Saturday, April 27, 2019

“Transparent” redistricting of Sarasota County in 2019?

The Sarasota County Commission is currently assessing the need to redistrict our county in 2019---which could change the boundaries of our five voting districts BEFORE the scheduled 2020 US Census.  If you think that citizens should play an active role in this process, contact our County Commissioners now!
Source: Sarasota County

Last November, voters in Sarasota County sent our County Commission a clear message. In all five Districts, voters overwhelmingly approved more direct and accountable representation from our County Commission. Starting in 2020, each Commissioner will be elected solely by the voters in his/her Voting District -- a major change from the past countywide voting system.

But in the meantime, our current County Commission is considering making changes to our Voting District boundaries this year--starting in early May. Commissioners (including two up for re-election--Mike Moran/Dist. 1, Nancy Detert/Dist. 3, and one departing due to term limits--Charles Hines/Dist. 5)  would orchestrate this process themselves rather than taking the course recommended by the League of Women Voters/Sarasota County: Empanel an independent, expert committee of citizens who are not seeking public office.  

The LWV also stated that when "diverse stakeholders are left out of the redistricting process, it’s more likely that elected officials will choose their voters than voters will be empowered to choose their elected officials."  Link

At minimum, any County-level redistricting process must be fully transparent and should include input and feedback from county residents from start to finish.  In advance of Commission discussions or decisions, residents should know key background information--including: 
·  What universal criteria determine the need to redistrict---FL Statutes, etc? 
·  Which standardized data sources will be used to determine current population (US Census, other?) 
·  What methods and software will be used to "balance" each district?  
Such questions have been posed to Sarasota County, but not answered. Waiting until County staff delivers a report to the Commission in early May is not adequate or appropriate. Residents and voters should not be passive bystanders in this process. We need answers to key questions before the May meeting, preferably at a public, interactive workshop. 

A news report on the County Commission meeting on April 9th indicated that Commissioner Detert proposes that Commissioners "make this the most open, transparent and, frankly, televised exercise that the county's ever been through." "...Additionally, Detert said, “I think we all need to work on restoring the average person’s faith in their own government."

Please act now. Words and promises alone mean little. Send a message to our five Commissioners at We the People must play a key and active role in the County redistricting process. Your vote is your voice.  

Kindra Muntz, President, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections

Bill Zoller, Past President, Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Assoc. (CONA/Sarasota)

Pat Rounds, Past Sec'y, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections
Related links:

The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners may be reached at
  Michael A. Moran, Commissioner District 1
Christian Ziegler, Commissioner District 2 
Nancy C. Detert, Commsioner District 3
 Alan Maio, Commissioner District 4
Charles D. Hines, Commissioner District 5
Michael A. Moran
District 1 (Vice Chair)
Christian Ziegler
Nancy C. Detert
Alan Maio
District 4 
District 5 (Chair)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Board challenged on Benderson Promenade approval

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Judge in Siesta Promenade case orders Sarasota County to ‘show cause’ as to why she should not overturn County Commission approval of project

McHugh’s order latest action in lawsuit filed in early January

A graphic shows how Benderson Development has planned the transition of building height in Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With an amended lawsuit having been filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on April 12, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh has issued a Show Cause order to Sarasota County, giving it 30 days to explain why she should not overturn the County Commission’s December 2018 approval of the Siesta Promenade project.
McHugh filed the order on April 17.
“Having reviewed the Amended Petition, the court file, the record, and the applicable case law,” she wrote, “the Court finds that the Amended Petition demonstrates a preliminary basis for relief, for which a show cause order should be issued.”
In the meantime, a representative acting on behalf of Benderson Development — the company behind the Siesta Promenade project — appeared before the county’s Development Review Coordination (DRC) committee on April 18 to discuss plans for clearing the approximately 24-acre site where the mixed-use project is planned. Siesta Promenade has been approved to consist of 414 condominiums/apartments, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space. The development is slated for the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, next to the Pine Shores Estates neighborhood.
The demolition materials say the anticipated start date for the clearing is 2019, with completion expected in 2020. The total affected acres, it adds, are approximately 22.35.
Formally, the lawsuit that Pine Shores Estates resident Sura Kochman initially filed against the county on Jan. 11 is a Petition for Writ of Certiorari. It challenges the commission’s approval of Siesta Promenade on a number of issues.

