Thursday, June 4, 2020

Accountability and Access: Are we missing something?

Board of Sarasota County Commissioners

Suppose you wanted to research how one or all of our publicly elected officials voted on a particular issue, perhaps one affecting your neighborhood. Obviously you would go to Sarasota County's public database where all votes are stored and can be found through searching by issue, date, name of a commissioner, etc. 

Umm, no.

No such database exists. Public meetings are stored on video simply listed in chronological order. They are not contained in a database searchable by issues, agenda items, neighborhoods, dates, board votes, names of commissioners, etc.

You can request information on Board actions (see below), but if you wanted to do an analysis across time of how each Commissioner voted on, say, the environment, or on Pat Neal's latest gated community, your work is cut out for you. 

Our public officials are accountable for their votes, but it seems the method of accounting is a bit nebulous. Needles in haystacks come to mind. Yet our officials acting all the time on matters that involve tax dollars and impact our environment, roads, safety and services; they approve large scale plans and rezonings that alter the density and intensity of our neighborhoods. 

A searchable database of Board decisions would seem a sensible asset, creating a history of how we got to where we are.

What do you think?

Tom Matrullo
==

Below: Correspondence of June 4, 2020, in reverse chronological order:


=======

Good Morning Tom,

No, unfortunately we do not have a database that compiles that information.

If a citizen wants to know a specific vote taken by the Board for a resolution, contract, or ordinance they can send an e-mail request to: boardofrecords@sarasotaclerkandcomptroller.com  

We would then send a copy of the meeting Minutes to that citizen and they would be able to read the “board action/vote.”  

Besides this, there is no searchable database by issue or date for Board of County Commission actions.

You may also access “Meetings on Demand” online for information on agendas, packets, action agenda, official minutes, and videos here:



Thank you.

Blanca Montoya
Recording Secretary, Board Records Department
Karen E. Rushing
Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller
1660 Ringling Boulevard - Suite 210, Sarasota, FL 34236
www.SarasotaClerk.com

====

Good morning,

I have been referred to this address (sarasotaclerkandcomptroller.com) in the course of seeking a pubicly accessible database of County Commission votes searchable by issue, date, individual commissioner vote, and Board action. (See below for prior correspondence.)

Please advise whether such a database exists, and if so how to access it. If such information is not captured in a publicly searchable database, your help on how a citizen can research the voting record of the Board of County Commissioners and its members would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Tom Matrullo

=====
=====

To:  commissioners@scgov.net,
Alan Maio <amaio@scgov.net>,
"Charles D. Hines" <CHines@scgov.net>,
Michael Moran <mmoran@scgov.net>,
Christian ziegler <cziegler@scgov.net>,
"Nancy C. Detert" <ncdetert@scgov.net>,
Jonathan Lewis <countyadministrator@scgov.net>,
Jody Mann <jmann@scgov.net>

To the Board of County Commissioners and Administrator:

Please advise where to access Sarasota County's public record of all Commission votes in database form. That is, if a citizen wished to track down how the Board voted on an issue, the database that provides the date, link to meeting discussion, how each Board member voted, and Board action.

Thank you,

Tom Matrullo

==


Good Morning Mr. Matrullo,

To my knowledge there is no database of this nature.  You may check with Board Records at boardofrecords@sarasotaclerkandcomptroller.com or call them at 861-5279.

Thank you,


Jody Mann
Administrative Specialist to Commissioners
Michael A. Moran, CIC, Chair - District One
Alan Maio – District Four
Sarasota Board of County Commissioners
1660 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34236
Office: 941-861-5398

 =======




Friday, May 29, 2020

Covid19 Crisis: How to submit public comments to Sarasota County meetings

To watch and offer public comment on County meetings during the Covid19 Crisis, a few steps are necessary.

Finding Meeting Agendas:

To find upcoming agendas from the County's home page, first mouse over the category Government, (top of home page) then find Watch County Commission Meetings. Clicking that link takes you to the list of recent meetings.

You can browse past meetings or upcoming ones. All should have both an Agenda and a Packet that contains all the supporting materials. This is all usually uploaded on Friday for Board meetings on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week.

For example, for the June 3 meeting, clicking this link takes you to the Agenda for the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners meeting.

