Thursday, September 1, 2016

CRB Questionnaire: Arlene Sweeting

Arlene Sweeting
Sarasota County Charter Review Board, District #1
1.     Why do you think you’re particularly well suited for the Charter Review Board?
I’m a native Floridian and have lived in the Sarasota/Bradenton area since 1993.  Since moving here, I’ve taught middle school science (7 years), started and operated a community coffeehouse (5 years), managed a community radio station (9 years) and I currently run the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. Over the years I have been active locally with a number of organizations including the Manatee/Sarasota Sierra Club (outings leader/publications chair/conservation chair/group leader), the American Association of University Women (mentor program), and Transition Sarasota (gleaning project/eat local week/fiscal sponsor). My work over the past decade has been geared to supporting a more active, educated and engaged citizenry.   I believe people should have a voice in their local government and in decisions that affect their community.  

2. Do you think the Charter Review Board should be changed from an elected board to an appointed board? Please explain.
The Charter Review Board should remain an elected body. It provides a no barrier, entry-level position to citizens interested in getting more engaged with their government - there is no petition requirement and no filing fee to run for the office.  It gives citizens a voice in how county government operates and gives them a meaningful way to participate. Keeping the Board elected, keeps it more accountable to the people.
If we want to live in a democratic society, we have to build a culture that supports democracy and that means we need to actually practice democracy in as many areas as we can – work, school, and, certainly, government.
3. What are three issues that have been suggested for the CRB’s consideration that you feel are worthy of further inquiry? For each one, please explain why you think it’s important.
I) I would be interested in revisiting the issue of Single Member Districts for County Commission and the Charter Review Board – petitions are currently being circulated by members of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. In 2013 the Charter Review Board rejected a request to study this issue.  In 1992 single member districts were supported and in 1994 they were overturned before residents really got to see what impact they would have on county government.  With single member districts, CRB members and County Commissioners would be more accountable to their District and maybe would make more of an attempt to actually educate voters in their District AND get their input.  Would we get more candidates willing to run for office?  Who knows?  This year two of our County Commissioners were elected without opposition.  This denies citizens a choice about the direction of the county.  Certainly there are a number of issues at play here – but the cost involved in running a viable county-wide race is certainly one of them.  Having single member districts would greatly reduce the cost of running for office and would allow grassroots candidates to be more competitive.
II)  Making local elections nonpartisan is another idea that has been suggested that I think is worthy of consideration.  One thing this would do is it would eliminate the write-in loophole that allows ‘sham’ candidates to close a primary thus disenfranchising a large part of the electorate.  
III) I would support stronger ethics provisions in our Charter.  Many residents were upset last year when Commissioner Christine Robinson accepted a position with the Argus Foundation while still serving on the Board.  It seemed a clear conflict of interest, yet the County Attorney did not interpret it that way.  People need to have trust in government and right now that is sadly lacking.  People see their interests and their voices being drowned out by those with more power and more money. Integrity in government is essential if we are to re-build trust with citizens.  
4. What is your position on single-district elections?
I support single member district elections.   Right now, County Commissioners and Charter Review Board members are elected county-wide. This makes it extremely difficult for grassroots candidates to be viable. Currently 43% of registered voters in the County are Republicans, 31% of voters are Democrats, and 26% are third party or NPA, but 100% of our County Commission and 100% of our Charter Review Board are Republicans. This year we had two County Commission seats go unchallenged. This is not good for our democracy. I have been approached by a number of residents that support single-member districts and I think it is time for the Charter Review Board to revisit the way in which County-wide offices are elected.   
5. Do you believe citizen petition charter amendment drives should be subject to a time limit on gathering signatures?
I think some time limit would be reasonable. However, before placing a limit of any kind on gathering signatures I would want to talk to groups that have organized petition drives in the past to see what they believe is reasonable.  I believe a time limit actually could help grassroots organizations plan a more effective campaign and bring urgency to their issue.   But I also understand that resources are limited for citizen’s campaigns and they need to have an adequate amount of time to get the word out about their concerns.  It doesn’t really seem to have been an issue up to this point – we don’t have multiple charter amendment petition drives that have been ongoing for a long time.  So if someone brought the idea of time limits forward, I would look closely at who was proposing the amendment and what their real goals were.  My goal is to protect citizen’s rights to petition government and not place unnecessary limits on them.

6. Do you believe advisory boards should be subject to a rule that aims to balance them by geography, areas of expertise, and relevant experience in advocacy? (For example, for the Planning Commission, at least one member with experience in advocating for affordable housing.)
Yes, it is important to have people with diverse experience on advisory boards.

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