A graphic shows the access points for Siesta Promenade, which the development team acknowledged will lead to more traffic flowing through Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among those, Kochman points to the fact that the County Commission allowed staff to consolidate into one public hearing the four applications Benderson Development had submitted for Siesta Promenade. In a routine County Commission public hearing, a speaker is allowed 5 minutes to address facets of a proposal. However, as Kochman’s attorney, Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, wrote in the petition, the time was reduced to 3 minutes for a speaker to cover all four Siesta Promenade applications.
The number of cards people submitted to talk about Siesta Promenade during the Dec. 12, 2018 public hearing in downtown Sarasota prompted then-County Commission Chair Nancy Detert to ask if the audience members were agreeable to the time cut from 5 to 3 minutes. The majority responded that they were. Sixty-nine speakers ended up making remarks, with only 10 of them — by count of The Sarasota News Leader — in favor of Siesta Promenade.
Another major point of the lawsuit is that “even though the approval of this development would significantly impact traffic patterns and safety, the traffic study [undertaken for the project] did not even include an analysis of the impacts on traffic levels and safety of a proposed new traffic light between US 41 and the Siesta Key Bridge.”

An aerial map shows part of Pine Shores Estates next to the Siesta Promenade site. Image from Google Maps

Benderson’s traffic consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates of Sarasota, proposed that a signal be installed at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Avenue B and C.
The petition adds, “[T]he [County Commission] did not have the legal authority to authorize this new traffic light as it requires a transaction involving the FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] not yet completed.”
County staff has been working for about a year-and-a-half on a “road swap” of River Road to FDOT, in exchange for the county’s assuming responsibility for Stickney Point Road west of U.S. 41, as well as other roads on Siesta Key. The county’s goal has been to speed up improvements that have been sought on River Road for decades. As a state road, River Road will have a higher priority for widening and other changes, county staff has noted.
Kochman’s petition added, “Without the new traffic light, Siesta Promenade as proposed would never have been approved because of its severe impact on neighborhoods to the north and west that would face huge increases in project-specific traffic attempting to return in the directions from whence they came.”
Because of the speakers’ time limitation during the public hearing, the petition points out, Kochman’s remarks were “cut short during her presentation and these impacts were never fully considered and warrant reversal or remand for additional time to present this expert opinion testimony and evidence.”
A transcript and two intervenors

People stand at the rear of the County Commission Chambers on Dec. 12, 2018, trying to spot places to sit. Rachel Hackney photo

The original motion attorney Brookes filed on Kochman’s behalf did not provide citations to the transcript of the December 2018 County Commission hearing. The transcript finally was filed on Feb. 25. It totals 322 pages.
On April 3, Judge McHugh granted Kochman’s Motion for Leave to Amend Petition, so the new document could provide an appendix and transcript “conforming to the Rules of Appellate Procedure …”
Additionally, Judge McHugh issued an order on Feb. 27 to allow Benderson Development and Siesta 41 Associates LLP — a Benderson affiliate — to intervene in the case. McHugh wrote that she had been advised that neither Kochman nor Sarasota County objected to the request from Sarasota attorney Robert K. Lincoln, who is representing Benderson and Siesta 41 Associates in the lawsuit.
Earlier, McHugh had chastised Lincoln for filing motions opposing various actions in the case without his clients having been approved as intervenors.
Lincoln finally filed his Motion to Intervene on Feb. 22.
The demolition plans

