Friday, May 31, 2019

Water Actions, Events, Analyses

Sierra Club Florida Action Item: Everglades Alert

  • HB 7103 will make a losing party, in consistency challenges, automatically liable for a prevailing party’s attorney fees. This will effectively end citizen enforcement of local comprehensive plans. 
  • If HB 7103 becomes law, local communities will likely see more developments that do not comply with local protections for water resources and environmentally sensitive lands. This is of grave concern to the Everglades and clean water advocacy communities.


Sarasota Water Quality Summit June 5
Riverview High School Auditorium
1 pm - 6:30 pm
1 Rim Way

The Sarasota County Water Quality Summit will bring together local, regional and state experts to discuss water quality issues. Free and open to the public, the summit will be held 1-6:30 p.m. June 5 (Wednesday) in the auditorium at Riverview High School, 1 Ram Way in Sarasota.


Marine Scientist Larry Brand June 10

Monday 7 p.m.  June 10, 2019
red tide and algae blooms 
 environmental causes, health consequences
     On Monday, June 10, CONA will host Larry Brand, who will discuss research he has been conducting for decades into our blue-green algae and red tide blooms and his findings regarding their environmental causes and human health consequences. His peer-reviewed scientific research has been featured recently in media articles, news programs, and at a sold-out presentation by Suncoast Waterkeeper

County officially drops traffic concurrency standards

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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County Code revision puts into effect standards for transportation analyses related to new construction, as detailed in 2016 Comprehensive Plan policy

May 30, 2019 by Rachel Brown Hackney, Editor & Publisher

Only proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and Critical Area Plans can be subjected to more intensive traffic reviews, staff says

Florida’s historic and new capitols. Courtesy State of Florida

As part of its 2016 update of the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan, the County Commission approved a new transportation policy that reflected the Florida Statute changes. That policy, 1.3.12, says, “Sarasota County shall continue to review individual applications for rezoning, special exceptions, and approvals under the Land Development Regulations for safety, adequate ingress and egress, compatibility, operational issues at impacted intersections and circulation, as provided in the County Code, but shall not apply traffic concurrency standards to them. The county will review proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendments and Critical Area Plans, and take into consideration their effects on the multi-modal transportation system and the adopted levels of service, and any need for facility improvements they cause or exacerbate.”
However, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planningand Development Services Department, explained to the board on May 21, the commission never actually approved changes to the applicable county ordinance to reflect the Comprehensive Plan modifications.
As a result, following endorsements from eight speakers, the commission did just that, on a 4-0 vote. (Commissioner Michael Moran was absent from the meeting.)
Included among the changes is language that establishes traffic impact analysis and site access assessment requirements for specific types of projects.
Osterhoudt emphasized that “more of a robust analysis” of traffic impacts is warranted with proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and Critical Area Plans (CAPs). Those reviews would include the adopted levels of service for the roads that would be affected, he said.
“Level of Service” refers to a driver’s assessment of how well traffic flows on a road, with “A” being the best level and “F” the worst.
Former Commissioner Christine Robinson of Venice — who had to step down from the board in November 2016 because of term limits — was among those eight people who applauded staff’s efforts to take the steps necessary to amending the County Code.

Former County Commissioner Christine Robinson. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Representing the Argus Foundation of Sarasota, which she serves as executive director, Robinson also pointed out that the County Commission adopted the use of mobility fees, “as a result of a technical report that was brought to [the board].” Those fees replaced the previously used transportation impact fees, she noted, which could be used just for the road network. Conversely, Robinson pointed out, mobility fees paid by developers can be used for sidewalks, for example.
“It’s up to you to decide how to use those [mobility] fees,” she told the commissioners.
Earlier on May 21, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, pointed out that mobility fees would not produce enough revenue to cover the implementation of the county’s 2040 Thoroughfare Plan. However, Wiggins noted, staff has plans for a mobility fee update in 2020.
Another speaker during the later public hearing on May 21, Dave Langhout, vice president of Kolter Homes and past president of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association, offered the latter organization’s full support of the changes in the Code of Ordinances. “I can’t help but just use one word,” he added: “Finally.”
The lone person who did not endorse the revision of the county regulations was Pine Shores Estates resident Sura Kochman. Her neighborhood borders the site of the planned Siesta Promenade mixed-use development on the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