  • Note: Anything on the Agenda in blue is a hyperlink. Click on those that interest you, and a box on the right will open with a set of pdf files, often somewhat inscrutably titled, what contain the memos, maps and other administrative documents pertaining to that item. 
  • So for example Commissioner Moran is listed under Item 50, titled "Financial Crisis Management." Clicking Item 50's link brings up two pdfs pertaining to that topic - one a list of discussion topics, the other a document called "Color of Money.

Watching and Participation:

For information regarding how to watch a meeting or provide public comment on any item, you will find this statement with a link near the top of the Agenda, right under "Pledge of Allegiance":


NOTE:
Consistent with the guidance from CDC and the Executive Orders of the Governor of the State of Florida to limit public interactions, the public is strongly encouraged to submit comments on matters to be addressed by the Board of County Commissioners in advance of the Commission meeting to be included in the official meeting record; visit www.scgov.net/publicinput for details. In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 Health Emergency, health screening procedures are in effect for visitors to County facilities, including Commission meeting attendees. Details are provided on page 9 of this agenda document.

Clicking on the link goes to a page entitled:


Click there and you'll find rules and instructions for how to view meetings remotely as well as how to participate. In addition to the County Commission, there's information on how to view and participate in other Board meetings, including the June 4 Planning Commission.






Thursday, May 28, 2020

The History of Single Member Districts in Sarasota County, Florida

 Contributed by Kindra Muntz of Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE)

The first referendum to change County Commission elections from At-large to single member districts passed in 1992, but was overturned in 1994 after a concerted campaign by moneyed interests supporting the majority of Commissioners.  The reasons for changing to single member districts in 1992 were the same then as they were for the campaign that started in 2016: to restore integrity to county elections by returning them to the grassroots; empower neighborhoods, reduce control of big money over elections, and reduce the cost of campaigning by 80%.  In 1992 the population of Sarasota County was 284,880.  By 2016 it had grown by 50% to 412, 968.  Sarasota County is now the 14th largest of 67 counties statewide.  It is so big that it encompasses three and a half statewide legislative districts, each of which elects its State Representative in the district.  Also, of the 13 larger counties and two immediately smaller, nine use single member districts or a blended system for electing their County Commissioners.

In Sarasota County in 2016, with At-large Commission elections, the cost of campaigning countywide had become prohibitive, so only people with significant funding—often from large developers and dark money PACs—could effectively compete.  The result was that the resulting Commissioners were largely beholden to developers and granted special exceptions and tax breaks that benefited them, and not the people living in the districts. In addition, overruns by developers often meant that we the public taxpayers got to foot the bill.  Having just the voters in each district elect their County Commissioners was seen as a critical way to address this problem.


THE CAMPAIGN

2016

In the spring of 2016, concerned citizens asked SAFE to sponsor a petition drive for two referendums to amend the County Charter to change the way we elect County Commissioners and Charter Review Board members in Sarasota County from At-large to single member district.

In August, SAFE issued a press release “Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections Sponsors Single-Member District Charter Amendment Petition Drive.”  Interestingly, two days later, a reporter from the Observer newspaper group called to ask how many petitions were required and when we hoped to get the referendum on the ballot. Our SAFE website was updated.  Plans for mobilizing volunteer petition-gatherers were discussed. Volunteers were contacted. In October, signs were purchased “Local Control IN—Big $$$ OUT.”



2017

However, until March, 2017, volunteer efforts were slow.  People seemed distracted by the results of the November, 2016 Presidential election.  SAFE reached out to students from Pine View School to design a T-shirt for volunteers and to help with social media outreach.

Volunteer T-Shirt designed by Pineview students
We researched documents from the citizens’ successful 1992 SMD campaign and the 1994 Commissioner’s ordinance on the ballot that overturned single member districts.  By April we were on the lookout for events for tabling and petition-gathering at libraries, the Nokomis Drum Circle and the April 15th Bridge Walk. Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner confirmed that the number of verified petitions required was 15,096, or 5% of the registered voters in the last General Election (11-8-2016), or 301,925 voters.

