BRADENTON — Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker says he did not violate the Government in the Sunshine Law by discussing port-related matters with maritime consultant Paul DeMariano without including the Manatee County Port Authority.
Commissioner Joe McClash was out of line to suggest Hunzeker and Larry Bustle, chairman of the port authority, held secret meetings on Port Manatee with the consultant Bustle has recommended be hired, Hunzeker contended Monday.
“I believe it is inappropriate to imply my actions have been underhanded or deceitful,” Hunzeker wrote in a letter addressed to McClash. “My dealings with Mr. DeMariano were done in conjunction with those of the port chairman in an effort to research prospects in the best interest of the port.”
McClash, however, says he is bothered that Hunzeker and Bustle met with DeMariano without notifying the port, port authority or Port Director David McDonald.
“It’s critical for the port director to be kept involved on matters with the port,” said McClash, who sent a letter to Hunzeker on Friday saying he will call for Bustle’s removal as chairman of the port authority.
Hunzeker said his discussions with DeMariano were so he could become more informed on port issues in regards to Port Manatee. According to Hunzeker, the meetings were listed on his calendar, which is public record.
“I needed somebody independent of the port to advise me on port issues,” said Hunzeker, adding that he meets regularly with officials or business people to gain professional insight on other industries.
As an administrator, Hunzeker said, he can hold confidential one-on-one discussions with such officials, and that commissioners also can seek advice in confidence with an industry professional.
Hunzeker added that one-on-one discussions with commissioners on issues are not subject to the Sunshine Law, which requires transparency in government decisions. The law applies to two or more board members discussing public business which will come before a board for action.
Still, McClash said he was upset that Bustle prepared extensively — without including the port authority or port director — to put together a proposal that the port authority hire DeMariano as a transition administrator.
“This thing to me is trying to be ramrodded,” McClash said.
Bustle issued a memo to county commissioners Aug. 6, recommending DeMariano be hired.
Commissioner Gwen Brown said she also disagrees with the way the hire was proposed to the board.
“I don’t like the idea of a person being chosen,” Brown said of Bustle’s recommendation. “You get people that would apply and then choose the best person.”
Bustle originally planned to have the port authority vote on whether to hire DeMariano at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. But he has rescheduled the port authority meeting for Aug. 24.
Bustle said he postponed the meeting because commission Chairman Donna Hayes wanted to be present for the discussion but will be out of town Thursday.
“And I thought it would give us a little more time to understand what I was trying to accomplish, maybe a cooling-off period,” Bustle said.
Bustle said he did not speak to Port Manatee staff before nominating DeMariano to be the port’s transition administrator.
“It wasn’t something I wanted staff to vote on,” he said. “I have the responsibility as port authority chair to provide leadership.”
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she had no objections to discussions held with DeMariano.
“Any commissioner has the right to meet with anybody, the administrator has the right to meet with anybody,” Whitmore said. “The name he (Bustle) came up with doesn’t bother me, at least it’s one name out there to look at.”
— Herald Staff Writer Tim Wolfrum contributed to this report.