A table in a county staff report in August 2018 offers these details about anticipated traffic generation related to Siesta Promenade. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her public hearing remarks, she quoted from a June 10, 2015 memorandum from then-County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh to the commission: “If a local government adopts a mobility fee system as an alternative to concurrency, the alternative mobility funding system adopted may not be used to deny, time, or phase an application for site plan approval, plat approval, final subdivision approval, building permits, or the functional equivalent of such approvals. Notably missing from this list are rezones, special exceptions, [developments of regional impact] and similar board-level discretionary approvals. As the statue is currently written, if the Board repeals concurrency and adopts a mobility fee system, it may not only deny Comprehensive Plan amendments because of traffic impacts, but also may deny or condition rezones and similar development approvals because of adverse traffic impacts so long as any conditions imposed do not constitute a concurrency system.”

Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy. File photo

If the ordinance changes proposed that day were approved, Kochman asked on May 21, “Does this opinion still apply?”
(Opponents of Siesta Promenade have pointed to the thousands of extra vehicles it will add to one of the county’s most congested intersections.)
Deputy County Attorney Alan Roddy, who said he believed he actually wrote the 2015 memorandum, explained that it applied to the situation prior to the 2016 update of the Comprehensive Plan. Therefore, the opinion Kochman read would not apply if the proposed amendment to the County Code were approved.
In making the motions necessary to put the changes in effect in Chapter 94, Article 7, of the County Code of Ordinances, Commissioner Alan Maio said, “I was here in 2015. It’s exactly as Mr. Roddy said. … This is not a policy change. It’s just enacting what we did in 2016.”

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Huge Hi Hat seeks up to sixfold increase in density

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Privately initiated county Comprehensive Plan amendment seeks up to six-fold increase in density for development of part of Hi Hat Ranch

A map submitted to the county shows the area where the density change is being sought. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Commission has authorized staff to proceed outside the normal cycle with a proposed, privately initiated revision of the Sarasota 2050 Plan that could lead to a significant increase in the number of new homes planned near the intersection of Fruitville Road and Utopia Road.
The property is close to the Mote Aquaculture Park, based on documents filed with the county.
Owned by Hi Hat Ranch LLLP of Sarasota, the approximately 1,000-acre parcel is designated for a 2050 Plan Hamlet, which, the County Code says, is “entitled to a base residential density of 0.29 dwelling units per acre of Developed Area.” The maximum density allowed within the Developed Area is one dwelling unit per acre.
The owners of Hi Hat Ranch are seeking to change the designation of the property to Village Land Use, which has a maximum density of five dwelling units per gross developable area, or six, if the additional units are planned for affordable housing.
The property is in what has been classified as the Central Village Area of the county’s 2050 Resource Management Area, according to a May 21 county staff memo. The owners wanted staff to process the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment at the same time staff works on a Development of Critical Concern (DOCC) for Hi-Hat Ranch, the memo said.
“The balance of the Hi-Hat Ranch lands are designated Village Land Use and Greenway,” the memo pointed out.
County staff has scheduled a Neighborhood Workshop on the proposed amendment on Tuesday, June 4. The session will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. at St. Margaret Episcopal Church, which is located at 8700 State Road 72 (Clark Road).

A graphic included with the May 21 county staff memo shows more details of the affected portion of the Sarasota 2050 Resource Management Area. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As part of their May 21 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the county commissioners — without any comment — agreed unanimously that staff could work on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment outside the annual cycle approved for such staff undertakings.
The County Code that covers the Sarasota 2050 Plan explains that the Hamlet Planned Development District “provides for detached residential uses, protected open space, Public/Civic uses and limited neighborhood type commercial. The district is not commercial in character.” The Code adds, “Hamlets are collections of rural homes and lots clustered together around a crossroads that may include small-scale commercial, Public/Civic buildings or shared amenities.”
The maximum number of dwelling units is 400, the County Code notes, but the “Preferred Size” is 50 to 150 dwelling units
At least 60% of the area must remain open space, the County Code points out.