By May, only 1,300 petitions of each had been collected. Enhanced petition-gathering strategies included outreach at Farmers’ Markets, walking Main Street Sarasota, Siesta Beach, use of colored paper for petitions, and online encouragement of petition-gathering using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website, and email blasts. Coalition partners were needed. By August, our goal of having 17,000 signed petitions by December 31 seemed no longer reachable. We decided not to gather petitions outside until October due to the hot weather.  We discussed using paid petition-gatherers and the need to raise money to pay them, but no decision was made.  We decided to expand the SAFE board with more diversity of viewpoint. Dan Lobeck was invited and accepted our invitation to serve on the board.  Ron Turner said suggested deadlines for petitions for the August 28 Primary in 2018 would be April 18, for the November 6 General Election would be June 28.

October 2, 2017 we voted to limit the petition drive to County Commission elections only. Volunteers said it was too hard to explain the Charter Review Board to people.  October 6, 2017 we launched an all-out effort to raise funds to hire paid petition-gatherers to supplement our volunteer efforts for two months. A local coordinator of paid petition-gatherers was engaged, along with a professional coordinator from October 13-December 15.

Our own volunteers kept gathering petitions at the Sun Fiesta, sports events, the Sarasota County Fair, the Critical Times conference, LWV meetings, Tiger Bay meetings, CONA meetings, and the Nina Turner event at the Venice Yacht Club.

2018

February, 2018 We decided to try to gather enough petitions to hold a Special Election in June, to benefit the County Commission candidates in Districts 2 and 4 on the November ballot. Ron Turner said all petitions must be in by March 16 to do that.  Even with help of paid petition-gatherers from another group, we couldn’t achieve that goal. Our volunteers kept gathering petitions. We engaged MDW Communications to build the website for Single Member Districts. We had to decide whether we would aim to be on the ballot in the November, 2018 election or wait for a Special Election in March, 2019.

June 22, 2018 SAFE turned in the last batch of petitions needed to qualify our referendum. We held a press conference outside the front door of the Terrace building to announce that we go for the November, 2018 General Election ballot.  However, in July, Kafi Benz of CONA warned that the BCC was also considering changing the petition requirements from 5% to 10% (15,000 to 30,000 petitions) for any future efforts and shortening the time to gather them.

August, 2018 the new website singlememberdistricts.com was launched.



August 16 was the Tiger Bay panel with Dan Lobeck and Hugh Culverhouse vs. Nora Patterson and John Wesley White. August 29 was the public hearing of the BCC to adopt the ordinance to place our amendment on the ballot. Our fundraising efforts continued to support a ground game to reach voters and digital advertising and postcard mailers to supplement the presentations Dan and Kindra were giving at various events, and the guest columns they were submitting to various newspapers.

Sept. 14 Kindra did a livestream at Beef O’Brady’s in North Port with Ruta Jouniari. September and October, 2018 more forums with Kindra and Dan at Holley Hall, and Selby Library.

November 6  The Midterm General Election!  The Single Member Districts referendum passed with 59.84% YES, vs. 40.16% NO.  A major victory!  Unfortunately, the deceptively worded referendum by the County Commissioners also passed, that changed petition requirements to amend the County Charter in the future from 5% to 10% (15,000 to 30,000 petitions) and shortened the time for gathering petitions.  It was obvious the County Commission wanted to silence the voices of the voters.

THE OPPOSITION

In March of 2018, Christine Robinson of the Argus Foundation learned the progress of SAFE’s petition-gathering efforts at the Supervisor of Elections office and raised an alarm.  Christian Ziegler sent an urgent e-blast to alert everyone and raise money for his campaign for County Commission District 2.
By May, guest columns from local developers and Republican Party Acting Chair Jack Brill were printed assailing the single member district effort.
At the August 16 Tiger Bay panel, Nora Patterson and John Wesley White opposed single member districts while Dan Lobeck and Hugh Culverhouse supported them.

September 18, 2018 the political committee Stop! Stealing Our Votes was formed. $85,000 was raised initially from builder’s groups, the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and led by the Argus Foundation that donated $50,000. Stop! Stealing Our Votes signs were planted all over the county. Glossy mailers started being sent to voters countywide to oppose single member districts, from Political Ink, Inc. in Washington, DC.  Digital media, online advertising, and a website were developed by Strategic Digital Services in Tallahassee. The developer-funded opposition mounted an aggressive and deceptive campaign both in mailers and social media, stealing SAFE’s message by actually claiming that single member districts will increase the power of the big money developers.

Funds kept being raised in October for more digital ads and more mailers opposing Single member districts.

Altogether the opposition raised over $155,000.00 to defeat our Single Member District referendum. But they LOST at the November 6 election!

