MANATEE -- Opinions varied Friday about a proposed new employment contract for Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, with some people very much in favor and some very much opposed.
"Here we're saying we don't have money -- the sheriff had to fight them for money -- so now, we have the money when it relates to this decision because we want him to fit into our plan?" said Corie Holmes, a county commission candidate defeated last fall by Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle.
"That concerns me," Holmes said of the proposed five-year contract that would postpone Hunzeker's planned retirement next year.
The contract calls for a $34,720.20 annual raise for Hunzeker, increasing his salary from $169,124.80 to $203,845. However, Hunzeker has agreed to forfeit a $337,411.83 lump-sum payment he is eligible for under terms of a state retirement program.
Holmes, a private investigator, urged county employees to appear at Tuesday's commission meeting to protest.
Arguing the other side was a former Manatee County commissioner, Ron Getman, who negotiated the employment contract of Hunzeker's predecessor, Ernie Padgett, and later voted in favor of hiring Hunzeker when Padgett left.
"He came to us at a good time," said Getman. "I think everything worked out really good for the county. I feel very confident in his ability," he said of Hunzeker, 65.
"I think it's a good move for this county to retain him for another five years in this time of difficult budgets," Getman said, noting that Hunzeker pared the county budget by more than
$140 million, and reduced its staff by more than 300.
"To do that is a feather in his cap, and a big plus for this community," Getman said.
Giving his personal opinion and not the official position of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce was Bob Bartz, chamber president.
"I think Ed has done a great job in positioning our community to attract new jobs to our area in these much-needed times," said Bartz. "As I understand it, it's a similar contract as his predecessor, Ernie Padgett, had."
"I think it's a good move on behalf of the county. Every time you get a new person in place, it takes time and costs money -- you lose institutional knowledge and it costs you money," Bartz said.
Last year, county EMTs and paramedics overwhelmingly voted in favor of union representation, seeking fairness, better terms and an end to high employee turnover.
Ken Skaggs, national representative for the International Association of EMTs & Paramedics, which now represents them, declined comment Friday for this story.
But he added: "We'll look forward to seeing them at the bargaining table very soon, and this will be a very large chip, I'm sure."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.