Manatee County reorganization frees up planners

MANATEE -- By merging several development-related departments under one banner, Manatee County has freed a pair of key planners to guide long-term growth, the county administrator said Tuesday.

In the simplest terms, planners can get back to planning, Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.

John Barnott, the director of the new Building and Development Services Department created Monday, will take over leadership duties of high-ranking employees in the planning and transportation systems divisions.

That will allow John Osborne, planning director, and Tony Rodriguez, transportation systems manager, to focus their energies on projects like “How Will We Grow?”, which is mapping the county’s future by studying land development code and comprehensive plan changes.

“What I’m going to do in this organization,” Barnott, formerly the building department director, said Tuesday, “is do all the things you take on as those extra duties that take up 60 percent of your day rather than what you’re good at. ... They’re going to be able to solely concentrate on what we need to do.”

On Monday, Hunzeker announced that the building and planning departments, as well as transportation systems and code enforcement, had been combined to form the new department.

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 became part of public works.

Commissioners, briefed on the changes Monday, made little mention of the reorganization during a regular meeting Tuesday.

“I think the departments you did consolidate made sense,” Chairman Carol Whitmore said to Hunzeker just before banging the gavel to end the meeting.

Hunzeker said he made the changes to streamline the government and offer customers of the building and planning departments a “one-stop shop.” The reorganization, which included the elimination of three positions, also is a first step to improve efficiency as the county prepares to cut $12 million to $14 million from next year’s budget.

“Businesses want certainty, speed, consistency. ... We’re trying to put a process in place where businesses we’re trying to recruit to come to town know exactly what the rules are,” Hunzeker said.

Though he will no longer be considered a department head, Osborne welcomed his new duties. Neither Osborne nor Rodriguez was forced to take a pay cut.

“Every director has a certain amount of overhead that comes with being a department head,” Osborne said. “As a planner, you’re only working about 25 percent of your time in your profession. ... It has a lot of advantages for me.”

Barnott has been roundly praised for raising the level of customer service in the building department since Hunzeker promoted him from the utilities department in December 2007.

Hunzeker said the planning department can improve how it is perceived by the business community. Part of the problem, though, is that most site plans must also pass muster with other agencies, like the utilities department, fire districts and the health department.

“We’ll get there, but it just takes longer to marshal all those different entities to do what they need to do in order to be efficient and effective,” Hunzeker said.

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