An aerial map shows most of the property where the modification is being sought. Utopia Road is the north-south road west of the Mote Aquaculture Park. Image from Google Maps

On the other hand, the Code says, “A Village is a collection of Neighborhoods that have been designed so that a majority of the housing units are within a walking distance or one-quarter mile radius of a Neighborhood Center. A Village shall be supported by a mixed-use Village Center (designed specifically to serve the daily and weekly retail, office, and Public/Civic use and services needs of Village residents), and the Village shall generally be surrounded by large expanses of Open Space that are designed to protect the character of the rural landscape and provide separation between the Village and existing low density rural development.”
A minimum of 50% of the space must remain open, except for Villages in the Clark Road Properties area of the county, which is south of Clark Road and east of Interstate 75.
Sarasota News Leader review of Hi Hat Ranch parcels on the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website found several out of which the designated Hamlet area appears to have been carved. One of them, which comprises 378 acres, had a value of $3,006,700 in 2018, county records show. A portion of that parcel has been deeded to the City of Sarasota, which has a water reclamation distribution system in that area.

This is one of the Hi Hat Ranch LLLP parcels affected by the Comprehensive Plan amendment that is being sought. Its 2018 value is more than $3 million, the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

A second parcel, which contains about 388 acres, had a 2018 value of $3,319,700, according to Property Appraiser William Furst’s office’s records.
Hi Hat Ranch LLLP lists its address as 11708 Fruitville Road in the documents it has filed with the Florida Division of Corporations. Its registered agent is Richard E. Turner Jr. of the same address.
News Leader check of the Property Appraiser’s Office records found 22 parcels in the county belonging to Hi Hat Ranch LLLP. All but five of them came under ownership of the company in August 1988, the records show.

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Largest Development East of I-75 set Neighborhood Workshop for June 4

Stretching from Fruitville Road to Clark Road, "Hi Hat Ranch" will be the largest planned village east of I-75 with 12,000 dwelling units:

Hi Hat Ranch

A neighborhood workshop will discuss a Master Development Order for approximately 9,943 acres to be developed as a 2050 Village project within the Central Village Area for approximately 12,000 dwelling units and 450,000 sq. feet of commercial development

The workshop will be held Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at 6:00 p.m. at St. Margaret Episcopal Church, 8700 S.R. 72 (Clark Road), Sarasota, Florida.

For more information please see the information here.

Two other large East County developments already approved and underway are:

Rex Jensen's Waterside, between Fruitville and University, from I-75 to Lorraine, will have 5,144 homes:

And the Turner family's LT Ranch south of Clark Road plans 3,450 units, built by Taylor Morrison:

Development activity north of Fruitville Library - Southwood Village

A recent permit application offers a glimpse into what is planned for the Northeast sector of the Fruitville Initiative.

In the image below, this is the highlighted area north of the library and east of I-75. 

Project name: Southwood Village
Project size: 36.67 acres.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWIFTMUD) has received Environmental Resource permit application number 781842 from Taylor Parker, P.E., CPH, Inc. 3277A Fruitville Rd., Suite 2 Sarasota, FL 34237. Application received: March 27, 2019.

Proposed activity: Development of blocks C-1, C-3, and a portion of C-5 of Fruitville Commons to include construction of two multi-residential apartment complexes (358) units and a 5,636 square foot Wawa gas station.

The developer is Orlando developer Charles Whittall, President of Unicorp National Developments Inc. Whittall is profiled here and here.