A county graphic shows the zoning of properties around the Siesta Promenade site in advance of the Dec. 12, 2018 meeting. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The county DRC meeting agenda for April 18 noted that WRA Engineering of University Park would be appearing on behalf of Benderson Development and Siesta 41 Associates to talk with staff about the plans to clear the Siesta Promenade site. The DRC agenda pointed out that the “future development [would be] consistent with the Rezone and Special Exception” the County Commission approved in December 2018.
Most of the property slated for the development was zoned for 9 dwelling units per acre, as a mobile home park stood there for many years. Benderson won approval of a Critical Area Plan (CAP) designation, so the number of dwelling units could be up to 25 per acre. The total for which it received approval is 479, as the 130 rooms in the hotel officially count as half units, for a total of 65.

Siesta Promenade is planned for the site of a former mobile home park at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road. Filephoto

DRC discussions allow county staff members with subject matter expertise to voice any comments they may have about a permit application, to ensure that the resulting development does conform to the plans the County Commission has approved.
Altogether, the materials say, 7.10 acres of impervious area would be removed, including 195 trees. The majority of those trees would be palms and pines, one sheet of the document notes.
Most of the information in the materials focuses on the stormwater pollution prevention plan WRA Engineering has developed in accordance with the required Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit for “Stormwater Discharge from Large and Small Construction Activities.” That document points out that the “receiving waters” would be Roberts Bay.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club opposes Payne Park Giveaway

Dear Commissioners,

The Sarasota Orchestra cites “global warming” as their reason to quit participation in the future $200 million Bayfront project. Their new vision proposes developing a massive 2,500-seat concert hall at Payne Park—eliminating seven (7) acres of open public green space, a wildlife-filled lake and 2 ponds, and numerous shade trees.

It is ironic that orchestra’s vision to destroy and pave over an existing healthy urban ecosystem at Payne Park will actually contribute to “global warming.”
The principle vision of the City of Sarasota Parks + Connectivity Master Plan refers to Payne Park as a “signature park” and states:

  • “The public is a stake holder in their community park.” 
  • “To be successful parks must provide users the opportunity to experience and enjoy nature.” 
  • “Built elements should respect the landscape and complement the natural environment.”   
  • “Sarasota’s physical environment encompasses a variety of individual ecosystems that contribute to the area’s overall quality of life. These ecosystems not only improve air and water quality,. . .  but also serve as habitats for threatened and endangered species.” 

“The preservation of these areas is critical to the City of Sarasota’s future. Efforts to protect habitats, flora, and fauna should include, but not be limited to, functional and native landscaping, reduced impervious surfaces, minimization of area disturbance, and public education.”

“ To be successful parks must provide users the opportunity to experience and enjoy nature.”

The Sierra Club puts high value on accessible public open space, parks, open-air recreational activities, and outdoor community gathering places with natural ecosystems that are accessible to all citizens regardless of age, income or location, as laid out in the city parks connectivity plan. You don’t need an expensive ticket to experience the joys of Payne Park. 

Nothing in the Sarasota City park plan, nor the recorded park deed stipulations,  sets forth bestowing seven (7) acres of public park green space to be bulldozed and covered in concrete!  In fact, just the polar opposite. So why on earth is the city wasting tax payer dollars even entertaining the orchestra’s contradictory vision?

The City of Sarasota has an obligation to respect their citizens’ park plan and respect the Payne family’s gift to preserve the community open space of Payne Park and must cease negotiating with Sarasota Orchestra to dismantle it.