So in January, 2019 the County Commissioners started planning to redistrict the County in 2019 before the decennial census, to gerrymander County districts so they could keep control over this county, with the help of their developer and business friends and…the Argus Foundation.

                                                                       -- Kindra Muntz, May 28, 2020





Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Make a difference - you can jump in up to June 12

June 12th at NOON is the deadline to qualify to be a candidate for office in Sarasota County. For many of the offices there is a qualifying fee in order for you to run for office now that the petition deadline has past, but for some of the smaller offices there is little to no barrier for YOU to step and become an active part of civic life here in the community!
Charter Review Board - The Charter Review Board reviews and proposes changes to the Sarasota County Charter which are submitted to referendum in accordance with the provisions of Article VI of the Charter. Five seats are up for election - no filing fee. Learn more HERE.
Sarasota County Hospital Board - 4 seats up for election - $25 filing fee - Learn more HERE.
We need progressives on these Boards and we need more diverse representation on the boards also. Currently all 10 members of the Hospital Board and the Charter Review Board are White Republicans. And they will be again unless, one of you step up to challenge them. There is only one CRB seat that currently has a Democratic challenger. You can call the Supervisor of Elections office at 941-861-8600 to request a candidate packet for the office you are interested in running for.
Please let Progressive Sarasota know if you are interested in running for any of these offices by emailing them here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lobeck: Road Plan opens way to more urban sprawl

After the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners approved a new plan for Lorraine Road on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, attorney Dan Lobeck sent this follow-up to his earlier analysis, which found the plan lacking required elements and details which are required by the Comprehensive Plan. Below is the complete follow-up email. The earlier analysis is here.

County Commissioners today followed through on their evident commitment to political kingpin Pat Neal and other development interests by approving a Plan amendment intended (as County staff stated) “to open up new areas for development”, for even more urban sprawl east of I-75 and south of Clark Road.

(A full explanation of the now-approved Plan and its problems is in my email below)

No one addressed my point that this will be hugely expensive and that the agenda records omit any calculation of that cost or who will pay for it, in violation of the requirement that the road network be “financially feasible.”

That is, other than Pat Neal, in his comments urging a “Yes” vote. He stated that he and the other four large landowners who will benefit from this road scheme “have a pretty good idea of what this is going to cost” and that they are prepared to contribute perhaps $20 million towards that expense.  (Typically, they would get that back in impact fee credits, in a “Developer Agreement”).  However, he did not state what portion of the total cost that will be and, again, no numbers are included in the County records for the meeting and none were discussed at the meeting other than that statement by Neal.

Most shockingly, in defending the Plan amendment, Commissioners made demonstrably false statements.

Commissioner Hines stated, “We’re minimizing environmental impacts.” The exact opposite is true, as they are re-routing Lorraine Road directly through an environmentally sensitive Greenway and a County preserve instead of having it hug the Interstate as it does in its current route.

And several Commissioners falsely claimed that the amendment creates a new, much needed north-south arterial east of I-75 as an alternative to that highway.  In fact, however, that arterial is already in the adopted planned road network – Lorraine Road hugging I-75 and connecting to Ibis Street (recently added) to the north and Rustic Road to the south, which then proceeds into east Venice.

 What the Plan amendment does is push Lorraine Road to the east, in order to open up more land to urban sprawl development, runs it entirely through the Greenway and connects to a new extension of Knight’s Trail deep into the County’s wildlife-rich Pinelands Reserve.
Indeed, the new route for this four-lane Lorraine Road is much less direct than the one in the existing Plan, pushed out east as the amendment does to facilitate new sprawl development.

Then there’s Christian Ziegler’s comment, after voting for the amendment.  This sort of “proactive planning” will actually “alleviate traffic later on,”  he claimed.  As if rerouting and adding roads to open up new areas for urban sprawl will not create more traffic, much of which will find its way into existing urban areas.

It is disappointing enough that we have a system in which big developers, led by Neal, invest tens of thousands in their hand-picked candidates and then reap millions from favors like this in return, at the expense of the taxpayers, the environment, traffic mobility and neighborhoods.

That is made even worse, however, when our elected representatives not only betray our interests but then refuse to be transparent and honest about the motivations and effects of their actions.