Sitework questions can go to

Friday, May 24, 2019

Benderson Rowing Park gets cut in funding

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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County Commission cuts SANCA’s 10-year funding request to three and emphasizes need for better outreach to the public

New board chair and SANCA CEO cite economic impact of Benderson Park events

The Finish Tower has become the key landmark at Benderson Park. File photo

The new chair of the board of directors of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), which manages Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park, came before the County Commission on May 17 with figurative hat in hand.
Ronald Shapo asked for a 10-year funding commitment, stressing that that would give SANCA better standing as it seeks private financial support for the park.
The county commissioners agreed unanimously to three years, on a motion by Commissioner Alan Maio, and emphasized to Shapo the need for SANCA to do a better job of marketing the park to the public. (Commissioner Nancy Detert was absent from the discussion and vote.)
Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) told the commission during its May 17 budget workshop that her staff already had built into its Fiscal Year 2020 budget a request of $1,189,000 for SANCA. Rissler also explained that, after months of analysis, staff had determined that, based on SANCA’s budget for the current fiscal year, it would be more expensive for her staff to manage the park.
The SANCA FY19 budget, she noted, is $2,102,595. If PRNR employees were handling all the work, it would cost at least $2,304,689, Rissler said. That figure did not include expenses associated with events or the necessity of one-time payments for additional county vehicles for staff, she added.

This slide offers information about Benderson Park’s impact on the local economy. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Last year, the commission agreed to give SANCA $858,353 in additional funding for the 2019 fiscal year. During a June 20, 2018 budget workshop, they also suggested that their staff and SANCA representatives consider a host of possibilities for generating extra revenue — from T-shirt sales to charging more for parking during events to dining options.
On May 17, Shapo said the SANCA board members’ top commitment to the commission is to focus on marketing. They recognize, he continued, that the nonprofit has not done an adequate job of publicizing SANCA’s role with Benderson Park.
Moreover, Shapo told the commissioners, the SANCA board is committed to doing a better job of communicating with them.
Chair Charles Hines pointed out that he has stressed over the past year the need for SANCA to “take the time and educate our community” about why SANCA exists.
As he has spoken with legislators in Tallahassee, Hines continued, he has had to explain to them what SANCA does.
“Some people still think it’s Randy Benderson’s for-profit entity,” Hines said of the president of Benderson Development Co.
And although Shapo talked of the recent expansion of the SANCA board, Hines also suggested even greater local representation among the members. “We have the two premier rowing clubs in our community that are probably the envy of the entire country.”

A slide offers a sampling of events at Benderson Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As Rissler noted earlier, the park was renamed Nathan Benderson Park in 2007 “after a generous donation by the Benderson Family.” Nathan Benderson, who established Benderson Development Co., was Randy Benderson’s father.
As the first commissioner to respond to the SANCA funding request, Maio explained that he and his family “have an extreme fondness for Nathan Benderson Park.”
Maio related a couple of anecdotes to underscore that statement.
Then he was blunt with Shapo: “I’m not going to commit to 10 years. I think that our staff has already supported your first year,” Maio continued, referring to Rissler’s comment about the funding for 2020.
“I don’t feel comfortable to committing further boards to this,” Maio added, noting also that he was just re-elected in November 2018, so he would be on the board through November 2022 — unless, he joked, he drowned at Benderson Park.
Shapo said that the current contract between SANCA and the county already makes it clear that the county’s funding level for the nonprofit is tied to the availability of funds. He understood, Shapo said, that one commission cannot legally bind future commissions to funding commitments.
“What I’m proposing for my one vote,” Maio responded, “you take something less than 10 years,” perhaps three. “I think it would be better at that point to renegotiate. … You don’t want the public relations of us ending a contract with you. I offered the three years as a very amicable way to move this forward after expressing my love for Nathan Benderson Park, a love that not 100% of our citizens, as you know, have.”
“And I appreciate the three years,” Shapo said, though he added that he would toss out the idea of five years as a compromise.