Gayle Reynolds
Co-Chair, Conservation Committee
Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club

Friday, April 19, 2019

$19 million to pay for garage on prime I-75 property

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Issuance of $19 million in bonds approved to pay for Sheriff’s Office’s new fleet facility in Nokomis

Complex slated for completion in the summer of 2020

A map shows the location of the new Sheriff’s Support Services Facility in Nokomis. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With a unanimous vote on April 10, the Sarasota County Commission approved issuing $19 million in bonds to finance a new fleet operations center for the Sheriff’s Office at 2101 Laurel Road in Nokomis.
The annual debt payment on those bonds is expected to be approximately $1,225,000, according to a county staff memo. Tentatively, the memo noted, the closing on the bonds is set for mid to late May, after staff has learned the latest bond rating for the county.
The project — formally called the Sheriff’s Support Services Facility — will be built on a 17.75-acre tract near Interstate 75. Completion and green building certification are anticipated in the summer of 2020, the staff memo pointed out.
On April 10, the board also approved — in the same motion — a contract with Atkins North America Inc. to manage the construction of the complex. Atkins will receive a total of $1,472,616.52 for that job and work it already has undertaken on the project.
Additionally, the motion awarded total payment of $17,446,312 to Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota for the building of the new facility. The staff memo explained that the company solicited bids from trade contractors for the initiative, under the terms of a contract the commission approved with Willis A. Smith in January 2018. The April 10 vote approved a contract amendment that increased the amount paid to the company by $136,816.
On Jan. 30, 2018, the County commission approved the initial, $1.1-million contract with Atkins North America’s Sarasota office for the design work for the complex. The funding for that contract and the initial one with Willis A. Smith came from Law Enforcement and Justice Facilities impact fees, a staff memo explained at the time.

Commissioner Alan Maio. File photo

Commissioner Alan Maio made the April 10 motion, and Chair Charles Hines seconded it.
The item was on the agenda as a “Presentation Upon Request,” but no board member asked for staff remarks, and no one had signed up to address the commission.
“A lot of things are coming online,” Maio noted, referring to a number of county public safety initiatives that are or soon will be underway. Among them will be the construction of three more fire stations, following the four built during his first term, he said.
“This is a very big deal,” Maio added of the sheriff’s new facility.
Earlier, addressing a person who spoke to the board during the Open to the Public period, Maio acknowledged “I’ve been the butt of a lot of interesting comments about the Sheriff’s Support building.”
Some Nokomis residents have criticized Maio for pushing for his colleagues to approve the location of the new facility. They have argued that the site would have been better suited for commercial purposes, given its proximity to the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
The groundbreaking for the health care complex took place on April 4. That 350,000-square-foot structure will stand on a 65-acre medical campus at the intersection of Laurel and Pinebrook roads.
On Dec. 13, 2017, the County Commission approved the rezoning of the approximately 52.8 acres at the intersection of Laurel Road and I-75, so the new Sheriff’s Support Services Facility could be constructed there. The complex will replace a facility the department has been using on Old Venice road in Osprey.
During the public hearing for the rezoning, Sheriff Tom Knight pointed to the easy access for his staff from the Laurel Road site to areas north and south of it, via I-75 and Honore Avenue, as well as to areas east and west of the property, thanks to Laurel Road and Clark Road.
On Jan. 8, 2013, as part of a presentation to the County Commission, Knight talked of his concerns about having very expensive equipment — including the SWAT team’s “Bearcat” and the bomb truck fuel tanker — sitting out in the open at the Osprey facility. “We have virtually nowhere to store them,” he said, noting that the equipment at that time was valued at nearly $8 million.

This is a rendering of the new Sarasota Memorial Hospital underway outside Venice. Image courtesy SMH

A county staff memo provided to the commission in advance of the April 10 meeting pointed out that the Osprey fleet facility for the Sheriff’s Office comprises multiple buildings. The main one, the memo noted, “was a former fire station, with additions and renovations over the years, in order to function at its current use. Only two maintenance bays are located within a [stormproof] structure, with the other four located in standard pre-engineered buildings.”
The memo added, “While the Facility is functional, it is not operationally efficient and is in need of extensive maintenance and improvements to meet current code requirements.”
Consideration of the community
The design of the new complex also reflects commission direction during the rezoning hearing in December 2017. At that time, Hines and then-Commissioner Paul Caragiulo talked of the need to make the site attractive, as members of the public had stressed to the board that the Laurel Road/I-75 area is the gateway to Nokomis and Venice. (Bolding added)
The April 10 staff memo said of the new complex on Laurel Road, “To control and minimize the Facility’s visual impact, the north and west project site boundaries will feature an 8-foot ornamental precast wall, softened by significant plantings of trees and shrubs, and the front of the Facility has been set back from Honore Avenue, allowing for a heavy vegetative buffer of street trees.”
The memo continued, “The Facility and associated outbuildings have been situated on the site to shield neighboring properties and internal vehicle parking. In addition, careful thought has been given to avoiding noise or light pollution outside the parcel. Operations, which would generate a higher than average noise level, will be performed within closed insulated wall areas, and site lighting has been designed to reduce light pollution through the use of fixture shields.”