Fortunately, we have choices in Commission elections, and the benefit now of single member districts.  We all need to be working hard for our chosen candidates, now.

The future of our community is at stake, and its integrity.
 
 
Dan Lobeck, Esq.
Florida Bar Board Certified in
Condominium and Planned Development Law
Law Offices of Lobeck & Hanson, P.A.
2033 Main Street, Suite 403
Sarasota, FL  34237

Telephone:  (941) 955-5622
Facsimile:   (941) 951-1469

New Lorraine Rd. extension violates Sarasota's Comp Plan

Analysis of Future Thoroughfare Plan for Pubic Hearing of 5.20.20
Agenda Item #30

From Dan Lobeck to the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners

(Emphasis has been added in a few places below - otherwise this is the complete email without changes or omissions).

==

I have now fully reviewed this Comprehensive Plan amendment and all agenda materials, for the County Commission's public hearing on Wednesday.

I see that it is an amendment to the Future Thoroughfare Plan and related maps and not yet (as I had initially thought) an amendment to the Capital Improvement Element (which would be the next step, after this amendment).

The issue of funding remains critical.

With capital facility revenues now plummeting and remaining uncertain for the future, and huge unfunded needs for transportation improvements to serve the people here today, how can County Commissioners justify adding massive new road construction to its plans east of the Interstate and on and south of Clark Road, admittedly (as the staff report states) "to open up new areas for development" and to "serve future developments"?

Objective 1.1 of the Transportation Chapter of the County's Comprehensive Plan requires that the road system in the County's Thoroughfare Plan be "financially feasible."  Yet the County has done absolutely no review at all of the potential cost of these very expensive new road improvements or where the County may get the funds to pay for them.  That clearly violates the requirement of financial feasibility.

And already the County Commission has granted approvals of Sarasota 2050 developments in the area of these new roads without requiring the developers to pay for them, in violation of the "fiscal neutrality" requirements of the Comprehensive Plan for Sarasota 2050 developments.  Contrary to the Comprehensive Plan, the Commission's approved "methodology" for fiscal neutrality makes it optional whether the County requires a developer to pay for new or expanded roads to serve that development, beyond normal impact fees, and that has not been done as new Sarasota 2050 developments in this area south of Clark Road have been approved.

The County's requirements for a Comprehensive Plan amendment explicitly require "a narrative describing the justification for" the amendment, "including how the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the" County's Comprehensive Plan "are met or furthered."  The County purports to comply with this requirement merely by listing applicable Comprehensive Plan Goals, Objectives and Policies, but omitting any narrative or other commentary, and no justification of how they are met or furthered.

Because they are not.

In addition to the violation of the financial feasibility requirement of the Comprehensive Plan, this amendment violates Policy 1.1.4 of the Transportation Chapter, which requires that transportation planning consider the impacts on land use planning and "Land use strategies and development patterns that reduce vehicle miles traveled will be encouraged."  This creation of miles of new and expanded roadway "to open up new areas" for urban sprawl east of the Interstate is the exact opposite of that Comprehensive Plan requirement.

Another Comprehensive Plan requirement that the County identifies as applicable to this amendment but for which it provides no conclusion of compliance, is Goal 1 of the Transportation Chapter.  It not only requires a transportation system that "recognizes present demands" (not developer desires) but also that the system "respects the integrity of environmentally sensitive areas and wildlife habitat."

Again, this amendment would grossly violate that requirement by rerouting Lorraine Road away from hugging the east side of the Interstate as it travels south toward Venice, to instead create a new, wide crossing of protected Greenway on its way to opening up new areas for urban sprawl, and then piercing miles into preservation lands to join up with a new extension of Knight's Trail in that preserve, then on south to Venice, all east of the Interstate.

Amazingly, the staff report concludes, without any stated evidence, that this Greenway crossing "largely avoids or minimizes impacts to protected native habitats" despite the fact that the crossing is entirely absent in the present Plan and that the Greenway by definition consists of environmentally sensitive lands which should be protected from disturbance by a new four-lane arterial road.  Adding insult to injury, the staff report dismisses that intrusion by observing that this major new road "generally follows existing historical trails," as if such trails are in any way equivalent to the impacts of a four-lane arterial road serving new developments made possible by that road.

