MANATEE -- Saying the pain of budget cuts will be felt first in his office, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker eliminated a controversial adviser’s position Monday as part of a larger restructuring.
Hunzeker laid off former Herald Editorial Page Editor David Klement, who since September had served in the $80,017 organizational development manager position charged with maximizing government efficiency and planning for the future.
Ironically, Klement was forced to make way for a reorganization Hunzeker hopes will streamline government and improve customer service.
“To get the world’s attention that this budget cutting is serious, I’m starting in the county administrator’s office,” Hunzeker said during a news conference Monday afternoon.
The county is facing an expected shortfall of between $12 million and $14 million in property tax revenue as it prepares its next budget. Hunzeker said he will have a preliminary budget proposal for the board of county commissioners in May.
Under the reorganization plan, the county planning and building departments consolidated into a new Building and Development Services Department under the direction of building Director John Barnott.
A 2009 consultant’s study called for “more departmental coordination” as part of 55 recommendations for improving building and planning processes, Hunzeker said.
“I would like to frame this as not an event but part of a process,” Hunzeker said. “We continue to downsize the government every opportunity we get. We have a step in the process of organizing the government before we reduce the government. The reducing will come during the budget event later this spring.”
Also, the agriculture and resource conservation department became the Agriculture and Extension Service Division of the Community Services Department, led by Brenda Rogers. Manatee County Area Transit will become part of public works, and the Transportation Systems Management Division will move to Barnott’s new division.
Three positions were eliminated as part of the restructuring, although Klement is the only employee who lost a job. A transportation system model and data engineer supervisor post is already vacant, and the employee who held a planning technician I position was transferred within county government.
Hunzeker briefed county commissioners about the moves Monday.
“I was a little bit surprised about the reorganization,” Commissioner Larry Bustle said. “The more I think about it, though, it makes a lot of sense. We’ve made a lot of progress with the building department, but maybe not as much with the planning department. This gives us an opportunity to solve that problem by putting them together.”
Klement’s hiring faced opposition from several quarters, most notably from Commissioner Joe McClash, who tried unsuccessfully to hold up the county budget until the position was eliminated.
On Monday, McClash said talking to constituents about the organizational development manager position was “one of the most frustrating parts of county government for the past few months. They just could not understand how we could put a person in that position for that much money.
“It was one of those positions, in my opinion, that was not needed when it was put in place and not screened by the board.”
Hunzeker said he hired Klement to study growth issues before a two-year impact fee reduction was set to expire in July and because county planning staff was busy with an influx of development applications during the run-up to Amendment 4.
Amendment 4, which was defeated at the ballot box in November, would have required comprehensive plan changes to come before voters. The county moved to extend the impact fee reduction for two more years in January.
The planning staff will take over Klement’s “How Will We Grow?” project, and commissioners will receive an update on the initiative later this month as scheduled, Hunzeker said.
“It had to be done, and that was the only way I could see getting it done last fall,” Hunzeker said of hiring Klement. “Everybody will have their thoughts about this, but it had nothing to do with the unpopularity of it.”