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NOTE: The opposition to this plan noted that while this garage will cost money, it will also deprive Nokomis of a "gateway" asset such as a hotel which would bring in tax dollars to the County. 

More on this:

Organizations oppose Transportation Corridor

URGENT! Oppose Expressway Bills
The full Senate is likely to vote on the damaging SB 7068 ON TUESDAY, APRIL 23.  PLEASE CALL your State Senator now and urge them to VOTE NO ON SB 7068!

East Sarasota developments
East Sarasota has been rural forever, but it's about to be developed with intensity by large developers like Rex Jensen (Waterside - 5,000 homes) and Hi Hat Ranch.

Roads are the key to developing in rural lands. And just as East Sarasota is facing new development, so is a giant segment of Central Florida.

A bill coming up in the state legislature sponsored by State Senate president Bill Galvano of Bradenton commits billions of dollars to create new roads opening a large swath of rural Florida, and possibly further enriching the already-richest man in Florida.

A wide spectrum of organizations including the 1000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Sierra Club including the Manatee-Sarasota Group (see newsletter p.5), Defenders of Wildlife and many more organizations oppose this plan. Here's how your organization can join:


From the Florida Sierra Club - note: all you have to do is send the name of your organization and signer to Cris Costello - see below for details.

From: Tim Martin:

Hi all, We are organizing sign on letters to oppose the Transportation Corridors bills. If you have any connections with organizations that you think might be interested in joining the fight, please take a minute to encourage them to do so. Everything you need is in the message below. 
Our efforts are starting to make a difference, but we still need your help to spread the word - Thank you!  - Tim


Dear partner:  

We are distributing three sign-on letters (1) to Florida Senate members; (2) to Florida House members; and (3) to Governor DeSantis.  
We need urgent action.  Please: 
(1) Sign the letters to the Senate and House (attached).(2) Prepare for the worst by signing the veto letter to DeSantis (attached).(3) Spread the word to get calls in to representatives to "vote no" on HB 7113/SB 7068.
The content is identical in both attached letters except that the Senate and House letters ask for opposition to the bills and the Governor letter asks for a veto of the bills.

Please consider signing on to one or both of these letters.  We are looking for signatures as soon as possible but you probably have through this week.  If the bills are not stopped in the Senate and House we will need to get the veto letter to DeSantis as soon as the House passes the bill.

Refer to 1000 Friends of Florida resource page for more info and to the Defenders of Wildlife map that shows lands and waters that could be impacted, including existing conservation lands and lands in the Florida Forever list that have yet to be acquired.

To sign, please send to ( the following: 
Name of organization
Name of signatory
Title of signatory

Contact us with any questions.  And please forward to any and all organizations with which you work.  Thanks in advance!  


Tim Martin 
Conservation Committee Chair for the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club


Sarasota advocate William Zoller:
This issue is one of the constants that we all must contend with in the face of the continuing, inexorable growth of Florida.  The governments, both State and local, have never properly planned for the growth, and have never been able to deal adequately with it.  This is empirically obvious every time you get in a car, on a bike, or in a bus...traffic is a mess.  This proposal can be viewed as an effort to "get ahead" of the need, but the problem is, roads are the major generator of development, which creates even more "need".   Rural, agricultural land continues to be converted from growing food, lumber, and other necessities, into growing houses and shopping centers.  After tourism, agriculture is the biggest industry in Florida.  As we reduce available land for this important economic factor, and replace it with residential growth that costs the economy (it is a Ponzi Scheme), we dig our hole deeper.  More roads in undeveloped areas is a quick fix that simply will create more problems.  We need ways to deal with growth that do not create an even bigger problem.   
New roads in undeveloped areas are not a solution....they are the problem. 