In addition to the controversial rerouting of Lorraine Road, the amendment would widen Clark Road from two lanes to six from I-75 east to Ibis Road and then to four lanes east to Lorraine Road and then back to two lanes headed east.  This expensive road widening is added to serve new development but is largely on the backs of the taxpaying public.

The amendment would also add an extension of Dove Avenue from Clark Road to Lorraine Road (initially at two lanes) to open up that area for new development.

It would also, again without any data and analysis or idea where the funding will come from, add a full Interchange at I-75 and Clark Road, to help serve new development to the east.  Although this is characterized as a mere correction of a "scrivener's error" created when that Interchange was deleted in the 2016 update of the Comprehensive Plan, that is false.  That deletion was obvious and known in that update, as I clearly recall, in part to reflect that it would no longer be needed due to the removal of a Sarasota 2050 Town Center east of I-75 at that location, partly due to environmental constraints.  One just does not remove an  Interstate Interchange from maps and plans without realizing that one is doing that.  Because of the requirement for data and analysis in state law, this part of the amendment is legally not ready for adoption.

Megadeveloper Pat Neal
Indeed, due to the lack of any analysis of financial feasibility or any competent considerations of environmental impacts, as well as the very bad policy of facilitating even more urban sprawl than is accommodated today, as well as the bad form of considering and approving a controversial policy change during a pandemic when public gatherings and attention are limited, this Comprehensive Plan amendment should be denied or at least delayed.

If it is instead approved, it will be just another entry into the mounting evidence that Commissioners sit more to advance the fortunes of certain development interests, such as that of Mr. Neal, than to protect the public who Commissioners should - in a better world - be elected to serve.

Dan Lobeck, Esq.
Florida Bar Board Certified in
Condominium and Planned Development Law
Law Offices of Lobeck & Hanson, P.A.
2033 Main Street, Suite 403
Sarasota, FL  34237
Telephone:   (941) 955-5622
Facsimile:    (941) 951-1469
www.lobeckhanson.com

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hament: WWSB ABC7: "Pervasive partisan bias"

Email of May 15, 2020 from Gabriel Hament of Sarasota:




Open Letter to Jeffrey Benninghoff, Vice President and General Manager of WWSB ABC7: "It Is Now Confirmed WWSB ABC7 Is a Partisan Organization, Advancing a Partisan Agenda"





Mr. Benninghoff:

According to your LinkedIn profile, you are the Vice President and General Manager of WWSB ABC 7.

The body of evidence is now growing that you, Mr. Benninghoff, are advancing your personal political preferences through (1) the selection of guests of one political party over the other, and, by extension, (2) unequal air time granted to members of one political party over another, in conflict with the Federal Communications Commission equal-time rule

In compliance with the Federal Communications Commission handbook section titled "Complaints or Comments About a Station," by copy of this e-mail, I have filed a complaint with your federal supervisory body. I urge others to do so by replying to this email. I will then gather and aggregate community complaints and share them with a wider audience next week.

After last night's 7PM broadcast, and an examination of your publicly available Facebook page in combination with the facts outlined below, a fact pattern has now been established that points to pervasive partisan bias within your news organization.

During last evening's 7PM broadcast, two Republican politicians were featured. No elected officials affiliated with the Democratic Party were included in the broadcast.

Not only did one of your regularly scheduled guests--local Congressman Vern Buchanan--share incorrect information on air, the Congressman made a sexist refrain in one segment and, in a continuation of a pattern now established on the news mediums of both print and television, insulted unemployed constituents in another. Compounding the problematic comments issued by the Congressman is the Congressman's continued insistence on the violation of your station's policy of visiting in-person rather than using a video conference function from the safety of his own home.  

At minute marker 4:57 of last evening's 7PM "Ask the Congressman" segment, the Congressman recounted how desperate and frustrated Suncoast constituents are becoming due to their inability to register for unemployment insurance. 
  • "We do have a lot of people calling our office. 500 e-mails a day. Many of them calling, talking to our representatives. Actually crying on the phone--ladies and others. It's really kind of a sad scenario."
Mr. Benninghoff, was the Congressman saying that only members of the female sex have called his office crying, while male constituents remain stoic as they attempt to navigate the labyrinthine CONNECT system--a system admittedly designed to deter constituents from seeking relief during challenging periods of economic dislocation, so that reported unemployment statistics would remain artificially low?

