Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“There is a lot of growth; we can’t stop it anymore."

Following up on the Sarasota County Commission's decision on Whole Foods' wish to build on living wetland:

Shocking absolutely no one at all, the Sarasota County Commission bowed to Whole Foods and WaWa Tuesday, approving the erection of those commercial enterprises on a wetland on University Parkway at Honore.

One resident near the wetlands site was quoted by the Herald Tribune as saying: “There is a lot of growth; we can’t stop it anymore." 

Herald Tribune:

A forested wetland preserve standing in the way of a new Whole Foods Market at Honore Avenue and University Parkway will become a parking lot after the Sarasota County commissioners approved a rezoning change over the objections of some staff and residents. 
The measure passed 4-1 with Commissioner Charles Hines voting against it. 
“Clearly this is a good location for this end user, except there’s a wetland right on it,” Hines said. “There is testimony in the record that says it’s a functioning wetland. It still has value. It still has use.” 
More . . .

Citizen advocate Bill Zoller wrote to acknowledge the effort of Commissioner Hines [link added]:
Dear Charles: 
Thank you very much for voting against the Whole Foods proposal which will result in the destruction of the wetlands at that site. That wetlands was the basis for the denial, some years ago, of the McKay et al proposal for that site. At that time, all aspects of the issue, and of the importance of the wetlands, were aired, discussed, and dissected in great detail. Since that time, nothing has changed that would warrant the destruction of the wetlands, nor has the role of that wetlands in the overall ecology changed. 
I am a little surprised that Whole Foods, given its image as a champion of environmental issues, would pursue this environmentally destructive path to a new store. 
Again, your concern and your vote are much appreciated in this matter. Sarasota will lose one more important piece of its natural systems, which is a loss for us all. 

UPDATE: The loss of Sarasota's wetland is now a component of Wikipedia's entry on Whole Foods.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Degrading Sarasota County, one wetland at a time

From Dan Lobeck, Sarasota attorney and citizen advocate:


On Tuesday, January 26 shortly after 1:30 pm at their downtown Sarasota location, the Sarasota County Commission will consider allowing a developer to pave over 4 ½ acres of very rare and valuable forested wetlands for commercial development and to create traffic gridlock at an important intersection. 
It is a public hearing, with the right to speak for up to five minutes.
Sarasota County staff is recommending against this, and would require that the wetlands be preserved on the 8 ¼ acre site at University Parkway and Honore Avenue. They point out that most of these wetlands were agreed to be preserved in a previous business park approved for the site, so the developer would violate the requirement of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan that there is “no reasonable alternative” but to destroy the wetlands. 
Staff reports that the particular wetlands “are very rare in Sarasota County” and “have a high degree of environmental importance for water filtration, assimilation of nutrients, floodwater storage and as a refuge and habitat for a wide variety of species that rely on this urban environment.” “Such isolated habitats within the urban environment,” staff says, “are becoming increasingly more important to migratory species.” 
The wetland destruction would be “mitigated” six miles away on Manatee County property unconnected to any Sarasota County habitat, which staff says also violates the Comprehensive Plan requirement that mitigation (where there is “no reasonable alternative” to destruction) should be on-site or nearby. 
If this is approved, it will follow a brand-new pattern of the Sarasota County Commission allowing destruction of valuable habitat for mitigation in Manatee County, as it granted to Benderson Development last year for expansion of the University Town Center.
The proposed commercial development would also create severe traffic congestion at the University Parkway-Honore Avenue intersection which can only be solved by a large, expensive road and intersection improvements and a traffic light. Two lanes must be added to University Parkway from Honore to Medici Court and to Honore Avenue from University Parkway to Desoto Road, if the traffic is to be handled. However, amazingly, transportation staff recommends – without any evident concurrency analysis required by state law – only to require the developer to add the traffic light. There are no plans for the other improvements. 
So not only do valuable wetlands get paved over, but another stretch of University Parkway, and of Honore Avenue, and their intersection, gets gridlocked. 
The Planning Commission, which the County Commission has stacked with development interests, unanimously recommended approval of the developer’s proposal. (Earlier on the County Commission agenda, the Commission will most likely pass over citizen advocates Lourdes Ramirez and Ray Porter to appoint two developers and a development contractor to the Planning Commission, if they follow what they have done before). 
Will the County Commission act again to let developers pave over wetlands which their environmental staff says are required to be preserved, and gridlock the roads in the process? 
-- Dan Lobeck

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A proposed change in procedure for Sarasota's Charter Review Board

A follow-up to the most recent Charter Review Board meeting, at which Bob Waechter submitted an amendment to the Sarasota County Charter, and the Board agreed to review it at its next meeting. Neither Waechter nor the Board disclosed the content of the amendment, but a person in attendance requested a copy and read aloud from it. It proposed to change the Board from an elected panel to an appointed Board.