These are the members of the SANCA board. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Michael Moran talked of the “very successful” public/private partnership between Sarasota County and SANCA. Still, Moran continued, “This is where we represent the taxpayer dollars.”
Commissioner Christian Ziegler concurred on the latter point, “We’ve got to be good stewards of the tax dollars.”
Moran told Shapo that he believes SANCA needs to work harder to realize the full potential of the 600-acre park. “This is a massive facility that needs to be maximized,” Moran said, calling for a faster pace for entrepreneurial sales and marketing efforts.
He asked Shapo if the SANCA board takes a monthly look at sales projections and revenue. What pressure is the board putting on staff in regard to improved sales and marketing, Moran asked.
“I think the pressure is being put on by ourselves,” Shapo replied, reprising his earlier comment that better marketing is the board’s top priority going forward.
Shapo then talked of his faith in the impact one new board member will have on the marketing initiatives. Shapo mentioned Randy Mallitz, president of the U.S. division and CEO of the Asia division of EAR Specialty Composites, which one of SANCA’s slides identified as a “global technology company.”
Shapo added, “I think he’s going to be an incredible asset.”
Moran once again asked Shapo if the SANCA board members each month talk about revenue generation.
Shapo responded that they review and discuss their success — or lack thereof — every month in regard to fundraising and income-producing goals. “We will be doing that, I believe, at an increasing level.”
For example, Shapo continued, the Finish Tower on the property has been host to 250 events. “But there’s the potential to do many, many more.”
Past, present and future

These May 17 slides provide a history of Benderson Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During her opening remarks on May 17, Rissler, the PRNR director, pointed out that numerous events do take place at Benderson Park each year. “We also look at this as a significant regional park for our system,” with “thousands of people very day” using it.
Shapo quickly put the focus on numbers. For the past five years, he said — from 2014 through 2018 — Visit Sarasota County has estimated that the total economic impact of the park on the county was $142,138,495. He stressed that that was an average of more than $28 million per year.
It hosted 14 major national and international events during that period, including the 2017 World Rowing Championships, and it will be the site in late July of the Under 23s World Rowing Championships. SANCA is projecting 40 nations will participate in the latter event, generating 5,000 room nights during a time of year Shapo called the “slow season” for tourism.
Stephen Rodriguez, president and CEO of SANCA, noted that, among upcoming event commitments, the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association plans to hold both its Sculling and Sweeps championships at the park through 2021. Each of those events, he said, brings in about 9,000 attendees.
Even more important, Rodriguez continued, the park will host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Rowing Trials. USRowing is in discussions with NBC about televising those competitions, Rodriguez added.
Moreover, “The National Rowing Foundation is prepared to commit to make Sarasota the home of the National Rowing Hall of Fame and Museum,” Rodriguez said. The permanent home for the memorabilia would be the Aquatic Nature Community Center, or boathouse. In the meantime, he noted, one floor of the Finish Tower would be dedicated to changing displays featuring items in the Hall of Fame’s collection.
(Later, Shapo framed the Hall of Fame discussion in a slightly different way, saying, “[It] is seriously considering coming here.”
Rodriguez noted, “Rowing [was] the first collegiate sport in the U.S.”
In 2018 alone, Shapo continued, 475,000 local residents used the park.

This slide offers more figures about the park’s impact on the economy. Image courtesy Sarasota County

He also pointed to the board’s plans for the next major improvement to be the Aquatic Center, which generally has been referred to as the “boathouse.”
That facility was touted for years by Benderson Park representatives as the key means of making the park financially self-sustaining, as it not only would be a storage facility for rowing equipment for park users but also a place that could be rented for many types of functions.
The SANCA board has $4 million in commitments as matching funds for the project, Shapo told the commissioners.
Already, he continued, his board is searching for a full-time employee whose job it will be to raise private money for the park. Extensive public outreach will be needed, he said, to persuade regional and national companies of the benefit of being affiliated with the complex.
The county money the board was seeking for 10 additional years, he emphasized, would go only toward park maintenance and operations.
Shapo asked the commissioners to keep in mind “this was a borrow pit. It is nothing short of amazing” that it has undergone such a transformation, he added.
“I want this to be our Central Park,” Maio told Shapo as the discussion neared its end. He suggested Shapo and his colleagues on the SANCA board take the next three years of county funding support to achieve that vision. Then the commission could consider funding for the nonprofit for another five years, Maio said.