High-Nitrogen Wastewater: Causes and Possible Solutions

Why did Sarasota's wastewater system suffer a billion gallons of overflow and spillage over the past 5 years? Why is the wastewater treated only to a level of 17-18 mg of nitrogen? Why are there spills and breaking pipes throughout the system? This panel attempts to address these issues, and their potential downstream effects - e.g., red tide.

Wastewater / Stormwater Panel at Tiger Bay 4.18.19: Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper; former Sarasota commissioners Ray Pilon and Jon Thaxton; Chuck Walters, Sarasota Utilities. Frank Alcock moderated.

For a glimpse: "Redneck logic" - Thaxton

The videos below are two segments of the entire session, which can be found here.



Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"It's the environment, Stupid"

LTE that appeared in the Herald Tribune:

Help me to understand this:

Hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage flow into our streams, rivers and the Gulf, and the best our state Senate representative Joe Gruters can do is propose slapping a fine on cash-strapped municipalities?

This, while his Republican-led Florida State Legislature focuses on ripping through the heartland with new highways, looking out for the interests of developers and once again denying the will of the people by short-changing funding—by hundreds of millions of dollars -- for the purchase and preservation of Florida lands as intended in Amendment One, approved by 75% of the voters in 2014.

There are only two ways to fix this. Either hope that the industry folks who lobby for municipal water treatment projects can outspend the highway construction and home development lobbyists and get the Governor and the Republican-led State Legislature to change their ways, or rally the voters to a cry of “It’s the environment, Stupid” to replace “It’s the economy, Stupid” and work harder than ever to throw the bums in Tallahassee out the door in the next election.   

Bob Clark
Venice, FL

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lobeck on Bay Park and "Road Diet" in Sarasota

Lobeck: On two city issues, protect the public 

Two important and controversial matters are listed for routine Sarasota City Commission approval Monday. The public can speak for three minutes each.

After 1:30 p.m. is a push by city staff for final approval of an agreement to put 53 acres of public bayfront property in the hands of certain business interests calling themselves the Bay Park Conservancy, for up to 45 years.

Although a Herald-Tribune column rejected my previous call for delay as “B.S.”, that delay has brought important improvements in the agreement, after the city attorney was finally brought into the drafting as I asked.

However, the changes are not nearly enough to protect valid public interests. The City Commission has a history of flawed contracts that cost taxpayers millions, so you would think they would want to get this one right.

As I suggested, and some commissioners agreed, the redraft now calls for approval of one phase of the Bay Park project at a time, rather than a huge commitment of taxpayer dollars all at one time. However, it still commits only city taxpayers to funding and relegates the promises of philanthropic donations through BPC to mere proposals which BPC is explicitly not obligated to fulfill.

Remember Benderson Park, where promoters promised $20 million in donations which never materialized but instead repeatedly sought and got more taxpayer dollars? Again, that should be a lesson learned. Especially with BPC now competing with the Van Wezel Foundation, Sarasota Orchestra, Selby Gardens, Mote and others for donors to fund expensive new projects.

My suggestion: The city should say, “Show me the money.” Amend the draft agreement to provide that no permit is issued for a Bay Park phase and no taxpayer money spent until BPC has raised all promised donations, for construction and for an endowment to fund maintenance and operation, and those funds are in a secure account.

The agreement also needs major improvements which I have specified regarding public records, conflicts of interest, design, contracts, restaurant leases, the BPC board and otherwise. There are far too many “shalls” for the city and “mays” for BPC.

