Randall Reid was fired on October 23rd, exactly 19 months after his first day as Sarasota’s County Administrator. Reid was brought on board with wide community support due to his reputation for ethics and long, successful tenure as Alachua County Administrator. His many public sector leadership positions include past Florida City and County Management Association Ethics Committee Chairman and member. Reid was a welcome change from former County Administrator Jim Ley.
The arrest of a County procurement official in March 2011 resulted in an independent procurement audit that revealed a breadth and scope of procurement irregularities that Ley couldn’t survive. Before the procurement debacle, Ley dismissed reports of a “marked for death” county culture, a workplace where employees who objected to unethical or questionable County practices were subjected to mistreatment, harassment and dismissal. Honesty was a career-limiting trait in the Ley administration, and County Commissioners threw their hands up in the air, claiming the County Charter prevented them from intervening.
Reid’s expertise and standards were evident when he and county staff recommended Professor Tim Chapin of FSU be hired to create an implementation model for the Sarasota 2050 Plan’s fiscal neutrality provision. Fiscal neutrality requires high density development that busts the Urban Service Boundary to pay for its own infrastructure. Chapin holds a PhD in economics and chairs the FSU Department of Urban and Regional Planning. Among his many papers and presentations is “Investigating the Fiscal Fallout from Florida’s Unfunded Growth Management Mandate”. Chapin knows Florida, knows planning and can truly be called an economist. The FSU analysis fee was $85,000. Commissioner Joe Barbetta dismissed Chapin as an “academic” and objected to the expense. He said he warned Reid not to put forward a proposal from an academic team, accusing Reid of acting like a “sixth commissioner.”
Commissioner Barbetta pressed for the hiring of Donna Arduin, who holds a B.A. and has worked as a budget director for Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other governors. Arduin’s prior work in Sarasota was the second economic analysis for the rowing facility, which reported the park would generate $12.5 million in sales taxes per year. Arduin was chosen over PhD and University of South Florida economics professor Phil Porter, who did the first rowing facility analysis. Porter’s original conclusions were favorable, but that was back when the project was $25 million and didn’t include multi-million dollar bidding projects and trips to Switzerland. For the fiscal neutrality study, Barbetta did not object to Arduin’s $90,000 price tag. Why?
Efforts to open and revise Sarasota’s 2050 policy to the advantage of a few special interests have been very effective. As I wrote last month, one development firm has benefitted handsomely. Schroeder Manatee Ranch’s 2004 sale of Gum Slough development rights to the County for $7 million cost them the right to build thousands of housing units in the Villages, But in 2010, those density losses were restored by the County. SMR was allowed to claim open space credits for lands that included Gum Slough, and they kept our $7 million. Would Randy Reid facilitate such a raiding of the public purse?
Mr. Reid made mistakes, but he also followed standards and the community believed we had an administrator we could trust, someone who would not sell us out. To many, it appears that was his downfall.