Following the meeting, one person who'd been in attendance sent an email to each member of the Board. A copy is below:

To the Charter Review Board: 
I attended your Jan. 20th, 2016 meeting. Much of the discussion involved efforts on your part to be more meticulous about procedure. While this is laudable, I was surprised to learn that you do not routinely make the texts of proposed amendments docketed for review easily available to the public. 
Not publishing proposed amendments as soon as you receive them fails to provide open participation to the public in this process. These are, after all, amendments that could eventually impact great numbers of people. While you appear conscientious about allotting time for the pubic to speak at meetings, it would be consistent for you to adopt a rule or bylaw to the effect that proposed amendments need to be published promptly upon submission to the Board. 
This can be easily accomplished if you would require all amendments to be submitted via digital format -- in a pdf or text file that then could be posted to your page on the county's site. Virtually no resources or storage space would be required for this purpose. 
With this procedure in place, amendment proposals could be shared with the general public via the Internet on many sites, virtually immediately upon submission. One result would be more informed meetings, as those attending will have had time to read and consider new proposals. 
Another benefit: You would avoid even the appearance of impropriety as was raised at the Jan. 20th meeting in which several members of the public objected to Mr. Waechter's proposal being submitted and set for review without having shared its title or intent with those present in the meeting chamber. I understand this was not the first time Mr. Waechter had appeared with his amendment, but for myself and other first-timers, there was a sense of inappropriate secretiveness. 
If you do not have staffing for this purpose, I'm sure we can find a public-minded citizen who can create a dedicated site whose sole purpose would be to publish amendments submitted to the board at no charge in a timely manner. 
Thank you for considering these thoughts. 
Thomas Matrullo
Sarasota, FL
Several days later, Donna Barcomb, Chairman of the CRB, responded:
Dear Mr. Matrullo, 
I do not know why we haven't published proposed amendments previously however I think it is a good idea. I do believe we need to address this as well as some other procedural "rules" or by-law amendments. 
Thank you, 
Donna Barcomb
Ms Barcomb is the only member of the Board to respond to date. She will be stepping down from the Chair to be succeeded by Richard Dorfman. Other members of the Board include: Anthony Sawyer; Pat Wayman; John Fellin; Steven Fields; Joe Justice; Jim Gabbert, and Bruce Dillon

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Sarasota Charter Review Board, Waechter, and Public Process

From today's Herald Tribune:
Bob Waechter, Sarasota County's former GOP chief, gave the board a proposed written charter amendment calling for the board members to be appointed, rather than the current system which elects the members. He said he would discuss the details during the next meeting. 
Waechter's proposal calls for a 15-member appointed board chosen by county commissioners and other officials. The move, the proposal states, would not disenfranchise voters. 
“It is time, after 24 years, to again ask the voters what they think,” he wrote.
At the Charter Review Board's meeting last night, Waechter handed copies of his proposal to members of the Charter Review Board, but did not say what it contained. The Board then agreed to consider Waechter's proposed amendment at its next meeting, in May.

Bob Waechter handing his proposed charter amendment to
Sarasota County's Charter Review Board
A board whose purpose is to publicly consider amendments to Sarasota County government thus accepted and voted to formally review a proposal whose contents were undisclosed -- until one citizen in attendance stood up, asked for a copy of the proposal, and stated that in fact it does call for an appointed, rather than publicly elected, panel.

Currently amendment proposals submitted to the Board are not published. To find out what they contain, one needs to go to the Clerk of the Court's office and seek them out.

Should proposals for Charter amendments be submitted for review without public awareness? Would it not be more consistent with the Board's purpose for it to adopt a procedure something like this:

1. Require all proposed amendments to be submitted as a digital file - preferably a pdf. 
2. Publish all amendments accepted for consideration to the Internet with reasonable promptness - within 24 hours of submission, for example. 
3. Make the CRB site known to the public so that the actions and process of the Board become more widely known.