Monday’s other action, after 6 p.m., is city staff’s insane scheme for a “road diet” to reduce Fruitville Road downtown from four to two lanes. This is being pushed by developers — and staff routinely backs developers — north of Fruitville.

It is also part of the push by staff to embrace traffic congestion to somehow force us out of our cars to walk or bike wherever we need to go, and ride buses that get caught in traffic too. The developers love that because, if you don’t need to worry about traffic, why control development?

In 2003, staff sought a road diet for U.S. 41 by Gulfstream Avenue along the bayfront but was shot down by an outraged public. They got the same reception three years ago for the Fruitville scheme and laid low while trying to build support, only to now raise it suddenly for approval.

To make things worse, staff has paired its road diet with a plan to put barriers along Second and Fourth streets (on either side of Fruitville) to prevent traffic from going straight in some places and turning in others, and requiring cars to move slowly behind bikes in the same lane, all deliberately to chase cars off those roads as well.

It is to be hoped that this irresponsibility is rejected once and for all.

On Monday, the city commissioners should disregard pressure from staff and special interests and do their diligent duty to protect the public they were elected to serve.

Dan Lobeck is a Sarasota city resident, business owner and attorney and president of Control Growth Now.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Sarasota Administrator to look at redistricting ahead of 2020 election

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Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

Before County Commission decides whether to pursue redistricting prior to having 2020 Census results available, board seeks considerable research