Courtesy of the Sarasota News Leader

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

WTF Entrance at Palmer Blvd and Bell Rd.

The new entrance to James Gabbert's Waste Transfer Facility (WTF) is under construction - photos taken 5.23.19.

Mr. Gabbert's new curbed entrance at Waste Transfer Facility on Palmer Blvd.
To the West is the I-75 Underpass

Sidewalk removed - when replaced, will it pass in front of industrial entrance?

Intersection Bell Rd. at Palmer - looking south from Bell to WTF entrance

Traffic heading west toward I-75 underpass on Palmer

Additional photos here


Monday, May 20, 2019

How to make voters as accountable as the people they elect?

from the Washington Post
Have an aunt who voted for Steve King? Let her know that she enables white supremacy.

By Matthew A. Sears

Matthew A. Sears is an associate professor of classics and ancient history at the University of New Brunswick.

May 20 at 6:00 AM

Government accountability is an idea that draws bipartisan support: calls for more transparency and oversight of politicians and bureaucracies go over well with voters. But what about oversight of the people who put them in office? Democracies give power to the people — does anyone hold the people responsible for this power?

Not really, and that has long been a problem. Since its beginning in ancient Greece, democracy has faced a crisis of legitimacy when the people have not been held accountable for their exercise of sovereignty, allowing elites to dismiss democracy as mob rule. Today, defending our democracy begins with taking responsibility for votes cast at the ballot box each year.

Those discontented with democracy in Classical Athens certainly thought that the people, demos in Greek, did not often take responsibility for their exercise of power, or kratos (the two words from which we get demokratia — “people power”). As a consequence, many of the most famous and influential ancient sources on Greek politics can be read as decidedly anti-democratic.

Thucydides — the historian of the Peloponnesian War, and an exiled elite who was no fan of democracy — criticized the people after Athens suffered horrendous losses in Sicily in 413 B.C.: “The people were angry with the politicians who had urged the expedition, as if they themselves hadn’t voted in favor of it.”

Thucydides’s successor, Xenophon, also an aristocrat often critical of democracy, described an infamous trial in 406 B.C., in which several generals were tried en masse for not rescuing survivors after the naval battle of Arginusae. This trial was illegal, because Athenian law dictated that the generals be tried separately as individuals.

This episode, along with the trial of Socrates (who happened to preside over the Arginusae trial, and objected to the proceedings), has been interpreted for centuries as a sign of democracy’s excesses, an example of mob rule doing away with the rule of law. Xenophon tells us that the Athenian people soon repented for their action, and promptly blamed the politicians who had “deceived” them into acting illegally.

Although we should be hesitant to take elite authors at their word — especially because the Athenian democracy experienced its longest and most stable period after the Arginusae trial and the end of the Peloponnesian War — Thucydides and Xenophon do have a point. The Athenian people did make several decisions they would later regret, and, given that every Athenian citizen (that is, free, native-born adult male) had rights to vote and speak in the assembly, the people were responsible for this power. And yet they constantly shirked responsibility and blamed prominent politicians when things went wrong.

The Athens system however, did demand accountability for those in power. At the end of their terms, officeholders were required to undergo the euthyna, an audit of their time in office. If they acted improperly, a committee of citizens could hand the officeholders over to the courts for prosecution. As for speakers, they could be liable to a charge of graphe paranomon, or introducing an unlawful measure in the assembly. If convicted, the offender could face stiff penalties, such as career-ending fines or exile. Although this measure could be wielded by unscrupulous politicians as a weapon against their rivals, there were some safeguards. For instance, if the one bringing the charge did not secure a certain percentage of jury votes, they would themselves be subject to a penalty.

