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Satcher Requests Budget Increase for SOE Office

Despite elections just months away, Interim Supervisor of Elections James Satcher wants to make big changes now


BRADENTON — Manatee County’s new Supervisor of Elections James Satcher is requesting a budget amendment that would increase the Supervisor of Elections' approved FY24 budget by $841,340. The item is scheduled to be heard before county commissioners during a regular BOCC meeting on Tuesday, May 28.

The budget amendment request—an increase of slightly more than 26% of the SOE’s currently approved budget—was submitted roughly four weeks after the former commissioner received the gubernatorial appointment to the post.

Satcher was made Supervisor of Elections on Friday, April 12. The following Tuesday, Satcher appeared before his former colleagues, the board of county commissioners,  representing his new office. 

During a special meeting on April 16, Satcher informed commissioners that in his first two days in his new position as the SOE, he had already identified “needs” for which he would be returning to the board to request additional funding.

In the days following Satcher’s comments before the commissioners, TBT received information from multiple sources alleging Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge had met with Satcher and his new Chief of Staff David Ballard at the SOE's office the day before the special meeting. One of the sources who spoke with TBT about the alleged meeting suggested that Van Ostenbridge may have met with Satcher to discuss matters relating to the SOE’s budget.

When reached for comment on the allegations, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge confirmed Van Ostenbridge’s having been at the Supervisor of Elections Office on the date in question, but both told TBT that it was not “a meeting” but rather a visit from a “friend” who had “popped by spontaneously.”

The county’s fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. The FY24 budget will conclude in four months, and constitutional officers are scheduled to appear before commissioners to present their FY25 budget requests on June 17.

However, Satcher is seeking an increase to the SOE’s approved FY24 budget—approved and adopted last fall at $3,180,645—rather than presenting a budget increase for FY25. 

In a letter dated May 13, Satcher wrote, “This budget amendment will allow the Supervisor of Elections to expand safety and security measures and audit vital information and operations to ensure public confidence in the 2024 Presidential Election…Hardware and software upgrades are required to perform a complete and full audit of certified election results.”

Besides new equipment, Satcher wrote that the requested increase in funds would also be used to add additional voting locations in the North River Ranch area and to open two SOE “satellite offices,” one in Lakewood Ranch and one in North River Ranch. Satcher explained in his letter that additional funds will be required for operational and personnel costs at these additional locations.

As of Friday, the SOE budget amendment item was scheduled on the May 28 regular agenda, as item number 41. The agenda item's attachments included Satcher’s letter requesting the budget increase. Along with the letter, an itemized list of expenditures was attached to the item, showing how the $841,340—if approved by commissioners—would be utilized.

According to the attachment, $43,000 would be spent on software, $223,196 on machinery and equipment, and roughly $287,500 on personnel salaries.

It is important to note that since only four months remain in this budget year, the stated expense of $287,500 on salaries would not account for a year’s worth of salary expenses at the requested increase but rather just four months' worth. When multiplied by three to cover a full twelve months, the annual added expense for salary increases alone, as proposed in Satcher’s request, would equal $862,500 total during the next fiscal year.

It is unclear from the information available in the agenda item’s attachments how many employees the salary expenses are intended to fund—an important detail as the SOE budget request for FY25 would need to account for the growth in operating expenses.

Other expenditures on the list Satcher’s office provided include $24,000 in “other contracted services,” more than $11,000 in telephone expenses, $55,784 for postage and $56,099 for “printing and binding.”

During the FY24 budget process, the previous Supervisor of Elections, Mike Bennett, requested a 4% increase in salary compensation in line with what the BOCC and other constitutional offices had adopted for cost-of-living increases and a 1% increase for employee health insurance. The approved budget for the SOE for FY24 was $3.1 million.

According to the county’s approved FY24 Budget Book, the SOE’s approved budget included 18 funded positions. The SOE’s projected budget for FY25 matched the current year’s funding at $3.1 million. Should commissioners approve Satcher’s amended budget request, it will bring the current fiscal year budget of the SOE to almost $4 million and will likely impact the SOE budget for next FY25.