Twenty minutes later in the broadcast, after state Senator Gruters concluded his ballad of syrupy and effusive praise of the Congressman (for doing what, I do not know), at minute marker 24:44, the Congressman began again to rail on the working people within his district, insinuating that they would prefer to "shelter in place" and collect unemployment checks for an indefinite period.
  • "But there's gunna be people who are gunna get the $600 plus the $275, and a lot of people are unfortunately not making that. It would be nice if they were but that's one of the challenges with the unemployment in general. In fact this new bill that's coming out tomorrow that I'm going to be voting on, they're looking to extend that--the $600 a week--until next March so that'll be one of the challenges when we get up there that we'll be talking about as well. Because we want to encourage people to go back to work. The employers are gunna start needing people as we start ramping up this economy."
Then, Ms. Matter asks the Congressman to clarify:
  • "So you're saying that new bill tomorrow would possibly extend unemployment for almost another year?"
The Congressman's response:
  • "Well I think it's another seven or eight months. That's what I've been told, at six-hundred dollars a week. That's what Speaker Pelosi is proposing. I think a lot of our small business people and people in the region are concerned that they're going to need these workers back ideally sooner than later. We don't want to have a point where you're making $60,000 to stay home, a year."
Mr. Benninghoff, don't you find it insulting that one of your guests, and a member of your political party, is insinuating that his constituents are lazy and would prefer to stay home and collect unemployment rather than earn money through gainful employment?

Additionally, Mr. Benninghoff, how did the Congressman arrive at the erroneous figure of $60,000?

By my calculation, $275 plus $600 equals $875. $875 multiplied by four is $3,500. $3,500 by twelve is $42,000. 

Given your credentialing as a Certified Public Account, Mr. Benninghoff, can you please verify my math?

Mr, Benninghoff, is my request for equal air time unreasonable? 

Why are you allowing your personal political preferences stifle the expression of other points of view?

Isn't stifling other points of view, just because they are divergent from your own, on a publicly regulated television station, contrary to the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States?

Thank you, Mr. Benninghoff,

--Gabriel Hament

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Waechter Factor




The Sarasota News Leader reviews the history of the political factor who drew Sarasota's voting district lines in 2011 and again in 2019:

...based on Waechter’s deposition during the litigation and materials collected during the discovery process, it was clear that Waechter long had been inserting himself into County Commission business. 
In a motion filed on April 19, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the use of the new district maps during the 2020 election, the attorneys for the plaintiffs described Waechter’s background at length. In 2013, he pleaded guilty in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to a first-degree misdemeanor: Fraudulent Use/Possession of ID of Another Person to Harass. 
Waechter admitted to making campaign contributions to Democrats running for office in 2012 in the name of his fellow Siesta Key resident, Lourdes Ramirez. 
... 
In subsequent civil action, Ramirez contended that Waechter smeared her reputation as a Republican, just as she was planning a run for the County Commission. She ultimately lost the 2014 Republican Primary for the District 4 seat to Alan Maio, who was elected to the board in November 2014. 
Following Waechter’s admission of guilt, the April 19 permanent injunction motion noted, he was sentenced to three months of community control, followed by two years of probation, and he was fined $5,000.. . . 

Protest held on 12.13.19 to oppose County Redistricting

See also:

Herald Tribune: ZAC ANDERSON: Redistricting ruling highlights questionable potential motives
Waechter’s deposition in the redistricting lawsuit shows that he went to great lengths to initiate and influence the redistricting process and hide his involvement.
Waechter said he gathered data and records intended to make the case for redistricting and delivered it to the County Commission office, asking a staff member to give it to Commission Chairman Charles Hines. He paid an attorney $500 at one point to submit a redistricting map.
Waechter also appears to have erased some of the records from his redistricting activities. He talked about destroying an old computer last year that may have held redistricting records by drilling holes in the hard drive with a drill press. ...  
Waechter’s involvement in the redistricting process is controversial because he’s a partisan operative aligned with powerful business interests and current commissioners, raising concerns that his map was intended to benefit his allies. He also was convicted of a misdemeanor for a political dirty trick, showing he was willing to use underhanded means to achieve his political goals. ... 
Weachter’s [sic] involvement in the Sarasota County redistricting effort echoes what happened at the state level, from injecting a partisan element to secretly crafting maps and destroying records. ...
“I lobbied for redistricting,” Waechter said in the deposition. “I did everything I could, talked to everybody that I could that — you look at redistricting.”
Kellogg asked Waechter directly if he was trying to protect Moran.
“Well, I wouldn’t say to protect Commissioner Moran, but yes, it was unconscious,” Waechter said. “I’m very conscious of political considerations and not conscious of racial considerations.”
The deposition also further established Waechter’s ties to Moran.
Waechter described him as a friend and said he has a commercial insurance policy through Moran’s insurance company. ... 
... there is plenty in his testimony and Jung’s ruling to fuel criticism that redistricting was nothing more than a partisan power play.

