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Manatee County Administrator Agrees To Separation Agreement

Photo of Cheri Coryea
Manatee County Government
Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea stepped down Tuesday after months of pressure from newly elected county commissioners.

Cheri Coryea's job came into question in November, as soon as several newly elected commissioners came on board.

Manatee County's administrator has stepped down.

Cheri Coryea is a thirty-year county employee who was named administrator in 2019.

On Tuesday, she agreed to a separation agreement several months after newly elected county commissioners called for her ouster.

Newcomer Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge proposed at a special meeting in November that the board terminate Coryea without cause, citing a need for a "shift in culture.”

While Van Ostenbridge had support from two board members at that meeting, there was pushback from other commissioners questioning the sudden move. The delay gave the county the chance to negotiate a severance deal with Coryea’s attorney. The agreement would mean they would not have to fire her.

Since then, several of the new board members cited a 2020 county land purchase as part of their reasoning for wanting to remove Coryea, calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars.

But Coryea's supporters say she was just following the board’s direction at the time.

At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, former board chair Betsy Benac called Coryea's departure a mistake.

"You alone will be responsible for the ramifications of this very bad decision,” she said during public comment. “You will not be able to deflect, blame others, or make false apologies, which to date has been your modus operandi. We will be watching and since the best government is the one you don't have to pay attention to, you have already failed."

A majority of constituents also praised Coryea at Tuesday’s meeting while the members who initiated her removal remained mostly silent, other than to wish her well.

A minority of the board, including Commissioner Carol Whitmore, said the former administrator’s departure was politically motivated.

"They campaigned I guess on getting rid of you,” she said. “I didn't hear about it until (their) first 55 hours in office, but hopefully somebody will change their mind. I doubt it, but I had to say my piece."

The separation agreement was briefly delayed Tuesday by a final attempt by Commissioner Reggie Bellamy to keep Coryea, but it failed by a 4-to-3 vote.

Coryea's severance package matches what would be owed to her if she had been terminated without cause.

The commission also denied a motion to appoint former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines as Manatee's acting administrator. Coryea's deputy, Karen Stewart, will temporarily step into the position as discussions with Hines and other candidates continue.

A statement was posted on the Manatee County Government website thanking Coryea: “Cheri provided leadership to a team of twelve departments and 1,900 dedicated County employees. She oversaw the annual county budget of 1.5 billion dollars as well as a Capital Improvement Plan inclusive of 500 projects totally an additional 1.5 billion dollars. Her contributions to Manatee County have been integral to the important advances that the County has made.”

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