Manatee County administrator announces retirement as board members elect new chairman

County commissioners elected a new chairman as the county administrator announced his retirement Tuesday.

“Thank you for the vote of confidence. We have an exciting year coming up. My goal is to do as good a job as Commissioner Priscilla Trace did,” said Commissioner Stephen Jonsson. “They’re big shoes to fill.”

Jonsson won by a 5-2 vote against Trace toward the end of Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, but shortly thereafter a bigger reorganization of Manatee County government was revealed.

During commissioner comments, Commissioner Misty Servia suggested that the board should look into searching for a new county administrator. As part of Ed Hunzeker’s contract, he is already slated to meet privately with the chairman-elect in January to discuss the future of his job.

He made his public announcement even sooner than that, though.

“After 51 years of government service and 12 years as county administrator, I want to tell you I am planning to retire,” Hunzeker told board members. “I want to work with the new chair to develop a transition but it’s going to come sooner rather than later.”

Hunzeker, who is under contract until January 2020, said he hopes to leave in the spring to spend more time with his family, but hopes he can ensure a smooth transition. Commissioners were surprised by the timing, but not the decision, they said.

“I don’t think some of us were surprised, but we were expecting it in January,” Trace said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac suggested that the county should begin an in-house search to determine which county employee could hold the position on an interim basis.

“We have a great county. We have a lot going for us, so we need to have the best people we can here,” said Benac. “We know it’s going to be a transition time and people want different things but I think we need to have a transition plan.”

Trace said that transition plan will be discussed in January, as was previously scheduled. Hunzeker’s resignation is a long time coming — between a tumultuous fight over an administratively approved public safety tower in Kinnan Park and a 2017 county administrator search, when Hunzeker initially told board members he was “fine with retiring.”

In the administrative form of government, a county administrator is responsible for balancing the county’s annual budget, following county policies and taking direction from the Board of County Commissioners. Hunzeker was appointed in November 2006.

The board also handled the election of officers at Tuesday’s meeting.

Benac was elected first vice chairman of the Board. Servia was elected second vice chair and Commissioner Carol Whitmore will be third vice chair.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh will remain the chair of the Port Authority, with Trace serving as first vice chair and Commissioner Reggie Bellamy as second vice chair. Whitmore was chosen to continue serving as chair of the Tourist Development Council.