TBT attempted to reach Supervisor Satcher by email for more information about how the requested increase was calculated. In our emailed request for comment, TBT inquired about the data utilized to identify the SOE’s needs and the projected cost to fulfill those needs.

Given that Satcher assumed the office a month before submitting the budget increase request, TBT asked whether the data analyzed was data collected under his leadership or prior to his appointment. We also asked if the $841,340 was based on cost estimates or quotes obtained by his office.

Neither Satcher nor any representative of his office responded to our emailed requests for comment before our publication deadline.

Prior Leadership

Satcher’s appointment as the county’s next Supervisor of Elections came after the previous Supervisor, Mike Bennett, unexpectedly announced his retirement nine months before his term’s end.

Bennett was first elected as Manatee County’s Supervisor of Elections in 2012, and in that time, Bennett prided himself on running a tight fiscal ship.

By reviewing annual financial reports prepared by the Manatee County Clerk of Court and Comptroller, TBT was able to look at the history of SOE budgets under Bennett.

For the ten years from 2013 through 2023, the average fiscal year budget of the SOE was $2.5 million. Only one of those years did the final budget exceed $3 million, in FY16, a year that included a capital equipment purchase of a new voting system used in the 2016 general election.

From 2013 through 2023, the SOE “actual” budget came in below $2 million for three of those years, for four years it was below $2.5 million, and only in four years did it exceed $2.5 million—including FY16.

If commissioners approve Satcher’s requested budget increase on Tuesday, the SOE’s FY24 budget will total $4,021,985. According to historical records, this would be the largest approved budget of the SOE since at least 2002, but likely in the history of the Supervisor of Elections Office.

In an October 2023 report by The Observer, Bennett detailed his efforts to keep costs down at the elections office.

"I am not spending government money," Bennett told The Observer. "I am spending other people's money."

Bennett shared how when Hillsborough County bought new equipment, such as copiers, for its election office, Bennett bought the old equipment, noting that it's often only used twice a year.

"We buy old equipment," he said. "We are watching your nickels."

When his department needed a new van, he said the state had negotiated prices if counties wanted to use its vendor. Instead, Bennett said he chose to shop locally and saved "a couple of thousand dollars along with keeping the business in the area."

TBT reached Bennett by email for comment concerning his successor submitting a budget amendment request to the county. Responding by email, Bennett told TBT that he was surprised to hear of the requested increase, particularly so soon after assuming the office.

“I do find it somewhat amazing,” wrote Bennett, “that Satcher was able to find, in less than a month or so, all of the shortcomings of the office that I could not find in twelve years.”

Bennett pointed out that upon reviewing the SOE’s itemized list of expenditures meant to justify the budget increase, many of the items were expenses that would have already been accounted for when the FY24 budget was submitted under Bennet last summer and approved in the fall.

The former Supervisor of Elections also shared that from his many years of experience as head of the office, he felt none of the expenditures included in the list were items that would be needed prior to this year’s elections or prior to the next scheduled budget hearings for FY25.

Bennett also questioned whether his successor understood how challenging it can be to find new polling locations.

“Wanting to add new polling places is difficult to do,” Bennett explained in his email to TBT. “The burden placed upon the locations is heavy from traffic, parking, and the required security.”

Concerning software and equipment upgrades, Bennett said that he and his Chief of Staff had spent the last 4-5 years exploring computer audit equipment options. “We looked at all of the costs our office ever spent on audits and determined that it would take at least 8-9 election cycles to pay back the expenditure. By that time, the equipment would need to be replaced. We chose to save the taxpayers money.”

Bennett told TBT that the SOE’s office has three machines for tabulating ballots.

Concluding his email, Bennett said that he hopes when the SOE budget increase item goes before the board on Tuesday, the request will be discussed in depth and receive an in-depth review.

