Tales from the Mark Side: The Conservative Voice in Manatee County

 

Coquina Beach Market takeover a sign of dictator politics

 

By Mark Young

mark.young@manateeherald.com

 

Witness and written accounts regarding the behavior of Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes to suddenly, and by all accounts without any notice to end the longstanding management of the Coquina Beach Market is disturbing.

If you haven’t heard what’s going on, the basics, as I understand it, is Hopes made a decision to terminate the market’s long-time manager Nancy Ambrose who I know has devoted her heart to this endeavor.

Ambrose essentially got an email from Hopes saying she was out and the county would assume market operations. From what I’ve read, Hopes has convinced the Tourist Development Council to manage the market, and also from what I understand, it was a move to appease some commissioners from having market costs paid by county taxpayers.

But a quick newsflash, while TDC funds are largely paid for by tourists, it’s still taxpayer dollars.

Now this affects my life, and probably yours in zero fashion.

If you do go to the market, you’ll probably not notice a lot of difference, and if you are like me and don’t go to arts and craft markets, then it doesn’t matter at all.

Except in one critical way.

Normally I wouldn’t waste a lot of space on such an incident, but the way this was handled seems to be a pattern of unfortunate behavior from county leadership.

Several eyewitness accounts told to the Bradenton Times describes Hopes as taking a beach tour and while he was at the market, acted like a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum, and screaming at vendors.

Hopes denies this account, but made clear that it was his sole decision to take market management away from Ambrose.

What isn’t really explained is why. 

First of all, if Hopes was concerned about Coquina Beach perhaps he could explain why it’s taking so long to finish the south end parking area that has been under construction for about as long as I can remember now.

And when I say “under construction,” what I really mean is no construction at all. I don’t go to the beach a lot, but I do go during the week and haven’t seen activity there in forever.

Secondly, as I said, this is becoming a pattern where Hopes believes he can simply bypass elected officials to make unilateral decisions that affect the lives of Manatee County citizens.

It doesn’t work that way. As long as you are pocketing taxpayer money, you work for the taxpayer. More specifically, you work for the elected officials we put into office to be your boss.

Being a county administrator doesn’t make Hopes a dictator. He may act like he doesn’t have to answer to anyone, but he does.

So once again, commissioners have been embarrassingly caught off guard by Hopes acting on his own.

In the grand scheme of things, this may sound like a small matter, but when you combine it with past behaviors, well, it’s a problem.

So let’s give a quick review of Hopes’ leadership in his short tenure as the county administrator, and remember that he took this job to leave the school board, where he really didn’t do anything to stop all the scandals there.

  1. As county administrator, Hopes mishandled the Medieval Fair situation, where he allowed the fair to go on as scheduled despite illegal development, which was covered up by code enforcement staff. He allowed that same staff to return to work despite an IG report outlining code enforcement’s failures and at least one employee violating the Sunshine Act by refusing to hand over information in his phone.

Every person involved in that scandal, including Hopes, is back to work except the one code enforcement officer who had the courage to expose what was happening. She was the only one fired. One department head was allowed to retire with full benefits.

  1. The county’s CFO and deputy administrator resigned her position in May after informing the county commission that Hopes was withholding critical financial information that interfered with her ability to do her job.

Hopes’ reaction to her repeated concerns before resigning, according to Jan Brewer, created a hostile work environment.

It’s hard to just push aside the accusations put forward by the market vendors that Hopes berated them when county employees have had similar reactions when Hopes is challenged.

  1. Brewer’s resignation came just days after Manatee County Clerk and Comptroller Angelina Colonneso courageously submitted a letter outlining “grave concerns” over Hopes’ leadership.

Colonneso’s May 20 letter outlined blatant tax dollar theft, coverups and incompetence by Hopes. Hopes hired a scandalous buddy as a deputy administrator and helped set up an ineligible retirement account for him.

Hopes also was collecting a $450 stipend to use his own vehicle, but was actually driving a brand new $46,000 county vehicle paid for by us.

All of these things required the commission to take legislative action, but commissioners were not informed. All of this also came to light before a vote to extend Hopes’ contract with a raise.

In a 4-3 vote, the commission gave Hopes his contract and his raise.

Colonneso also outlined Hopes’ disturbing anger issues when she was admonished for following the law regarding public records requests, essentially saying Hopes wanted her to break the law, and when she refused to break the law, he didn’t like it.

So if this market situation was a standalone incident, it would be minor news. But it’s not a standalone incident. It is indeed a pattern of bad behavior.

At what point do you admit that you are in an abusive relationship? Are we to be the kind of partner who excuses bad behavior, or even tries to say it’s our fault that we are being abused?

Or are we the kind of voter and resident who say hell no, we aren’t taking this crap anymore?

I like to think we are the latter of the two, but that is going to require some courage in what we do next. We have to take a closer look at those who are giving Hopes, not only a pass, but are rewarding bad behaviors.

The ultimate question is why? We may never get an answer to that question, but in the end, we don’t need it. We can come to our own conclusions and take appropriate actions.

It is outrageous that there has been zero accountability so that accountability is now up to us.

I’m going to tell you something that I’m not really supposed to tell you, but the amount of heat I take when I call out high-level corruption is pretty intense, especially when it involves Hopes for some reason.

But I didn’t get involved in this to fight for politicians or high-level officials. I got involved to fight with you. I could have easily gone quietly into the night and relied on long-time contacts to get some cushy job out of the limelight when my journalism career came to an end.

But I love my community and country too much to stay quiet and live the rest of my life in the dark. I stand with you. That was my promise to you when we began this journey together and I’ll keep that promise to you until the end.

Political pressure only fuels my fire. It makes me understand that if we cannot get our own local government under control, what hope do we have for our country?

How long are we willing to stand by and do nothing when in reality we hold all the cards? We have all the power. Our voices will not only be heard, they will count as long as we are united and stay in this fight together.

As I always say, my fellow patriots, a country is formed from the community outward, not the other way around.

So yes, these midterms are more important than ever, but so will be the ensuing election cycles. We demand accountability. We demand transparency. We demand honesty. We demand common sense Conservative policies and will accept nothing less.

So stay vigilant, my friends. Stay aware and stay informed. We are in this fight together and no one will stand in our way.

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By Mark Young

Mark Young is a U.S. Army veteran and a seasoned journalist of 25 years. His writing and reporting has garnered dozens of state press association and press club awards in Florida, Nebraska and Wyoming for investigative reporting, opinion writing, in-depth reporting and more.

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