The initial candidates to fill two forthcoming City Commission vacancies have stepped forward, and they include familiar faces around City Hall.
From Sept. 2 to Sept. 12, the city will accept applications from parties interested in serving as the District 2 or District 3 commissioner until the terms expire in May. The final months of those terms opened up as Paul Caragiulo and Shannon Snyder, both candidates for the District 2 County Commission seat, were forced to tender their resignation to run for another office, per state law.
Thus far, three applicants have submitted the requisite paperwork: Ken Shelin, former vice mayor; Vald Svekis, planning board member and former president of the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores Neighborhood Association; and Stan Zimmerman, journalist and former president of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations.
Shelin, a District 2 candidate who resides in downtown Sarasota, served on the commission from 2005 to 2009. He said he ran at the urging of others, and has already received a letter of endorsement from the Downtown Improvement District. He said he’d offer an increased level of continuity as the commission incorporates two new members, serving as a bridge between the departure of Caragiulo and Snyder and the election of new commissioners.
“I know how the process works,” Shelin said. “I can slip in for a few months and not have to learn everything.”
Shelin was one of two potential candidates to receive backing from the Downtown Improvement District, whose members said they were supportive of a commissioner sensitive to downtown business interests. The DID board also endorsed former Downtown Sarasota Alliance President Paul Thorpe, a District 2 resident who has yet to file paperwork as a candidate.
Zimmerman, who hopes to represent District 3, is not shy about the fact that he also plans to run for the open commission seat next spring. Zimmerman has spent the past seven years covering Sarasota for various publications, most recently serving as the city editor for the Sarasota News Leader.
As he attempts to move from one side of the commission table to the other, he said the vacancies should be looked at as an opportunity to work in a qualified potential long-term candidate.
“I think it would almost be a disservice to be a caretaker, because there’s a bit of energy and education wasted,” Zimmerman said.
Vald Svekis, a resident of the Central Park condominium, has served on the city’s Planning Board for the past four years. In his application, he lists issues he is interested in helping address, which include better transportation options and North Trail improvements.
Candidates have until noon on Sept. 12 to submit their applications. The commission is scheduled to select the replacement candidates at a November meeting.
A proposal to end the search process in District 3 and allow Snyder to serve the remainder of the term to which he was elected was poorly received at Tuesday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting.
Snyder lost to Caragiulo in the Aug. 26 Republican primary for the District 2 County Commission seat.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Caragiulo broached the possibility of appointing Snyder to serve the remainder of his term, set to expire in May, rather than searching for a District 3 commissioner.
Asked if he was willing to finish his term, Snyder said he would if that was the will of the commission. He did little campaigning to regain his seat and put up no fight when a majority of the commission indicated it wasn’t interested.
In between, however, eight residents spoke about their varying displeasure with the proposed appointment.
Those citizens urged the commission to stick with the approved process for filling the vacancies, which the commission established July 21. Several speakers said questions of impropriety would be created if the commission did not follow the procedure established roughly six weeks earlier. Others suggested the proposal was politically motivated.
Many who spoke said they were fine with Snyder submitting his own application to fill the vacancy but wanted the city to follow through with a thorough search.
“This alternative proposal is not the transparent process that has been agreed to by all of you and understood by all of us,” said Laurel Park resident Kate Lowman.
The rest of the commission agreed, declining to deviate from the established process for filling the vacancies. Commissioner Suzanne Atwell said she was stunned by the proposal, adding that she agreed with every speaker at Tuesday’s meeting. She said the suggested appointment process seemed careless and that she valued the commission seat too highly to diverge from the procedure in place.
“We’re using this particular seat as a hostage to actually fundamentally stick our nose at a clearly established process,” Atwell said. “This flies in the face of public process.”
Caragiulo said he was merely interested in maintaining continuity as the city faces an unusual situation and characterized the response from the public as toxic. He said the rhetoric employed by the citizens — many frequent speakers at commission meetings — was not conducive to productive discourse. He argued the unanimous opposition presented Tuesday was not necessarily reflective of the will of the general public.
“These same citizens who are coming down and saying the same types of thing are not the entirety of the city,” Caragiulo said.
Snyder was one of the least impassioned speakers on the topic. After a majority of the commission indicated a desire to stay the course, Snyder downplayed the controversial nature of the initial proposal.
He declined to comment following the meeting but indicated he would depart from the commission as scheduled.
“I was asked an honest question,” Snyder said. “I gave an honest answer. I clearly can count there’s not three votes here. That’s all that needed to be established.”