The excesses of “mob rule” from Greece caused concern for the American Founders. James Madison, for example, called democracy “the most vile sort of government,” largely because of episodes like the Arginusae trial. Although in the popular imagination the independence of the 13 American colonies represented a new experiment in democracy, the Founders conceived of the United States as a republic, modeled on the mixed constitution of ancient Rome, which restrained popular sovereignty. The electoral college, for example, is but one of the many constitutional measures designed to limit people power.

Which brings us to today. Democracy has expanded since the early years of the American republic, but accountability measures have not kept pace. Is it unreasonable to suggest that politicians who introduce flagrantly unconstitutional measures, such as a ban on immigrants based on religious criteria, or a law that would prosecute women for having a miscarriage or seeking an abortion in another state, face formal charges of introducing unlawful legislation? Likewise, perhaps if every single elected or appointed official had to submit to an audit at the hands of regular citizens (even, say, disclosing their tax returns), the propensity to corruption would be checked.

But missing in both Athens democracy and our democracy today, is the question of how to hold regular citizens more accountable for their electoral decisions, too. Formal, legal accountability is out of the question, but is moral accountability too much to ask? All politicians fall short in fulfilling their promises, or neglect to fulfill them altogether. Yet, when politicians do exactly what they promised they would do — say, cracking down on migrants in cruel ways, or stoking anti-Muslim sentiment — can we not hold those who voted for them morally accountable to a certain degree?

Too often, we see supposed moderate Republicans, most of whom really voted for Trump, throw up their hands in the face of Trump’s excesses, and evade suggestions that they should take a lead role in resisting Trump, including at the ballot box. We should challenge such duplicity early and often. I’d go so far as to say we should call out our otherwise pleasant relatives who support odious candidates. Have an aunt who voted for Steve King? Let her know that she enables white supremacy. After all, if voters have great power — which they do, at least on paper — it follows they should also share at least some responsibility for what those they elect do.

The tendency of voters to distance themselves from the excesses of those they voted for does democracy no favors, and represents what I consider a type of moral hazard, a system in which actors are shielded from the consequences of their actions.

Let’s prove Thucydides and Xenophon, and perhaps even James Madison, wrong about democracy. Let’s ensure that those who share in power, from those who hold office to those who put them there, share in responsibility.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Action: Preserve Payne Park

Come to the City of Sarasota Commission meeting, City Hall, 1565 First Street, Monday, May 20th 6:00 p.m. (arrive early if you can – you may need to be there by 5:00 to get a seat).  We want to fill city hall with park supporters. The Orchestra’s plan to hijack seven acres of our public park in order to build the largest structure in the City is the only item on the agenda. If you wish to speak, sign a speakers' card at the hall entrance. You are allowed three minutes. Please wear YELLOW!  

The Sarasota Orchestra is petitioning the City to give away seven acres of our community park to develop a 2,500-seat music hall. This amounts to over five football fields of concrete and asphalt covering precious greenspace. Under their plan, a duck pond, now teaming with life, would be paved over to add “convenience parking” for the Orchestra’s employees and big donors. This is simply wrong.

Payne Park, a 40-acre community park centrally-located in downtown Sarasota (on Adams Lane off  US 301), was donated to the city with the stipulation that it always be a public park. The Payne family explicitly forbade any other use of this land when they presented  “the greatest gift Sarasota has ever received” to the citizens. 
The City of Sarasota reopened the former ballpark-site as Payne Park on October 6, 2007, as a public park space partially funded by a funded by a county-wide penny surtax. After a $20 million dollar investment of our tax dollars, the park as it stands today features a tennis center, a skateboard park, Frisbee golf course, tracks for walking and riding bikes, three ponds, a circus playground, a cafe, numerous shade trees, and established wildlife habitat.  
Help us save this park land from development! The Manatee Sierra Club and the Sarasota Audubon Society support our efforts to preserve one of the rare park natural environments that remain in downtown Sarasota. You don’t need a ticket to enjoy Payne Park. It is free!
Once it is gone…. It’s gone!  Please take action today!