The amount of computational power and storage to handle this chore is minimal. If the Board needs help, it can write to us at We'll be happy to help.

The spectacle of Mr. Waechter handing his papers to the officials while refusing to even state what his amendment contained smacked of disdain for public awareness -- even as his apparent desire to do away with the public's involvement in choosing Board members suggests a peculiar disregard for democratic process.

Election of officers

The Board concluded its session with an election of officers for the coming year:
  • Richard Dorfman - Chairman.
  • Anthony Sawyer - Vice Chair
  • Jim Gabbert - Chair Pro Tem

Cathy Antunes urges anyone interested in how Sarasota County operates to be at the May meeting of the CRB:

  • Go to the May CRB meeting!  Mr. Waechter is proposing that our Charter Review Board be an appointed rather than an elected body.  It will be critical for citizens to show up and speak out against this proposal. Her commentary in full is here.

Tell the Board what you think: Email The Charter Review Board

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lobeck: The Cabal and the Charter Review Board - UPDATE

As a follow-up to the email below, please email the Charter Review Board to tell them not to take away our right to elect the Charter Review Board by making it appointed by the County Commission:
Email The Charter Review Board

Protect Our Right to Elect the

Charter Review Board

Unlike other communities, Sarasota County has an independent, elected Charter Review Board with the power to put Charter amendments directly on the ballot for a public vote. That avoids the need to get over 14,000 signatures or a vote of the County Commission.

Developers and their supporters are scared by that. They know that given the opportunity the people will vote for measures to rein in their control over local politicians and policies, as they have over the years.

On Wednesday, January 20, the developer cabal will make another effort to take away the citizens’ right to elect the Charter Review Board. The CRB will hear a proposal to do that, as requested by Bob Waechter, the long-time henchman of the developers, who works each election year to recruit candidates to the developers’ liking.

You may remember Bob Waechter, who stole the identity of a candidate for County Commission and sought to discredit her by making false campaign contributions in her name, and was charged with a felony as a result (to add to a prior felony conviction).

The Wednesday meeting will be at 6 pm at the Anderson Center, County Commission chambers, at 4000 South Tamiami Trail in Venice.

Citizens will have a chance to speak against this proposal during Open to the Public at the beginning of the meeting, for up to 5 minutes each.

If the CRB votes to approve the proposal for consideration, it will go to a CRB committee for consideration and then back to the CRB for final approval of a motion (which requires a 2/3 affirmative vote) to place the change on the ballot.

On May 6, 2009, the developers lost a previous effort in the Charter Review Board, by a tie vote, to have a committee consider taking away the citizens right to elect the body. They lost a previous effort to do the same thing in 2006, by a 6 to 3 vote of CRB members against it.

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Charter Review Board sponsored good measures, which were approved by the voters, to create $200 campaign contribution limits for local politicians, to require voter approval for the County to raise property taxes or deepen taxpayer debt beyond certain limits, to require full disclosure of property owners seeking rezonings and to require testimony under oath at rezone hearings so that developers tell the truth.

The problem is that it takes a two-thirds vote of the Charter Review Board to put a measure on the ballot and about half its members currently tend to go along with the opponents of citizen power.

This got that way when those forces recruited and supported candidates to take over the Charter Review Board in 1994, in reaction to a Charter Review Board proposal to amend the County Charter to provide a right of citizen initiative and referendum over County ordinances.

Since 1994, the Charter Review Board has done little but attempt to repeal or weaken the reforms added to the Charter by a pro-reform Charter Review Board in the 1980's and early 1990's. They tried to repeal the tax cap but the voters turned them down. They tried to tie the borrowing cap to annual increases in real estate values but the voters turned them down (later approving a much more modest indexing of the limit to the consumer price index). They tried to repeal the campaign contribution limits (because as we know the developers are the ones who like to pour the big bucks into campaigns) but again the voters turned them down

Ultimately, the anti-reformers want to take away the citizens’ right to elect their Charter Review Board and just make it a committee of the County Commission.

The CRB was right in 2009 and 2006 to preserve the citizens’ right to elect an independent, elected Charter Review Board as a source to put measures on the ballot to protect and enhance citizen rights and interests.

Five of the ten Charter Review Board members are up for election every two years, to a four-year term. Candidates run from five districts (the same as the County Commission districts) but all votes are county-wide. It is a partisan election, so there is a primary as well as the November general election.