Commissioner Nancy Detert. File photo
Before the Sarasota County Commission potentially launches an initiative to redraw its district boundaries, board members this week asked the Office of the County Attorney and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to provide the answers to a number of questions.
Among the issues raised by Commissioner Nancy Detert’s proposal for redistricting, commissioners want to know what data legally could be used for such a process. Commissioner Christian Ziegler noted, for example, that he believed the American Community Survey undertaken by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 provides an estimate of the county’s population.
Additionally, Ziegler said during the board’s April 9 meeting, the commissioners will need to know the timeline they would have to follow with redistricting to enable Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner and his staff to comply with state regulations in preparing for the 2020 elections.
The commissioners, by consensus, made the staff research a formal assignment. Lewis said he expected to have the information ready in May.
The impetus for the discussion, as Detert noted in late February, is the November 2018 passage of a Sarasota County Charter amendment implementing a Single-Member District process. That calls for a voter to cast a ballot in the primary and general election just for a commission candidate in the district within which the voter and the candidate live. Previously, every registered county voter has been able to cast a ballot for a candidate in each commission contest in a general election.
Detert said she had reviewed figures for the five districts drawn and approved by the County Commission in 2012, after the 2010 Census. She told her colleagues on April 9 that she found the districts “are totally out of balance.” Detert added, “It didn’t make any difference before, ’cause you just had to live in your district …”
“We have the right to change our own boundaries,” Detert pointed out. “It’s our right and responsibility. We don’t have to wait for the next Census.”
She fears, she said, that if the board does not undertake redistricting prior to the November 2020 General Election, losers in County Commission races could bring suit, contending that the districts had population imbalances.
These are the results of the Nov. 6, 2018 vote on the Single-Member Districts Charter amendment. Image courtesy Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office
She had spoken with Supervisor of Elections Turner, Detert added. “He’s totally willing to be as cooperative as he possibly can.” In fact, she noted, he had offered to make one of his staff available to assist the board in redrawing district lines.
He also told her, Detert said, that the redistricting would not cause a problem for his staff in terms of precincts, because the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) Office adjusts precincts “all the time.”
Detert further proposed that the commissioners “make this the most open, transparent and, frankly, televised exercise that the county’s ever been through.”
Software is available to help the board members undertake the modification of the district boundaries themselves, she noted.
Further, by ensuring public involvement in the process, and openness of the meetings, she continued, the effort could prove to be an educational one for county residents. “I think that people’s civics have gotten a little fuzzy over the past years. … People don’t understand that government has some rules … and timelines.”
Additionally, Detert said, “I think we all need to work on restoring the average person’s faith in their own government.
Detert asked County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht to read the appropriate section of the Florida Constitution that covers local government redistricting.
Elbrecht referenced Florida Statute 124.01, which says, “The board of county commissioners shall from time to time, fix the boundaries of the [board’s] districts so as to keep them as nearly equal in proportion to population as possible …”
This is Section 124.01 of the Florida Statutes. Image courtesy Florida Legislatue
Additionally, Elbrecht said, the Sarasota County Charter calls for the redistricting process to include a public hearing, after proper notice and copies of the proposed district maps have been made available for people to review. The commission has “a deal of discretion” in the process, he added, “as long as it’s done reasonably and in a non-discriminatory manner.”
Commissioners’ concerns aired
Ziegler was the first commissioner to respond with questions, though he said, “I like the idea of being fully transparent and engaging the public …”
When Ziegler asked Detert what data she had relied on to determine the districts are out of balance, she replied that she had asked the Supervisor of Elections Office for the voter registration figures for the districts. However, she said she believed those numbers also reflect the population of each district.
In response to a request from The Sarasota News Leader following the April 9 discussion, Rachel Denton, communications and voter outreach manager for the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office, provided the following current figures for each County Commission district. The numbers include voters whose addresses are withheld for confidential reasons, she said, as well as those whose addresses are a matter of public record:
  • County Commission District 1: 56,198.
  • County Commission District 2: 60,695.
  • County Commission District 3: 64,574.
  • County Commission District 4: 63,295.
  • County Commission District 5: 73,007.
These are the County Commission districts with population figures current as of April 2011. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the current County Commission districts. Image courtesy Sarasota County government
During the discussion, Detert referenced population figures Lewis had provided for a recent community meeting, illustrating the growth of the city of North Port. When she asked Lewis about those, he explained that they were provided by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). However, he added, the BEBR numbers are not sufficiently detailed to help staff determine district population counts.
A document the BEBR released in April 2018 estimated the Sarasota County population at 417,442, with a projection that it could climb as high as 447,600 by 2020 — or even drop to 413,200.
After Ziegler suggested on April 9 that the potential might exist of using the 2015 Census Bureau information, Chair Charles Hines noted that a lot of areas of the county have grown considerably since then. “I think we need a lot more research …”
County Attorney Elbrecht pointed out that the state statute calls for use of population numbers, not voter registration figures.
Ziegler also asked how long the redistricting process would take.
Referencing the state law, Elbrecht explained that the new boundaries would have to be in place before the end of this year. The statute says, “[T]hat changes made in the boundaries of county commissioner districts pursuant to this section shall be made only in odd-numbered years.”
Chair Hines asked how long a person would have to reside in a district before the person legally could seek a County Commission seat.
Chair Charles Hines. File photo
After reviewing the County Charter, Elbrecht said that Section 6.7 requires an individual to have been a resident of the district six months before qualifying to run for the County Commission district seat.
“There’s no guarantee that we have to work around [a commissioner’s] house,” Detert said.
Ziegler emphasized that the board members were not trying to contravene the will of the voters who approved the Single-Member District Charter amendment in November 2018. What the commission is trying to do, he said, is “fill] in those gaps” that were not detailed in the amendment language. “We’re in kind of an awkward limbo, if you will. … This is basically an effort to clearlylay out what the ground rules are and how this is going to work …”
“Well put,” Hines replied.
When Detert proposed a motion calling for redrawing the district maps, Ziegler asked, “Are we ready to make that statement today?”
Hines agreed with Ziegler again. “The assumption is the [population] numbers are out of whack,” Hines said. However, he continued, that determination needs to be made before the commission embarks on redistricting.
“It seems it would be hard to go too much further,” County Administrator Lewis added, without knowing the legal precedents regarding data that could be used for redistricting between the decennial Census counts and the timeline that would have to be followed.
“I think you got enough to get started,” Hines told Lewis.