Who is Lee Washington? Manatee County chooses ‘calm’ leader after Hopes’ resignation

Tiffany Tompkins/ttompkins@bradenton.com

The sudden departure of Manatee Administrator Scott Hopes has a long-serving department director stepping up to lead the county government workforce.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Lee Washington as the acting county administrator. It’s not clear how long Washington will serve in the role, but board members say he’s the perfect person for the job.

“I’ve watched Lee grow professionally for 10 years,” said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. “He has always — every time we give him a new task — he’s always handled that task and then some. He’s always a step ahead.”

Washington has been with the county for 14 years, with most of his time spent leading the county’s Veteran Services Division. Last February, he was promoted to director of Community and Veterans Services, overseeing the library system, children’s services and other neighborhood resources.

A county spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that Washington is also the first Black male to serve as Manatee’s acting administrator. Karen Jackson-Sims was the first Black female to serve as acting county administrator in 1992.

“I can’t say enough how thankful I am for your confidence, not only in me but as you can see, with those that stand with me — we standing united and moving forward in ensuring that we carry out the priorities set by this board,” Washington told commissioners following his appointment.

Washington fills the void left by Hopes’ quick exit from the job as the county’s chief executive. As of Wednesday afternoon, county officials have not provided a reason for Hopes’ resignation.

Who is Lee Washington?

Commissioners quickly appointed Washington to steer the county, pointing to his calm demeanor and the respect he has earned from elected officials and colleagues. Washington, 53, is a Florida native and U.S. Marine veteran.

“What I see in an administrator, long term, is what I believe … Lee Washington brings. I’ve been seeing that in the field for a while,” Commissioner George Kruse said. “I think he’s a great acting administrator to add some stability to the county.”

Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge described Washington as someone who “exudes calm and is a natural leader.”

Washington served active duty from 1987 to 1998, both in the states and abroad. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, Washington served as a bodyguard in Beverly Hills, where he worked personal security for “some of Hollywood’s highest-profile personalities,” the county said in a news release.

Later, Washington returned to Florida and developed a 10-year career in mortgage banking. In 2009, Washington joined Manatee County Government as a veteran services counselor before becoming a manager in 2013.

Washington lives in downtown Bradenton and enjoys fishing, cooking and traveling, according to the county. Washington also serves as the president of the County Veteran Service Officers Association of Florida and was named Manatee County’s employee of the year in 2013.