Three factors favor running for Charter Review Board rather than other political offices:

1) There is no filing fee.
2) The position is a fairly minimal commitment, as the Charter Review Board meets infrequently, in evening meetings.
3) The financial disclosure requirement is minimal, requiring the listing only of significant property, debts, business interests and sources of income, with no amounts.

Citizens who favor citizens’ rights and interests belong on the Charter Review Board. Anyone who would act contrary to those rights and interests do not.

The vote Wednesday on whether to take away the citizens’ right to elect our Charter Review Board is an important one.

-- Dan Lobeck

An email from Cathy Antunes

This email is dated Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016  [links added]:

Hello all,

Our County Charter is our local constitution.  It has served us well, and has been a way for citizens to shape and guide our County government.
On Wednesday night the Charter Review Board (CRB) will meet at 6 p.m. in Venice. On the agenda: a twenty-minute presentation from Bob Waechter.
Some news reports indicate Mr. Waechter may present on reducing citizen input to the CRB and/or suggesting that CRB members be appointed, not elected, Other reports indicate Mr. Waechter may be acting as a "placeholder" and someone else will present on the topic of a common law grand jury. 
Why is the Charter Review Board accepting counsel from Mr. Waechter at all?

As you may remember, a Publix surveillance videotape showed Mr. Waechter purchasing a debit card in the name of a Republican candidate, which he later used to donate to Democrats in her name.  The FBI wanted our state attorney to give Waechter's felony identity theft case to them, but the state attorney refused and permitted Mr. Waechter to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.  Through his actions Mr. Waechter has displayed complete contempt for the integrity of our local elections. 
Tomorrow night you have the opportunity to witness what recycled or completely new approach may be proposed by Mr. Waechter (or his designee) to undermine citizen input through the County Charter.  Show up and learn how the CRB functions, question why Mr. Waechter is advising them, see what may be unfolding at the outset to reduce your voice in your government. 
At last week's Republic Executive Committee meeting CRB board member Richard Dorfman shared that Mr. Waechter and his cohorts may propose abolishing the Charter Review Board - a bizarre suggestion.  
The CRB and our County Charter exist to serve the public.  Let's keep it that way.
Cathy Antunes 
Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.

*Meeting details:
January 20, 2016         6:00 p.m
Charter Review Board Regular Meeting
Robert L. Anderson Administration Center
4000 South Tamiami Trail
Commission Chamber
Venice, FL 
The Charter Review Board gives citizens 5 minutes each to provide public input.  Public input typically begins at 6:05 pm.  Please attend and speak for preserving publicly elected CRB officials and time for public input during CRB meetings.

More on this:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What does Waechter want at the Charter Review Board?

From The Detail:

Waechterians at the Gate

Your presence is kindly requested at the January 20th Charter Review Board meeting.* Here’s why:

We have a lot to celebrate and give thanks for in Sarasota. Sarasota County is a “home rule” county—one of 21 counties in the state of Florida with a County Charter. Sarasota County instituted a local constitution, or County Charter, in 1971. Amendments to our County Charter can be initiated by citizen petition, the County Commission or the Charter Review Board. The CRB works on behalf of the citizens of Sarasota County to review and recommend changes to the County Charter for improvement of County government. Charter amendments are put to referendum for voter approval. It’s a system which has served us well. But in the past decade we’ve seen numerous proposals, each one defeated, which would have undermined citizen powers through the County Charter amendment process. Bob Waechter has been one of the principals in such efforts, proposing changes which would constrain effective citizen engagement in local government. Waechter is at it again.

You might remember Bob Waechter. He was caught on videotape purchasing a debit card in the name of a fellow Republican—a candidate for County Commission he wanted to defeat. He made donations to Democrats with the card. Mr. Waechter was charged with felony identity theft. Thank goodness for security cameras. Without the videotape, we’d have to rely upon the former Sarasota GOP chair’s conscience to kick in and let us know the donations were fraudulent. How long would that take? 

Continue reading at The Detail

*Meeting details:

January 20, 2016
6:00 p.m
Charter Review Board Regular Meeting
Robert L. Anderson Administration Center Commission Chamber
4000 South Tamiami Trail
Venice, FL

The Charter Review Board gives citizens 5 minutes each to provide public input. Public input typically begins at 6:05 pm. Please attend and speak for preserving publicly elected CRB officials and time for public input during CRB meetings.