Come August

The 2024 primary elections will be held on August 20. As of now, only two candidates—both Republicans—have entered the Supervisor of Elections race: James Satcher and Scott Farrington. The next Supervisor of Elections will most likely be decided in the primary.

Farrington, Bennett’s former Chief of Staff, has already received his certified petition letter—an important step in qualifying to appear on the August primary ballot. 

Farrington is the only certified elections administrator in Manatee County and is a Master Florida Certified Election Professional. Satcher is a minister who served less than a full term as a county commissioner. Though his time as a county commissioner included a year as chair of the Port Authority, Satcher has no prior experience in conducting or overseeing elections or managing a multi-million dollar budget.

With the primary elections so close, commissioners will be faced on Tuesday with determining whether to approve a significant increase to the SOE’s budget for satellite offices, new software and equipment, as well as personnel changes before Manatee County voters have the opportunity to elect their next elections supervisor.

The governor’s selection of Satcher over Bennett’s recommendation of Farrington to serve in interim created some controversy in local political circles, within the SOE and across the community.

Farrington resigned from his post the day DeSantis appointed Satcher. He was in his 12th year as second in command at the Manatee elections office, preceded by 10 years with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office. Farrington served as Chief of Staff for five of the ten years he was with the Sarasota SOE.

In 2020, under the SOE leadership of Bennett and Farrington, Satcher and three of his former colleagues from the county commission—Vanessa Baugh, Kevin Van Ostenbridge, and George Kruse—were elected to office. In 2022, three more commissioners prevailed in their races while Bennett and Farrington oversaw local elections, including Commissioners Mike Rahn, Jason Bearden, and Amanda Ballard, whose husband has since been hired by Satcher to serve as the SOE’s current Chief of Staff. 

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter and investigative journalist for The Bradenton Times covering local government news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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  • Debann


    Saturday, May 25 Report this

  • Debann


    Saturday, May 25 Report this

  • hawkharbor

    Who could possibly want to give a $4,000,000 budget to a guy wjho bounced his $10.00 check to become commissioner.

    I believe that have been multiple credit issues in his personal life.

    Please vote for Scott Farrington, most of the credit for watching the tax payers money at the elections office belongs to Scott Farrington

    Saturday, May 25 Report this

  • David Daniels

    From Trump using campaign donations to pay his legal fees, to Jared cashing in his influence for $2 billion from the Saudi’s, to DeSantis campaigning all over the Country on State taxpayer’s airplane, with state taxpayer’s staff and state taxpayer’s security (and refusing to provide any records), to Tallahassee gutting ethics laws, to the Ziegler’s hypocrisy, to the County commissioner’s 9th floor new offices, KVO using his county credit card, Hopes paying himself overtime while on vacation and now to Satcher’s $830K for 4 months…From top to bottom, one big grift show. Make America Grifters Again

    Sunday, May 26 Report this

  • sandy

    An increase of almost $1M seems to be excessive seeing as the fiscal year starts in a little over 4 months. Mike Bennett ran the SOE with Scott Farrington without such budget amendments. And from everything said over the 12 years, the SOE was run efficiently without any hint of scandal or lack of integrity. After listening to Satcher speak at the immigration workshop, I figured he would ask for a budget amendment, but was surprised at the actual amount requested. It scares me that a man and his deputy with absolutely no experience managing a constitutional office and handling that excessive amount of money. It will be interesting to see his request during the budget cycle. How much more will be asked for especially above previous budgets over the years? I wonder if he will speak at the BOCC or just let the CFO handle it all as she is the listed contact. It would be good for him to explain his justification for such numbers.

    Sunday, May 26 Report this

  • Islandman

    Something tells me that a huge salary increase is forthcoming the SOE and his assistant, Ballard,

    Also, don’t worry about a non reply to your request for information, SATCHMO never replied to me either and I was a Constituent’ and a Republican.

    This guy personifies the word disgusting,

    Sunday, May 26 Report this