Bob Waechter and the Charter Review Board

Cathy Antunes, City of Sarasota Commissioner Willie Shaw, and Tom Matrullo talk about the redistricting on WSLR 5.14.20 


Friday, May 8, 2020

Your petitions worked!

WITH JUST 4 DAYS TO GO, Mike Hutchinson MADE IT OVER THE TOP!  In fact, WELL over the top!   Now he and all the other NEWEST candidates for County Commission have qualified to be on the ballot in 2020.

CONGRATULATIONS to ALL Candidates!  And THANKS to all who signed their petitions!!

Now we can have some competition for a change!
Mike Hutchinson


Mike Hutchinson R - District 1 
   has qualified!

   Meet Mike


Mark Pienkos


        Mark Pienkos: D - District 1 
      has qualified!



Cory Hutchinson

Cory Hutchinson:  D - District 3 
     has qualified!
Meet Cory






Alice White

Alice White, D - District 5, 
has qualified! 
         Meet Alice 




Thank you!

Kindra Muntz
https://keepdemocracysafe.org (being updated)
https://singlememberdistricts.com (passed in 2018)


Now the School Board candidates must shift to raising money to qualify, because they realize it is IMPOSSIBLE to gather the rest of the 3,184 petitions needed by May 11 during the coronavirus shutdown of group meetings!  Why do they have such a large petition requirement?  Because their races are still AT-LARGE!  (School Board races should be single-member district as well!!)

So, CHIP IN if you will, to help them raise the $1,650 qualifying fee!!


School Board elections are non-partisan, and are still conducted at-large. That means any School Board candidate must submit over 3,000 verified petitions before May 11. 

Tom Edwards

Tom Edwards has stepped up to oppose Eric Robinson for a critical District 3 seat on the School Board. Find out more about him and download his petition, sign, send: electtomedwards@gmail.com or,

Electronically sign this Online petition for Tom Edwards—make sure your signature matches that on file with the Supervisor of Elections.

Printed, signed petitions can be mailed to Elect Tom Edwards, P.O. Box 1947, Nokomis, FL 34274.


David Graham

David Graham is gathering petitions to run in School Board District 2 against Karen Rose. 

Learn more about David, download,his petition here. Sign and send it to electdavidagraham@gmail.com, or, 

Electronically sign this Online petition for David Graham—make sure your signature matches that on file with the Supervisor of Elections

Printed and signed petitions can be mailed to Elect David A Graham, 5681 Bidwell Parkway, Unit 104, Sarasota, FL 34233.


Building Citizen Power

Just one question . . .


Herald Tribune 5.8.2020:

New home activity expected to stall in Southwest Florida

Home builders could be challenged by growing levels of vacant developed lots — ready for homes to be built — during the economic recovery.

In Manatee County, for example, if starts drop 50% from current levels, and the supply of vacant developed lots remains where it is today, that would raise the months supply of those lots from 21 months to about 43 months, well above equilibrium and the highest in eight years.

“Similar results would occur in Sarasota and Charlotte counties,” Cobb said.

“Thus, the need for brand new communities would be muted as builders work more slowly through the existing VDL inventory.”

The top 10 in new home starts and closings in first-quarter 2020:
Community, annual starts, annual closings:
 
  • Lakewood Ranch; 1,383; 1,248;
  • The West Villages; 809; 761;
  • Palmer Ranch; 378; 318;
  • Babcock Ranch; 358; 274;
  • Punta Gorda Isles; 337; 388;
  • Artisan Lakes; 295; 240;
  • Rotonda; 217; 182;
  • Port Charlotte; 192; 184;
  • South Gulf Cove; 176; 175;
  • Trevesta; 162; 140; 
Source: Metrostudy.
Complete story here

The question: Whose need?