefficiencies, which is a waste of taxpayer resources.

Lack of transparency: Recent matters that have been brought to my attention, including my own experience with your county administrator, have given me great concern for transparency. In a recent verbal exchange I had with your administrator, he chastised me for my speed in responding to a request for public records and stated that I should “coordinate with him” before responding to a request for public records. He explained to me that he had a “situation” in a department and that I, “I took out a public file, without telling him”. He went on to tell me that by doing this, I “could have brought down an entire county department.” I told him that none of this had anything to do with a legal request for public records. I also reminded him that the file in question was a file from my office, not a county file. My office has since learned of what appear to be serious issues with the county’s handling of public records requests and I have escalated my concerns to the Inspector General’s Division.

Impacts of the reorganization and potential risks: Some reorganizations are to be expected during the change of management. Recently, the reorganization by this county administrator has proceeded at an unprecedented pace. Changes to processes and reporting structures can create significant risks with respect to internal controls, such as segregation of duties. This can impact workplace culture by creating uncertainty among staff and management. There are perpetual staff transfers throughout the organization. In government accounting, the accounting structure is established and maintained in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). It’s not as simple as pressing a button or copying and pasting. There are legitimate business practices that should be followed in order to properly account for expenses. Our office produces the county’s annual financial reports and we are externally audited annually. Accordingly, we are required to comply with government accounting standards as referenced in the articles of association and established by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). My team has worked well with the county team on a plan that becomes hampered when the admin gets involved in the “weeds” and disrupts the process. This created inefficiencies as well as chaos and confusion.

Fiscal Responsibility:

  1. Recently, my office learned that the county administrator had instructed a county employee to call Voya, our deferred compensation provider, and request that an account be opened for Deputy County Administrator Reinshuttle. The intention was to provide a separate retirement account to mirror an FRS retirement account, with the county making similar contributions to such an account for Reinshuttle. Apparently, Mr. Reinshuttle had already retired with FRS benefits and is not eligible for an FRS retirement account. I informed my staff that this was a policy matter for the Board to decide. Without the authorization of the Board of Directors, we will not make any such payment.
  2. It has also come to my attention that a $46,000.00 Chevrolet Tahoe was recently purchased and although it is labeled a “pool” vehicle, there is evidence that the county administrator exclusively uses this vehicle as a means of transport, including to and from work. This is in addition to his car allowance of $450 per month included in his salary, as stipulated in his contract. This may be something you weren’t aware of but might want to consider since the vehicle was purchased after its contract. In light of the recent increase in fuel cost, I would suggest taking a look at this article. More importantly, there are also tax ramifications for such use of a county vehicle.
  3. Fixed Asset Disposals Change – Surplus assets were previously routinely approved monthly by the Board. The decision was made to change this action to quarterly without any cooperation from the Clerk’s Office. This change has significant implications for our fixed asset inventory control process as well as year-end financial statements that could impact our external audit. This is not a complete account of all the activities regarding that transpired. Your administrator’s actions interfere with my constitutional duties as clerk of the council, accountant, auditor, and custodian of all county funds. Communication, transparency, and fiscal accountability are of the utmost importance, and I cannot stress enough my concerns about the prospect of spending taxpayers’ money and public resources unnecessarily. As clerk, I am obligated to share my concerns with council as it is my duty to inform you of these matters. My office and I are willing to sit down with you to help resolve these issues.

Van Ostenbridge’s response

Van Ostenbridge responded to Colonneso’s email in terms of anger.

“As Chairman of the Manatee County Commission, I will not sit idly by while an elected official abuses the status of her office to attack one of our county employees. The Clerk’s letter is strategic and politically Recently light has been shed on Miss Colonnesso’s actions as a clerk that resulted in the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars Miss Colonnesso chose not to face the music and take responsibility for her own actions. Instead, she has taken a page from Joe Biden’s playbook and pointed a finger at others to distract from her failures. This political stunt is trying to undermine the sovereignty of our council of County Commissioners The ratepayers of Manatee County deserve better from their clerk.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh also said Colonnesso’s letter was politically motivated.

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